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3 global toilet types you should know

As any seasoned traveler will tell you, there's a wide variety of toilet types around the world. At first glance, it might seem like a French toilet has about as much in common with a Japanese toilet as the Eiffel Tower has with Mt. Fuji. While some Americans might be skeptical of the European toilet-and-bidet system, or simply confused by the high-tech, feature-laden Japanese commode, their popularity is one reason products like smart bidets are gaining ground in the American market.

Let's look at the fundamental differences of the three styles.

1. What is an American toilet?

The basics

You're likely familiar with the American toilet, but we'll refresh your memory. The American toilet has a round or oval bowl that contains water. Solid or liquid waste is deposited into the water, toilet paper goes in as well and then comes the engineering miracle of the American flush.

The flush

Depressing the handle on the outside of the tank lifts a rubber stopper that opens a flapper valve, and the water in the tank (a government-mandated 1.6 gallons) whooshes out. It doesn't go straight into the bowl — instead, the water rushes (thanks to gravity) down a passage to the base of the bowl, where it surges out well below the surface level of the bowl water.

Siphon

The water from the tank shoots into an outgoing pipe, immediately creating a vacuum or siphon that effectively sucks the bowl water and waste out of the toilet, through a trap (that's the wiggly part of the pipe visible from the exterior) and into the sewage system. Though American toilets have a certain familiar look, it's the siphonic mechanism that really differentiates American toilets from those in Europe and Asia.

2. What is a European toilet?

Many nations, many toilets

You'll find a great variety in toilet styles across Europe, including plenty of the old hole-in-the-floor "squat" toilets. But the most common by far is the "washdown" toilet.

A different flush philosophy

The washdown toilet has a deeper bowl and does not siphon out its contents. Instead, the washdown toilet depends on rapidly flowing water released from the tank (again, thank you gravity) to wash waste downward, through a trap and into the sewage system. It's the difference between pulling and pushing: the siphonic American toilet pulls or sucks the contents out of the bowl, while the washdown toilet pushes them down and out.

How a washdown compares to a siphon

European toilets use less water (and may have the "dual-flush" option that lets users choose a lighter flush for liquid waste), and there's less splashback and less noise involved. But European toilets need more cleaning, as traces of waste often stubbornly remain on the side of the bowl, and for this reason European toilets tend to retain an odor that American ones don't. To make the siphon system work, American toilets must have smaller passages, and are therefore more prone to clogging.

The Euro toilet's trusty sidekick

European toilets often have a porcelain relative at their side: the bidet. The bidet represents a different approach to cleaning your backside. Equipped with faucets and its own bowl, the bidet is about washing yourself, rather than simply wiping. When properly used, the bidet leaves you cleaner than you could ever get from using a roll of dead trees.

3. What is a Japanese toilet?

As in Europe, you'll find a variety of toilets in Japan, some of them a bit confusing. But the go-to Japanese toilet is a high-tech commode (called a "super toilet" or known by the brand name Washlet) with numerous features and a control pad. It was introduced in the early '80s and now around half of Japanese households have one.

Features you didn't know you needed

A Japanese super toilet might feature automatic lifting of the lid, automated flushing, a heated seat, music and massage functions, all operated by a wireless control pad. Like a TV remote, the control pad may also enable you to adjust the heating or air conditioning in the room for maximum comfort.

It all starts with the bidet

While the more exotic options on a super toilet may vary, the bidet is standard, and is built into the toilet — so there's no need to move to a separate fixture as in Europe. Depending on the super-ness of the super toilet, the bidet may also come with controls for customization, such as water temperature, pulsating flow and a blow-drying feature.

Which toilet is best for you?

Transportation, communication and education have all evolved dramatically in the last few decades — while change has been welcomed in many fields, there's a tendency to resist changes in our bathrooms.

But change may be easier than you think — new, modern bidet seats like the Coway Bidetmega 200 can connect to your existing toilet in minutes, no plumber required. Its dual hygienic stainless-steel nozzles are the modern way to enjoy the classic cleanliness of the European toilet experience. What's more, the Coway Bidetmega 200 features a customizable i-wave system, a heated seat and a sensor to ensure it only does its job when you're there, all operated with a handheld remote — in other words, a personal cleaning experience on par with a high-end Japanese toilet.