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What Was Hygiene Like In The Victorian Era?

Updated July 3, 2019 482.7k views12 items

Practically every book, movie, and TV show made in the last century that references the Victorian era romanticizes the time period. Beautiful gowns, lavish homes, and passionate romance are staples of the now bygone time. But in much of the media we consume about the seemingly sophisticated Victorians, no one talks about where they got their water or went to the bathroom, or when they last bathed.

When you peel back all the layers of silk and lace, you'll discover that the Victorians were actually pretty gross. People didn't always bathe weekly - let alone daily - and indoor plumbing was a distant dream for most. As such, the Victorian era's frequent bouts of disease are unsurprising. Overall, women caught the brunt of bizarre trends in hygiene. So let's open our eyes, hold our noses, and find out what was really going on with the supposedly immaculate Victorians.

  • Vinegar And Eggs Were The Cutting Edge Of Hair Care

    Victorians were obsessed with hair, but modern shampoo was a distant notion at the time. Women often broke several eggs over their heads, worked them into their hair, and then washed the egg out with a pitcher of water. Vinegar diluted with water was another popular option.

    In fact, many cooking-related items were popular pre-shampoo alternatives. Rosemary, black tea, and rum were all considered perfectly normal as hair-washing substances.

  • They Thought Bad Smells Were Responsible For Disease

    Today, bad smells are considered unpleasant at most, but Victorians were convinced that foul odors were dangerous. The miasma theory, also known as "night air," claimed that a variety of conditions, including chlamydia and cholera, could be spread through unclean air.

    Victorians went as far as to blame the poor health in London's impoverished areas on the smells emenating through the streets. Even famous nurse Florence Nightingale believed in miasma and thought clean air meant healthy patients.

    In fact, the poor sanitation in industrial areas caused disease, which led to bad smells. Today, miasma is considered a false science in the medical community thanks to modern sanitation and medicine.

  • Women Used Military-Grade Bandages For Menstruation

    Despite the many shortcomings of Victorian hygiene, the era marked the first time in history in which feminine hygiene was actually addressed in mainstream society. Disposable pads were invented in the late 19th century, and even an early version of the tampon was implemented around that time.

    Women also found that bandages typically used for troops' wounds were useful for menstruation care due to their wood pulp base.

  • They Lived Through 'The Great Stink' Of 1858

    Even modern cities may have a certain aroma during the heat of summer, but the stench emanating from London in 1858 shut the city down. The now picturesque River Thames was once the hub of the London sewage system, meaning citizens simply disposed of their waste in the river.

    Londoners complained about the river's foul odors, and doctors cited the stench as the cause of rampant disease throughout the city. The summer of 1858 eventually became known as "The Great Stink." 

    Only when the winds from the River Thames blew towards Parliament did lawmakers take action. In a mere 18 days, a bill was passed that allowed for a modern sewage system in London.