The toilet paper panic of 2020 was a strange moment in recent cultural history. Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic protocol that called for lockdowns in public indoor areas including grocery stores, people didn’t flock to purchase toothpaste, medicine, or even foodstuffs in bulk. No, they stockpiled toilet paper. This inevitably led to a nationwide shortage of the bathroom staple in big-box grocery stores, online, and mom-and-pop shops. To combat this shortage, consumers had to get creative. An alternative ended up being bidet seats.
Bidet seats are common worldwide, but they have been slow to make their way into the US market. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic. “When we had the toilet paper panic in March of 2020, it really thrust a light on bidet seats,” recounted Lenora Campos, Senior Manager of Public Relations at TOTO USA. “People started to think, ‘If I can’t use paper, what can I use?’” The conclusion was bidets, a type of bathroom fixture that uses water as a way to clean the undercarriage.
TOTO was a popular company that customers turned to when searching for their first bidets during the toilet paper panic of 2020. Fortune reported that in 2020, TOTO saw “first quarter overseas sales of 39 billion yen ($278 million) across their product lines, an 8 percent increase from the same period a year earlier.” The US accounted for 32 percent of those sales, demonstrating that the market is growing and TOTO is here for it.
The Lap of Luxury
TOTO manufactures plumbing products that meet the intersection between luxury, cleanliness, and sustainability to improve users’ overall lives. The 106-year-old Japanese multinational corporation is most lauded for its toilets that feature electronic bidets, having been the first brand to market a luxury toilet seat featuring an electronic bidet in 1980. The WASHLET continues to be a product offered to elevate any bathroom experience with a simple attachment to any standard toilet. “We’ve been in business for over 100 years, so our quality standards are higher than anybody else in the industry,” said Campos. “We build things to last.”
I had the chance to speak with Campos and see TOTO’s products in person at the company’s New York City gallery showroom in the Flatiron district of Manhattan in late August. The gallery showroom displayed products from across TOTO’s lineup, including bathtubs and sinks, but the toilets were the show’s stars as far as I was concerned.
The TOTO S7 Series
My visit started off with Campos giving me the rundown on the WASHLET S7A and S7 bidet seats from the WASHLET S7 series, released on August 22. The WASHLET S7A and S7 are attachable bidet seats, able to accommodate a variety of tank styles from convex to concave to straight, making them easily integrated into any bathroom environment. The prime appeal of the S7 series, as well as all of TOTO’s toilet products, is how their features have cleanliness embedded into them.
The S7 series prioritizes hygiene in its technology by reducing the amount of upkeep typically required of a user with a conventional toilet. The seamless seat design prevents grime and dirt from collecting underneath it. TOTO’s CLEAN RESIN technology supports hygiene further. CLEAN RESIN, according to TOTO’s website, is a “protective film [that] suppresses the adhesion of dirt and makes it easy to remove dirt.” CLEAN RESIN is present throughout the WASHLET S7 series, including the seats, bidet wand, and core unit.
The S7 series also uses the electrolyzed water EWATER+ as a cleaning agent throughout the entire apparatus, reducing the need for harsh cleaning agents that can be detrimental to the environment. TOTO’s EWATER+ also prolongs the lifecycles of toilets. Through the PREMIST function, EWATER+ is automatically sprayed onto the bowl’s interior to make it easier for waste to wash away once flushed. The bidet wand also automatically self-cleanses with EWATER+ before and after. An automatic air deodorizer eliminates any scents left behind. Cleaning a bathroom never felt so easy.
Comfort is also a priority for TOTO when it comes to toilets. Nearly everything about the S7 series is customizable to the user. Accompanying each seat is a multifunction remote control that can hold up to four users’ personal settings. Users can set their ideal seat and water temperature, the bidet wand’s spray position and water pressure, and the air dryer’s temperature settings.
The bidet wand also features a range of functions, including front and rear cleansing, along with different cleansing patterns like oscillating and pulsating. The wand has rear- and front-spraying capability, which is especially useful for people who have periods or are undergoing postpartum healing.
The series has seamless heated seats in a slim ergonomic design that slopes downward, positioning the user to use it most comfortably and efficiently. The S7A has an automatic open/lid function, whereas the S7 does not, but both have a weight-bearing sensor in the seat that jumpstarts the bidet.
The TOTO NEOREST NX2
Campos then showed me the newest offering from TOTO, the NEOREST NX toilets. Unlike the S7 series, the NEOREST NX are TOTO toilets. This in part explains their high price points, which come in at $12,393 for the NX1 and $21,331 for the NX2, but their overall design communicates the subtle luxury these toilets afford to any bathroom they grace. “[The NX2’s] design is inspired by pebbles washed over time,” Campos illustrated.
Of the two, the NEOREST NX2 enticed me the most because part of me wondered what features it had that gave it such a price point. It had many of the impressive features offered in the WASHLET S7 series, namely a seamless heated seat, adjustable temperature controls for the water and dryer, an automatic deodorizer, and EWATER+ and PREMIST functionality. But what captivated me the most about the NEOREST NX2 was its advanced cleaning technology.
The NEOREST NX2, unlike the NX1, is glazed with ACTILIGHT, a photocatalytic zirconium coating that makes waste easier to wash away from the bowl’s surface because of its hydrophilic nature. The ACTILIGHT coating is activated by a light installed on the underside of the toilet lid.
In addition to ACTILIGHT, the NX2 is glazed with CEFIONTECT to minimize the size of the bowl’s surface ridges to a nanometer. Such a small size reduces the amount of waste that can accumulate in the ceramic bowl. Furthermore, CEFIONTECT ensures the NX2’s longevity by making the ceramic more durable, exhibiting TOTO’s commitment to manufacturing products built to last. The skirted design of the NX2 further ensures hygiene by eliminating the rim where waste accumulates, making it easier than ever to keep the NX2 clean.
What also impressed me about the NEOREST NX2 was how it embodied TOTO’s commitment to sustainability. Both the NX1 and NX2 fall under the list of products with the WaterSense label, a voluntary partner program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make it easier for consumers to find water-efficient products. Before WaterSense, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 “mandated 1.6 gallons [of water per flush],” explained Campos. “WaterSense came out about ten years ago, and it’s a voluntary program. You don’t have to do it, but it’s widely adopted and consumers favor it.” WaterSense lowered the standard to 1.28 gallons of water per flush to promote water efficiency. TOTO took it a step further: “We lowered it to 1.0 [gallons per flush],” continued Campos.
And that is just what the NEOREST line does. The NX2 toilet features 1.0 gallons per flush (GPF) using gravity-based technology to flush more efficiently. The gravity-based technology is called TORNADO FLUSH, which comprises two nozzles that discharge water in a centrifugal cyclone around the bowl in the areas where waste builds up the most easily, such as near the front of the seat and the upper curves of the bowl, before washing the entire bowl clean without wasting water.
Bidets and Beyond
The pandemic may have spurred the bidet wave in the US, and TOTO is here to prolong it by building bidets that not only get the job done but last far past the toilet paper panic that made them more common in the US.
The S7 series and the NEOREST NX1 and NX2 are luxury embodied. Their elegant design coupled with intuitive features elevate the bathroom experience. The bidet seats and toilets from TOTO are manufactured with care and durability at the forefront for the end user, demonstrating that they are worthy investments for a smarter and cleaner bathroom.