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January 5, 2012

Bathing in the Middle Ages

Soap for the poor was made of mutton fat
while the wealthy enjoyed soap made from
olive oil and flower petals.

How many showers a day do you take?  Whether it is one or more the number is FAR more than those in the Middle Ages.

Bathing did not disappear with the end of the Roman Empire, however, it was not always an easy task in the Middle Ages. Wealthy castle residents used wooden half barrels with water heated from the fire in the great hall. Sometimes the water was mixed with perfumes and oils.  Servants ran back and forth filling the tub.  Weather permitting, the tub might be placed outside in the garden. 

Bathhouses were popular and were in most towns by the 13th century. Water was heated by wood fires, but wood was expensive.  There was also the risk that these fires could burn down an entire block or more. For these reasons, bathhouses closed.  At one point the pope closed bathhouses in an attempt to stop the spread of syphilis.

Bathing became more popular after the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague.
By the mid-1300s forests were depleted. Only the rich could afford firewood. The rest of the population was forced to bathe in cold water, share bathwater with the rest of the family, or be dirty.

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