Quick and Dirty medieval fact: They bathed!


In school they told you that Medieval and Renaissance people of Europe didn’t ever bathe or wash and slept among pigs and were covered in poo. Not entirely true. Most people were pretty darn fastidious, because who likes being filthy? Ew, nope. 

Vikings in particular were noted for their extreme tidiness and a very common accessory was a little keyring-like hygiene kit, with a little scoop thing for cleaning your ears, a little pick for cleaning under your nails, and so on.

Except in portrayals we have of bath-houses or the bathing regimen of rich folks who had servants for labor, one didn’t sit in an entire person sized tub of water every day because someone has to lug that water by hand and heat that water by fire. You washed by undressing and scrubbing yourself clean, with only a few cups of water being used. I myself can bathe this way, and until very recently it’s how most of the population of Earth kept clean. Hair was washed less frequently because without a hair-dyer it is hard to get it all dry in any amount of time, but it was also kept cleaner by use of veils, caps, and other head coverings which kept dirt and dust off and absorbed oils.

Some bulkier outer clothing was not often washed because people wore inner garments. Outer clothing was also tricky to wash, especially fancy stuff made of silk or embroidered work. Skin oils and sweat were absorbed by the inner layers which were removed and washed. Modernly we think clothes- one layer, over brief lil’ undies. Most Medieval and Ren people always had a layer or two or ten between their skin and their cote or doublet. THAT’s what gets washed.  I mean, how often do you wash your winter coat? Maybe dry cleaning once a season, right? Because it doesn’t really get very dirty, unless you spill things on it.

Periodically a plague would make it less convenient to visit bathhouses and people worried about getting sick would wash less. Pomanders, scented hankies and the like were for avoiding the stenches in the streets of big crowded cities, as public sanitation wasn’t very good in more crowded later times, and didn’t noticeably improve until the late Victorian era. (look up the Great Stink in London history… Ew.)

An of you medieval students with more (better documented) info to add, please do.

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