Unsanitary Customs of the Medieval Era

Were you aware that during the medieval period, individuals applied urine to treat cuts and other injuries?

Hygiene standards fluctuate from one period to another. What was once deemed acceptable by one generation may seem unclean decades later.

This evolution is often for the better as cleaner habits eradicate or significantly lessen preventable illnesses.

The medieval era was not a shining example of cleanliness. Therefore, let’s review some unhygienic customs from that time.

Rare Bathing

How often do you shower? Whatever your response is, it’s likely more frequent than the average person in medieval times.

They would typically go for several days before bathing. This might seem strange now, but it wasn’t entirely their fault.

Water was not always accessible, so people couldn’t bathe frequently. As a result, many individuals would use streams, lakes, or rivers to clean themselves up.

It was a dangerous activity, particularly for those who couldn’t swim. Therefore, people also visited public baths.

Shared Bathwater

You probably wouldn’t want to visit a bathhouse in medieval times.

The warm bath wouldn’t be very relaxing once you learned where the water came from.

Bathhouses used firewood to heat water for guests.

Water was scarce, so after one guest finished their bath, the next person would use the same water without changing it.

This would continue for several cycles. Multiple people could also share the same bath at once.

Thankfully, modern bathhouses have no difficulty obtaining clean water, so you won’t have to use someone else’s bathwater.

Rivers as Toilets

If you ever travel back to medieval times, don’t drink from rivers. They were public restrooms.

Without water closet toilets or running water, people had limited options.

Some wealthy households had latrines, but others used nearby bodies of water.

As you would expect, water hygiene swiftly became an issue. Most surrounding water sources were too contaminated for drinking.

So what did the average person living in medieval times drink?

Well, they certainly didn’t drink from lakes or ponds – that would make them sick. Instead, they mainly consumed alcoholic beverages.

Some writers in the 15th century even advised pregnant women to drink wine instead of water.

Poor House Flooring

Straw mixed with herbs was strewn across the floor.

This remained in place for an extended period, but cleaning was challenging as dirt and moisture would accumulate, causing the entire house to have a musty smell.

Additionally, straw flooring provided excellent hiding places for rodents and other pests.

The plague soon had people searching for better flooring.

Wooden floors became popular because they were much easier to clean. People used rugs, animal hides, or carpets over their wooden floors.

Wealthier homes had clay or marble floors.

Medieval Hygiene Practices

In the medieval period, people had chamber pots beside their beds to relieve themselves. However, what they did with its contents the following day might make you shudder. Residents would throw the contents of their chamber pots over their balconies into the streets. In some cities, people even threw poop from their balconies too. All that waste thrown into the streets would remain there for a while, and the nosebags contained flowers to help people deal with the stench.

They didn’t wash their hands often due to a lack of fresh, clean water, making it difficult to wash hands properly. Even now, people sometimes eat without washing their hands, which is generally seen as unhygienic.

Even among people who washed their hands, not everyone used soap. They may splash on a bit of water before drying their hands. When people used soap, they were most likely not scrubbing away dirt for the mandatory 20 seconds. Even when their hands appear clean, they probably still contain illness-causing germs.

In medieval times, people used urine to treat bruises and other open wounds. However, treating open wounds with stored urine exposes a person to infection. Fortunately, we have modern antiseptics to prevent this risk.

Although these practices may be fascinating, they are not the most sanitary. It’s still quite impressive to see how far we’ve come. That said, we shouldn’t follow any of these medieval hygienic practices.


1. What were some common unhygienic habits during the medieval age?

During the medieval age, people had a lack of understanding of proper hygiene. There were no proper sanitation facilities, and people used to throw their waste out of their windows onto the streets. Moreover, bathing was not a common practice, and people often considered it a luxury. As a result, they would often wear the same clothes for weeks or even months, leading to filthy living conditions. Additionally, people would share communal cups, spoons, and plates, which would spread diseases.

2. How did people deal with body odor during the medieval age?

Since bathing was not a common practice during the medieval age, people had to come up with creative ways to deal with body odor. They would use perfumes, oils, and herbs to mask the smell. Moreover, they would often carry around pomanders, which were small balls filled with aromatic substances, to keep the stench away. Additionally, people would use cloth soaked in vinegar or lemon juice to wipe their body. However, these methods were not very effective, and the smell was still prevalent.

3. Did people brush their teeth during the medieval age?

No, people did not brush their teeth during the medieval age. The concept of dental hygiene was not understood, and people believed that tooth decay was caused by worms in the teeth rather than poor oral hygiene. Instead, people would use various substances to clean their teeth, such as charcoal or salt. They would rub these substances onto their teeth, hoping that it would remove any dirt or debris. However, these methods were not very effective, and dental problems were rampant during the medieval age.

4. How did people prevent the spread of diseases during the medieval age?

During the medieval age, people did not have a proper understanding of how diseases spread. However, they did have some basic methods of preventing the spread of diseases. For instance, people would often quarantine themselves or their family members if they believed they were infected. Additionally, they would burn herbs or incense to purify the air. Moreover, people believed that certain foods or drinks had medicinal properties and would consume them to prevent or cure diseases. However, these methods were not very effective, and diseases were widespread during the medieval age.

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