50 Odd Hygiene Practices Throughout History

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The good thing about the past is that it’s gone. Even if you enjoy history, we’re sure you’re going to say ‘yugh’ to these fifty hygiene practices throughout history. We have come a long way and we can’t be more glad. Let’s have a look at some examples of horrible human hygiene practices that (we hope) don’t exist anymore.

Families or Societies Sharing Bathtub Water 

Water is a scarce resource and while we must do all we can do to conserve water, the whole society sharing bathtub water might not be the best solution. Back in the day, it was common for some families or even societies to indulge in this practice due to the time it took to heat up water. Thank god for geysers!

gross hygiene practices

Peeing Where You Sleep

This might come as a shocker but people used to defecate or pee in special pots that were kept near their bedside so that they don’t have to get up at night and walk to the toilet. While little humans still enjoy this ease due to diapers, adults have started to do more adult things now.

Crocodile Dung Was Used as a Contraceptive

Think condoms are a drag? The most popular contraceptive in ancient Egypt was crocodile dung. It’s not only a gross choice, but the method was equally unhygienic. Crocodile dung was dried and inserted into the vagina. People believed that it had the ability to soften after reaching the body thus creating a reliable barrier. Thank you Charles Goodyear for giving us condoms.

Everyone Was a Dentist

Patients didn’t always have the luxury to get sedated or sit in comfortable chairs. Anyone with dental issues would go to butchers who’d just yank that sucker out by using anything they could get their hands on. We wonder if this is where dental fear originated from.

Chicken Poop for Hair

We all know someone who’d go any length to get healthier and better hair, but is anyone brave enough to try this unhygienic practice that was quite popular hundreds of years ago? It is believed that men in history used a mixture of potassium and poop to cure baldness. Unfortunately, there’s no proof that it worked.

No Toilet Paper Crunch

People didn’t always have to worry about a lack of toilet paper as their only option was leaves. This unhygienic practice was common around the world due to no proper toilets. It’s believed that leaves are still used for this purpose in some remote places and if we don’t stop hoarding toilet paper, we might see this practice make a comeback.

 

gross hygiene practices

No Washing or Sterilization

People had no understanding of bacteria, germs, or the reasons behind illnesses until the 1800s. This is a major reason why most patients couldn’t survive even a small surgery as they’d use the same knife and other equipment to cut open patients without even washing any of the tools. Infections were common. Back then, most people looked for surgeons who could get the job done fast and nobody cared for hygiene.

Eagle Dung as a Painkiller

Women of the past didn’t have it easy. Not only did they have to use crocodile dung to control birth, they also had to use eagle dung to reduce pain during childbirth. A mixture of eagle dung, oil, and vinegar was applied around the vagina to make childbirth easier. We’re glad things have changed a lot, however, childbirth is still not very easy, especially in some remote areas.

Lysol Was Used for Female Hygiene

It was common for women in the 20th century to use Lysol as birth control and for feminine hygiene. Women treated their private parts with the liquid and some used it to freshen the area as it was believed to be gentle and safe. It wasn’t until 1933 when a report proved Lysol to be an ineffective and unsafe option. Women who used the liquid often faced issues including burning sensations and inflammation.

Lead Makeup To Look Good

Beauty and fashion standards have changed over the years. Back in the day, paleness was a trend and both men and women spent heavily on looking pale. Lead-based white makeup was a craze despite the side effects. The lead weakened the skin and caused lead poisoning. While lead is still popularly used in some cosmetics, it used to be the main ingredient hundreds of years ago.

Authentic Dentures

When dentists in the 18th century advertised ‘dentures as real as your natural teeth’, they actually meant it as dentures back then often contained real teeth. Even George Washington’s dentures, pictured above, contained human teeth. The trend became popular after the 1815 Waterloo battle when teeth were plucked from dead soldiers. The practice continued for several years before porcelain dentures got more feasible.

Sulfur for Freckles

People today use Instagram filters and spend money to get freckles. However, back in time, freckles were not considered a sign of beauty and a large number of men and women looked for solutions to get rid of them. One of the most outrageous solutions was a sulfur mix that was applied over the skin to remove freckles.

