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In much of today’s world, especially in the Western hemisphere, it is not only acceptable but downright the normal thing to shower at least once a day. Not many people realize that daily or even regular showering has not been a trend up until recently and that showering has an interesting history. However, most people have heard of the fact that bathing, on the other hand, was a much more common practice around the world throughout history, But who are the people that started it? And when did bathing become common?
Though bathing was presumably a popular activity even in the stone age, bathing was common first in places like Ancient Egypt, Mojenho-Daro in modern-day Pakistan, and the civilizations of Ancient Greece and Rome.
Bathing has an even more interesting history than showering does, and in this article, I will be diving into the development of this custom. Bathing is actually a very ancient tradition, which might have even changed the way we humans evolved over time, so even though it seems like a mundane topic, it is very relevant and important! If you are interested in finding out more, read on!
When Did Humans Start Bathing Regularly?
Much of what we know of the history and life of humans on this planet comes from the historic and not the pre-historic age. The historic age is basically all the time since writing (or some other form of recording information) was developed, which was around the 3rd millennia BCE. Aside from the recorded info we have, there is a lot we have figured out about humans by analyzing the remains of buildings, cities, villages, and everything else we could put our hands on. This is called the pre-historic era.
Though it doesn’t seem like it, actually, bathing stems all the way back into the pre-historic era, into the Stone Age, presumably. The reason archeologists and anthropologists believe this is because most signs of human life in that era (cave drawings, remains of basic tools, etc.) were found most often near thermal springs or other bodies of warmer water.
Taking a bath is one of the best ways to detox and relax the body, and also to clean it. It opens up the pores and relaxes the skin, after which some lotion, oil, scrub, or soap was used to remove the dirt, with the exact tools, ingredients, and techniques varying by culture.
One of the first people of the historic era who were known to regularly take baths were Egyptian monks. They cleaned themselves meticulously clean, with some records suggesting baths daily or every couple of days, together with a bunch of oils and fragrances to keep them smelling and looking fresh and clean.
Though the Egyptian people are one of the first to have bathed reasonably regularly, the people from ancient times who were the most obsessed with it are the Harappan people, living in the “lost city” of Mohenjo-Daro, which is situated in the Indus Valley, today’s Pakistan. One of the earliest public baths that we know of is in this city, and it is around 5000 years old.
Most of the Ancient civilizations had a culture of bathing, some were even borderline “obsessed” with it. Take note of the Ancient Roman and Greek civilizations. Though out of these two, the Romans were significantly more well-known for their highly developed bathing habits and many public baths, both of these cultures highly valued personal hygiene, one of the cornerstones of which was regular bathing.
There is a general idea that in Ancient Rome, wherever a city was built, a public bath was built in the center of it. Even slaves were allowed (sometimes even required) to bathe daily, and the fees were so low that they could actually afford it pretty regularly.
Greece was the first place where showers were built and used since they were able to design and build extensive aqueduct systems that would allow for making showers due to the pressure of the downhill-flowing water. It wasn’t used very widely, but it was a significant improvement and has surprising popularity.
However, this culture of bathing regularly which was so prominent in the ancient world was not as prevalent in medieval times. Though public baths did exist and a significant portion of the population was using them regularly, the popularity of bathing declined for a couple of reasons. One was the immense amount of prostitution that took place in these bathhouses and near them, which was both a medical issue and (what was even more important at the time) a religious one as well. This created some opposition to the practice.
The other reason was that many rich people or even some who were just in the upper-middle class could afford to have baths (or sometimes even showers, though that was rare) at home. The medieval ages are the era when public bathing slowly turned into a custom that was slowly fading away.
With the dawn of shower cabins and other, more sophisticated methods of bathing, as time progressed, people were less and less likely to visit public baths, since the personal hygiene part could easily be solved at home, and the socialization could be had in a bunch of other places like bars, bookstores, or whatever the given individual’s taste was.
How Often Do Humans Bath Today?
Showering and bathing cultures have changed a lot over the course of history, and today, it is radically different than it was in, for example, ancient times. We have developed an insane amount in terms of technology, which is thanks to the first and second industrial revolutions. They have brought into this world new, easy and efficient ways to heat water, to deliver it to anyone’s home, may the person be living up on a mountain, at the bottom of a valley, or on the 100th floor of a skyscraper.
Though there are a bunch of thermal springs, spas, aqua parks, and many other institutions, may they be for recreational or medical purposes, people don’t visit them nearly as often as they did a couple of hundred years ago, simply because they don’t play a role in personal hygiene anymore. Earlier, public baths were one of the only ways for one to keep their hygiene in check and to stay healthy and clean. Today, that isn’t the situation.
The average person with access to improved water sources (more on that later), or in other words people who have showers and baths in their homes ready to use, take one or two showers daily. Though many people take less and more, this is about the average. Baths are less frequent, with many people taking a bath every week or two, some even spacing it out for months.
Bathing has become much more of a leisure activity than one of hygiene, since with modern-day warm showers, soaps, shower gels, shampoos, and the myriad of other hygiene products, soaking in warm water isn’t as necessary. However, it is important to note that bathing regularly (weekly, for example) can help in many things from relaxation to skin health, so it is advised for most people to take regular baths as well as showers.
In our “hyper-hygienic era” (compared to previous ones), we have not only developed a habit of showering daily, even multiple times, but also using a bunch of chemical-based shower gels and soaps to clean out skin. New researches and studies suggest that showering daily might be unnecessary for hygiene, and it might even be detrimental to our skin, causing faster aging or some skin conditions.
Though I wouldn’t advise anything that might cause a decline in anybody’s hygiene, the frequency of our showers is absolutely worth thinking about, and not only in the light of these new studies and suggestions but also from a global warming and environmental standpoint.
Most people would intuitively think that a large majority of the planet has access to improved water resources, but that isn’t the case. Though a majority does have access, there are about 700 million to 1 billion people who don’t, and about 35% of the planet doesn’t have access to improved sanitation. These are tragic numbers, but they are even more tragic if one realizes what this means.
An improved drinking water source, as classified by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), is one of the following:
- Piped household water connection
- Public standpipe
- Protected dug well
- Protected spring
- Rainwater collection
Even collecting rainwater is an improved source, and close to a billion people do not have access to it. These people take showers or baths in really primitive ways, only because there are no pipelines leading to the place they live and no money for technology that would allow for it.
To conclude, today’s showering and bathing habits vary massively depending on where the person lives, but as a majority, a once-a-day shower is what is the most common, just as taking a bath every week or two.