History of Bathing: To Bathe Or Not To Bathe That Is The Question


Have you ever stood in line and something did not agree with your nasal cavity? You twitch your nose, rub and hope that nobody else believes the profuse smell is not coming from you. Why do some people believe that not bathing on a regular basis, is not healthy? On the other had there are people who are obsessed with bathing in today's society. How many types of soaps, shampoos, perfumes and cologne exist?

Historically how did they deal with this? Keep in mind Royalty, nobles and peasants all had different hygiene practices. Who would you have like to have been? I will be briefly discussing different time periods, which is only a part of history's time line.


During medieval times bathing was seen as letting the devil in you or as a form of intimate debauchery. Many believed that if the water touched your skin, it would make you severely ill. What were they thinking?

With the outbreak of the Black Plague during the medieval times, people were searching for ways to decrease the spread of the plague. The found that keeping areas around them clean along with frequent hand-washing in warm water, vinegar or warm wine also helped.

I am sure the air quality changed during that time and people realized being clean was more comfortable than being dirty.

Medieval royalty had special rooms specifically for bathing or large tubs brought into their boudoir. Scented oils, perfumes or flower petals were mixed with the water that was hand-carried to the rooms. Water had to be gathered, heated and then carried to the rooms but for royalty and their families it was well worth the wait.

It was common for medieval royalty to share the water with more than one family member. Many times bath time would begin from the oldest to the youngest. Once the baths' were complete the water had to be hauled out and dumped.

Peasants rarely bathed. It was common for them to only bathe in plain water. They were lucky to have soap to bathe with and during the Summer months they would take a dip in the ponds or streams.

In many cities in medieval times, there were bath houses where a person could bathe all day. Soft soaps made of natural soda, mutton fat and wood ash were used. Herbs, flowers, soda, lime and olive oil were used for the harder soaps.

Sea bathing and bath houses became popular during Regency times. Having copper tubs lined with linen, the wealthy enjoyed bath time. If the lower class were lucky, they would bathe in wooden tubs.

Even though times changed. Early in the nineteenth century people would bathe every four weeks or sometimes longer. Face, feet and hands were washed more often then in previous centuries.

It wasn't until the later part of the turn of the 19th century when indoor plumbing became common, that people would begin to bathe regularly.

Mouth Hygiene

So how did people brush their teeth? Since the first patent for a toothbrush was not until 1857, royalty to peasants had brown teeth. There wasn't any such thing as teeth whitening products like there is today.

Historically speaking, those that tried used the following methods:

Vinegar and mint mixture, used to swish and rinse out the mouth.

Mint, cloves, cinnamon and sage were used to freshen breath.

Using a soft cloth they would rub their teeth to eliminate gunk from left over food particles or they would rinse their mouths with plain water.


People during this period, used the same methods as the Renaissance and Elizabethan times. Using a sponge and warm water or herbs to cleanse the mouth and teeth. In France it was recommended by a French dentist to use ones own urine or gun powder. Isn't it nice to live in this century?

Eliminating Body Odor

Oils mixed with flowers, herbs and spices were common use in the middle ages to reduce body odor. Strongly scented soaps were used, when they did bathe. The strong scent from the soaps would last at least several days until the next bath.

In the movie 'Sense and Sensibility, you will notice that the character carries flowers with her. You will see her occasionally smelling a bouquet of flowers. During these time periods, they were better known as 'Nose-Gays'. One would see people carrying a bouquet of flowers, a sprig of herbs or a sachet. People would hold them to their noses when walking through large crowds.


There is deodorant, perfumes, toothpaste, toothbrush and multiple types of soaps to choose from. Soft soaps, bar soaps and even handmade soaps are used. We can shave, cream or completely eliminate hair.

Dentistry has came a long way from the past. We can gargle with mouthwash and not urine. Today we do not have any excuse for not bathing. So bathe or not to bathe that is the question. Which will you choose to do?


© 2012 Sole property of the author *No copying or duplication without written consent from the author.

How Many Times A Week Do You Bathe?

  • Everyday
  • 1-3 per week
  • Once a week
  • Rarely
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Which period would you have liked to live-in?

  • Medieval
  • Regency
  • Today
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Comments 28 comments

Sportsandfaith profile image

Sportsandfaith 4 years ago from Dayton, Ohio

Interesting stuff! Although I voted for today, I do sometimes find it scarily excessive when I look at all the products I use just to stay "clean." And I'm a pretty low maintenance guy when it comes to that stuff, so that's certainly saying something. It's interesting though that things were no less complicated in the medieval times for the people that could afford the various spices and mixtures.

must65gt profile image

must65gt 4 years ago

Wait...we need to bathe more than once a week? is that a California thing or is it going to become a regular thing all over the country? Man...so much for my extra time...lol great hub and keep going , you;re almost there! Now I need to go brush my teeth!

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

Sportsandfaith: It wasn't complicated at all for those who could afford it, but one could not imagine being middle class or poor. The baths were far and few in between.:)

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

must65gt: Yes, I am almost there! Congratulations on your 30/30. Will be there to read shortly! Thanks for the final push. You now have permission to brush your teeth. lolo! :)

Budman610 profile image

Budman610 4 years ago from Ohio

When I lived on Crete, I saw the worlds oldest indoor plumbing at the ruins of the palace of Knossos. Supposedly from 1400 BC. Not sure if bathing was a regular thing during that time, but they did have plumbing systems. Not sure about the current inhabitants,because a Greek bus in July was not very pleasant.

