Today, we might take staying clean and fresh for granted. Did you ever take time to think about how life would be without toothpaste, face wash, and deodorant? Well, looking back at medieval hygiene will give you a pretty good idea.
We forget that toothpaste, shaving cream, and shampoo weren’t always around. In fact, people who lived during the medieval period had a different understanding of what hygiene meant. It’s pretty clear that there was a different understanding based on how they kept themselves fresh during that time.
Here are 24 hygiene practices from the medieval ages. They will make you never take your hygiene products for granted. Let’s start with the first one.
1. Deodorant was non-existent during the medieval ages. As a result, people would carry around a small bouquet of flowers to block off the stench. The bouquet was known as “nosegays”, which also means “ornament”, according to Wikipedia. They were typically worn like necklaces. Just imagine walking around on a regular basis holding your deodorant as opposed to wearing it. Wonder what they did for those who had some serious body odor issues. Perhaps those people would wear two bouquets of flowers or even three.
2. Toilets are something we all definitely take advantage of. During medieval times, indoor plumbing wasn’t very common. If you were poor during this time, you basically had to go clear your system wherever you could. If you were wealthier, you had something called a privy, which is an outhouse, according to Healthy Way. It would give you privacy but would consist of a piece of wood over a hole in the ground.
3. You’re probably wondering what form of detergent people in the Middle Ages used…well, definitely not what we have today. In fact, they washed their clothes by hand and people typically had fewer items of clothing than we do today. Instead of using Tide or Downy products, they used something called soapwort. Soapwort is a flowery herb that’s essentially a natural bar of soap.
4. A lot of us today NEED makeup to make it through the day. Chances are, all makeup products are free from one terrible ingredient: lead. In the Middle Ages, lead was actually a common ingredient in a type of makeup called Venetian ceruse. It was a combo of makeup and skin whitener. This made them look good, but also make them super ill…causing lead poisoning.
5. Sewer systems were non-existent in the Middle Ages. People who had privies had to empty them at some point, which meant putting the waste into a larger hole called a cesspit. Cesspits were typically found in cellars or in gardens. Some people hired men called “gongs” who would do the job for them, and they were paid a fair share amount of money. Thankfully.
6. Washing your hands is something that we all NEED to do as much as we can these days. Think of all the viruses and bacteria flowing around. Well, during the medieval times, hand washing wasn’t AS common. That’s pretty gross, considering forks and knives weren’t considered a huge necessity. People would commonly eat with their bare hands. Imagine shaking all those people’s hands after they ate…gross!
7. Modern medicine is a beautiful thing. But if you lived in the Middle Ages, kiss everything you use to take care of cuts, scrapes and sickness GOODBYE. Medical practitioners had a weird way of curing things. One of the best-known treatments was the use of leeches for a process called bloodletting. This was done to remove a person’s blood in order to cure them of an illness.
8. Because there was no sense in getting your degree, multitasking was huge during the medieval ages. That means your doctor that used leeches to cure your illness also happened to be your barber and your dentist. I don’t how I’d feel about someone who just put a leech on me cutting my hair right after. But to each their own, right?
9. If you drink a ton of water, sometimes you gotta go to the washroom in the middle of the night. But if you’re from the Middle Ages, you used something called bedpans, also known as chamber pots. It’s for those who didn’t feel like leaving their place to go into the forest to urinate. Chamber pots were first found in the 6th Century BC, in ancient Greece.
10. Clean water is something we should never take for granted. Especially if you’re using that water to bathe yourself. In the Middle Ages, the main water supply actually came from elm trunks and domestic pipes that were lined with lead. This water needed to be stored in large lead tanks and would often become stagnant.
11. So we already know what was used to make your clothes smell good during laundry…but it gets even better. During the Middle Ages, Ancient Romans believed that urine had the ability to remove stains. Until the medieval times, people would use lye made of ashes and urine in order to properly clean clothes. Pretty natural if you ask me!
