Personal Hygiene of Your Ancestors in 1800s

Today you take for granted the conveniences in an indoor bathroom with its shower, tub, toilet, sink and even a few other items. In the 1800s, an outside toilet or what was called a privy was the standard. Wealthy homeowners from 1880s onward would have indoor plumbing.

For toilet paper, that was not invented until 1891, so your ancestors used old newspapers, magazine pages or even corncobs if available.

There would be a small washbowl and pitcher of water in the bedroom or sometimes in the kitchen in which to wash up. People mostly washed their armpits, neck, hands and face. By 1900 washstands in the bedroom were more common, room for soap, towels and sometimes a mirror. Tubs or a big washtub for a full bath were available and used generally once a week or every few weeks.

For the ladies with long hair and fancy pin up hairstyles, hair washing was not done but every few weeks or once a month. When washed they used soap or sometimes ammonia to clean the hair. One reason for ladies to brush their hair 50 to 100 times before bedtime was to help remove any excess oil or dirt. Shampoos that were safe for hair washing came in the 1920s.

To hide body odor or smelly clothes, cologne for ladies and ‘bay rum’ for men were used.

Brushing of the teeth was done using salt on the finger and rubbing it across the teeth. Also, a small wooden piece could be used to get any food portion between the teeth. The type of handle toothbrushes familiar today came in 1857. Nylon bristle brushes came in the 1930s making teeth brushing more wide-spread.

Photos: Washbowl and pitcher; ladies brushing hair and an early form of a toothbrush.

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< Return To Blog That was interesting! I can't imagine having to live in the days before antiperspirants. I could handle not washing my hair much or even with soap but going without deodorant. Just no!
Sara N Martin 13/11/20

So glad you enjoyed the blog. It is good to know what was common place for our ancestors, makes us appreciate what we have now.
alice 13/11/20

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