10 Unhygienic Practices of the Past to Make You Appreciate Modern Cleanliness

By  | 

Age doesn’t always equate to wisdom, and this rings particularly true when we examine the hygiene habits of our ancestors. Unfortunately, in the absence of modern medicine and hygiene standards, people resorted to some questionable practices when it came to personal cleanliness. From repulsive cleaning techniques to risky DIY remedies, our forebears engaged in some of the most dreadful hygiene habits imaginable. The following sections will delve into the most egregious examples of historical uncleanliness that will make you grateful for contemporary sanitation practices.

10. The most effective face lightener…with poison as a catch

In the 16th century, the makeup foundation available was called “Venetian ceruse.” Despite its fancy name, it was actually a mixture of white lead and vinegar, which was highly toxic. Compounding the problem, it was not common practice for women to wash off their makeup and dirt at the end of the day. As a result, they would repeatedly apply this poisonous substance to their faces day after day without ever removing it.

9. Feeling sick? Let’s stick some leeches on you!

Throughout history, leeches have found use in various medical and cosmetic applications. For example, in the past, physicians employed leeches to extract “contaminated” blood from ailing patients. However, these medical practitioners were unaware that this approach often led to further blood loss, weakening the patient and sometimes even hastening their demise instead of promoting their healing.

8. Burning your wounds…to make them heal faster

Few things are more agonizing than a deep, bleeding wound. However, the treatment of such injuries during the Middle Ages was often more distressing than the injury itself. Particularly in times of war, one of the quickest and most effective methods of healing wounds was to apply a hot iron to cauterize them. Although medical professionals today still occasionally use cauterization, in the past, this approach often resulted in burns larger than the original wound. Furthermore, with no sterile creams or ointments available, this practice could easily lead to infections and ultimately cause more harm than good.

7. Just one outfit for each season!

Certain regions of the world have a maximum of four seasons in a year. Therefore, prior to the standardization of clothing production, many individuals only possessed a single outfit per season. This was particularly true for the common people, as clothing production was a costly and time-consuming process. Meanwhile, the wealthy and aristocratic classes enjoyed more variety in their wardrobes. However, most people only laundered their clothing once a month or less frequently. Combined with infrequent bathing, this led to an unpleasant musty odor permeating throughout society.

6. Portable toilets…inside your room

Portable toilets may seem like an appealing solution for those seeking convenience, particularly when it comes to late-night bathroom breaks. Interestingly, centuries ago, many larger homes had their own version of a portable toilet in the bedrooms, known as a chamber pot. This allowed occupants to avoid the long trek to the outhouse. Unfortunately, although chamber pots were discreetly kept out of sight, and servants cleaned and emptied them regularly, the convenience offered by these devices did not always outweigh the unpleasant odor that accompanied their use.

5. Leaves, corn cobs, and more were used as toilet paper

Toilet paper is undoubtedly a modern luxury that we often take for granted. Have you ever stopped to consider what people used before the invention of toilet paper? Although our ancestors managed to survive, they had to make do with whatever was available to wipe themselves, including leaves, corn cobs, sticks, and even seashells or pieces of broken pottery. It isn’t easy to imagine such alternatives being either comfortable or sanitary.

4. One wig with lice, please!

One striking feature of portraits from the past is the prevalence of enormous wigs. However, these near-perfect paintings didn’t reveal the lice and other insects that frequently infested these hairpieces. Interestingly, lice on wigs were preferable to having them in one’s natural hair at the time. This was because removing lice from wigs only required a quick boiling, whereas eradicating them from natural hair was a more arduous process.

3. Everybody shared the same bathwater

A few centuries ago, running water was a scarce commodity, which meant that people frequently visited public baths when they wanted to bathe. However, with many individuals sharing the same bathwater and the water rarely being changed, these public baths did not always provide the level of cleanliness that people expected.

2. Unwashed hands served as your spoon and fork

In several cultures today, it is still common to use hands while eating. However, those who indulge in finger foods understand the importance of washing their hands first. In the past, hands were frequently employed as utensils as well. The crucial difference was that people were unaware of germs, and obtaining clean water was a challenge, which meant that hands were often quite filthy when it was time to eat!

1. The king’s most intimate servant

Living like a king in the past had more benefits than one might imagine, especially when it came to having personal attendants known as “Grooms of the Stool.” Their job involved assisting a designated royal during bathroom breaks, even during the most intimate moments. Although it may seem like an unappealing occupation, the Grooms of the Stool was highly respected and held in high esteem because they were entrusted with the monarchy’s personal affairs.

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By agreeing you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.

Privacy Settings saved!
Privacy Settings

When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. Control your personal Cookie Services here.

We use Google Tag Manager to monitor our traffic and to help us AB test new features.

Decline all Services
Accept all Services