13. Today, celebrities hire personal assistants and makeup artists to help them look their best. Well, during the medieval times, personal assistants were on a whole other level. The King of England would appoint a “Groom of the King’s Close Stool”, whose job was to carry around his portable toilet box and clean him afterward. Believe it or not, it was a coveted position.
14. Today, male pattern baldness can be cured with surgery. According to a medical handbook written by Peter Levens, in the middle ages, they went on a more natural route. They would use a treatment that had a mix of all sorts of things…one including chicken dung. In the book, Levens writes “Take the ashes of Culver-dung in Lye, and wash the head therewith”. So save your money and try the medieval way…
15. Liquid mercury is really toxic. But during the Middle Ages that was not common knowledge and so it was used as a medicine to help a number of diseases like sexually transmitted diseases. Basically, with medieval hygiene, it was like playing Russian roulette. Today, many countries are banning its medicinal use altogether.
16. Today, kids are more prone to head lice than adults and curing them is pretty simple. But back in the Middle Ages, they were just unavoidable. Everyone got it and the only reasonable solution to get rid of them and avoid them was to shave off the hair. The iconic periwig became popular because men would shave their heads bald to get rid of lice. Easier to keep a wig hygienic than to maintain your own hair.
17. Today, freckles are seen as beautiful, natural and unique. Even those who aren’t a fan of their freckles, makeup usually covers them up. Well, just like with most things, people in the Middle Ages viewed things differently. In fact, freckles were seen as something that needed to be ‘cured’. How would you cure it? Some would simply rub sulfur on their skin to diminish their visibility. It didn’t work however.
18. Urine got a lot of use back in the medieval times. Not only was it used to clean clothes, but it was also used as a form of face wash. It was common for noblewomen to apply daily washes of urine to their faces. Apparently, it was antiseptic and led to a clearer complexion. It’s not so crazy to think about considering that urine has ammonia which is a cleaning agent. It’s also sterile so it didn’t hurt anyone to put it on their face.
19. If you had a serious open cut and you went to the doctor, they probably would just cauterize it shut with a burning hot poker. Makes people cringe just thinking about it. Clearly, there was a very fine line between medical practices and torture methods during those times. Unfortunately, doctors HAD to cauterize is, otherwise it would get infected.
20. When laundry can be so frustrating, especially when you have to wash it in pee, having a ton of clothes in your wardrobe isn’t so ideal. In the Middle Ages, people would actually wear the same outfit for many days without even changing their clothes. Doesn’t matter how rich or poor you were, people would keep the same outfit for a few days straight. King James VI of Scotland actually wore the same clothes for months. Makes life easier.
21. While wigs were a great way to avoid lice landing on your actual hair, they still weren’t as glamorous as the wigs we have today. Nope. Today, wigs are actually gorgeous, making people feel extra beautiful. But in the Middle Ages, their wigs were shaped with animal fats that made them not only pretty gross but they actually were more likely to catch fire if exposed to a candle flame. Don’t know if I’d prefer the lice or the nasty wigs during that time. It’s a toss-up.
22. Although a lot of the hygiene practices used back then are not applied to today, some people still follow some practices from the Middle Ages. One is using leaves as a form of toilet paper. Think about, what could they have possibly used to wipe back in the day? Sounds kind of gross, but there are some hikers today that still use this technique.
23. Alright, time for another strange medical remedy used during medieval times. During the Victorian era, doctors would use two main fluids as antiseptics during surgical procedures. Any guesses what it was? Yepp, wine and urine. These two things were used to help people get better and carry on with their lives. Interesting…very interesting.
24. Making sure your eyebrows are on FLEEK was as important then as it is today. Only today we have stuff like a pencil or brow tattoos to help perfect it. Unfortunately, during medieval days they had to use something more…natural. Women back then would plaster the skin of a mouse to their face until their brows were more shapely. I’d rather walk around with ugly brows then do something like that. But to each their own!
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