Jackwms profile image

Jackwms 4 years ago

During WWII when our family lived in a rural area near Placerville, California, we did not have electricity or indoor plumbing.My dad was away working on the war effort on the Alaska highway. The only means of bathing for my mother, brother,sister and myself was a metal washtub placed in the middle of the kitchen floor that was filled with warm water heated on a wood stove (no water heater). We bathed once a week,all using the same water. I think I was last to use the water.

I sure enjoy the daily morning shower now.

nybride710 profile image

nybride710 4 years ago from Minnesota

I vote for bathing! There are some cultures where it is still only a once a week thing. At my last employer, my nose came into contact with a number of people who held this belief. I am so grateful that my daughters, 15 and 12, now see the need for a daily shower without having to be hounded about it.

clairemy profile image

clairemy 4 years ago

Bathing daily, its better for everyone elses noses, and yes we do have alot of products to help us smell sweet. But I suppose everybody smelt the same to one another before daily bathing and good teeth products. Still somehow lifee seemed simpler back then, even it was smellier!

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

Budman610: Wow! Thanks for writing about the palace of Knossos. That is interesting! Since bathing was presumably suppose to have originated in Greece, I don't understand why people were not bathing more? Geesh that sure is something. :)

janiek13 profile image

janiek13 4 years ago from Florida's Space Coast

I loved your hub! When I watch period pieces, I can't help but think, how can they be so close to each other? Especially during sex, yuck!

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

Jackwms: In the 40's it was still common for families who lived in rural areas of the U.S. to bathe in metal tubs. Mom had told me when she was growing up, the same applied. It is so nice to have indoor plumbing and could not imagine living without it. :)

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

nybride710: All of us are living when technology surrounds us, indoor plumbing is common and all types of hygiene products are available. Not bathing on a regular basis does not make any sense. For those who are suffering depression, mental issues or other medical related problems. I can understand because they need to be reminded or pushed; but for the rest of the population there isn't any excuse.

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

clairemy: I believe they did and although we believed it was simpler back then. I don't think it was as easy as many believe. There wasn't any indoor plumbing, unless you were royalty. No central air or heat. You would have to carry water for bathing and wood for the winter. So many things were different during those times but I guess there are a handful of things that would be relaxing. Thank you so much for commenting. :)

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

janiek13: I have often thought about that too! lolo! I don't know how they managed, but they did. Common ground is probably how they kept it together. lolo!

Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 4 years ago from Jamaica

The urine and gunpowder bit is very fascinating. You know I never thought about this bathing thing before and I am one of those obsessed with bathing or taking a shower. My fiancé cannot sleep on the bed if he doesn't shower before...lol. There must have been some smelly people and some stinky breaths back then...lol

Jackwms profile image

Jackwms 4 years ago

I suppose if everyone has B.O.,you probably are less likely to notice it.I believe many people in Europe,especially France and Italy, are only now opting for more frequest bathing.

clairemy profile image

clairemy 4 years ago

I can affirm that as true, when we first moved to Italy some people were a little "pongy". That may sound rude, but that's how were.

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

Cardisa: Could you imagine using urine? Yuck!!! I can't imagine not taking a shower or bathing either. I am soooo glad I was born today and not yesterday. :)

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

Jackwms: I believe your statement is true regarding France and Italy. A friend of mine lives in Italy and she has complained of hygiene there. She said her neighbor also did not believe in shaving until she explained to her why it should be done.

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

clairemy: It isn't rude. You spoke truth about some people. My friend from High School also agreed. She lives there.

blake4d profile image

blake4d 4 years ago from Now Rising Out of Phoenix Arizona Earthlings

Something is going all quirky at the last part of your hub, the HTML before the Amazon ads just doesn't look right AE, thought you should know. OMG but maybe you are writing this in the bathtub, and your laptop fell in the water. That would explain a lot. Remember soap is for making bubbles, but hub writing while bathing can cause troubles. Keep on Bubbling. Blake4d

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

blake4d: lololo! Love the funny comment. I will also check the HTML I have been trying to fix-it, but it continues to be a bugger! lolo

2besure profile image

2besure 3 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

My son and I were talking about this, this week. It is amazing to think, people used to think bathing was not a good thing!

AEvans profile image

AEvans 3 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

2besure: I know and I could not imagine life without water and all the hygiene needs that makes us smell good. :)

must65gt profile image

must65gt 3 years ago

great hub...I am reminded of the segment in Pete's Dragon after Eliott threw the Gogans into the harbour. Shellie Winters (Mrs Gogan) "I'm gonna catch my death...then her sons replied "Yea...we had our baths in May!" I lived in Japan for 8 years, and Body Odor in men was common, even though they were very clean by nature. From eating too much sushi I guess, lol

AEvans profile image

AEvans 3 years ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

must65gt: Ugh! Not good! There is such thing as deodorant. Sadly all of our cultures are a little different. Historically now everyone bathes. :)

Mark Tulin profile image

Mark Tulin 20 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

Nice hub on bathing. I wonder what it would be like to spend the whole day in a tub? I don't know if I will ever find that out. I can only spend an hour tops in there. Cool historic perspective. Thanks

AEvans profile image

AEvans 20 months ago from SomeWhere Out There Author

Mark, your welcome. I have not been on here for so long; however its nice to see that some of the hubs are still reviewed and read.

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