Poison for Pupils

Belladonna is a poisonous plant that was often used by women to make their pupils look bigger. It was considered a sign of beauty and the plant was called ‘Beautiful Lady’ in the 16th and 17th centuries. it is considered a bad option as the plant contains dangerous chemicals that can result in heart failure, stomach ulcers, hallucinations, and other such risks. Apparently, they thought it was worth it. No wonder their pupils got bigger!

Losing Hair Like No Other

People in the early 19th century realized the effect of radiation on hair loss and often went under the process for up to 20 hours to get rid of unwanted body hair. While it was effective, the method resulted in serious health issues including an increased risk of cancers, malaise, and birth defects.

Polish That Killed

Polishing your shoe in the 20th century used to be a task due to the presence of nitrobenzene, a chemical that made shoes super shiny but could cause humans to faint. Many cases of popular nitrobenzene poisoning had also been reported as drinking booze when close to the chemical could cause death. Manufacturers soon found alternatives and shoe polishes today are a lot safer.

Red-hot Pokers for Wounds

Today we use a variety of products including antiseptic lotions to protect wounds but people in the bygone era didn’t always have access to such products and most didn’t even care for hygiene. It was common to use hot pokers to protect cuts and wounds from infections. Soldiers used to cauterize the flesh during wars. Most came back with worse injuries.

Exploding Combs

Tortoiseshell combs were very popular in the bygone era. They were extremely in demand despite being very dangerous due to the presence of a combustible and unstable celluloid compound that could explode without any warning. They didn’t have to be close to a heat source in order to catch fire, which made these combs highly dangerous.

 

Eating Chalk to Look Pretty

Chalk is an important part of history. It was heavily used as a whitening powder in the 18th century; however, things took a turn in the 19th century when women started to consume chalk to look pale. It made people ill, which gave them a pale appearance that was highly sought after during that time.

 

Honey, I’ve Dipped the Servant

Egyptian rulers made their servants take a dip in honey not because they wanted the servants to look good but because they wanted them to appear attractive to flies and bees. Servants acted as a shield and ensured the king didn’t have to worry about flies. Pepi II Neferkare popularized this concept and practiced it for years.

medieval hygiene

Gingivitis for Elizabethans

People in the Elizabethan era practiced a range of weird and unhygienic habits to look rich. This includes having rotten teeth to show the world that they could afford sugar, which was quite expensive back then. Tooth decay was a trend and it reached a point where the poor started to fake gingivitis to appear rich.

bad hygiene

Mouse Skin to Look Good

Women in the 18th century were willing to go to any extent to look good. They cared not only for the skin but for eyebrows as well and some used mouse skin to have perfectly shaped brows. While some reports say that this practice is just a myth, there are reasons to believe that women in some parts of the world followed it.

Loving Tooth Lacquering

Tooth Lacquering, which refers to dying one’s teeth black by using a special solution called kanemiz, is a custom made popular by Vietnamese and Japanese people.  This unhygienic practice dates back to 200 CE and was outlawed in Japan in 1870; however, it’s still followed in some parts of the world.

bad hygiene, medieval hygiene

 

Urine for Better Teeth

What do you do to get rid of bad breath? You brush your teeth, turn to a mint, and rinse your mouth out. Sadly, this luxury was not there for Ancient Romans and Greeks who would turn to urine to get whiten teeth and fight off halitosis. Romans were obsessed with Portuguese urine. It was heavily imported forcing Emperor Nero to tax the import.

 

Radium for Hair

It was common for people in the 18th century to use hair products that contained radium as it was considered a reliable solution to grey hair. This practice didn’t last for long as people soon realized the side effects of radium as it caused baldness among users. Thankfully, there are now safer ways to get rid of white hair.

bad hygiene

Toothpaste That Sucked

If you go to the market, you will come across a variety of toothpaste including flavored products. Ancient Egyptians had the option to choose from different varieties but but the flavors weren’t quite so fresh. Their toothpaste contained bark, bones, mouse brains, oyster shells, and charcoal. The Chinese used similar products but added herbs, salt, and ginger to improve the taste.

No Washing Hair

Long hair has been a sign of beauty for decades but there was a time when women didn’t just want long hair, they also wanted dirty hair that attracted vermin as washing hair wasn’t common. Women in the 17th century wanted ‘tall hairstyles’ that required hair to become hard, which could only be achieved by not washing them for months.

 

Cannibalism To Be Healthy

Cannibalism is a controversial topic and while it’s believed to exist in some parts of the world, cannibalism was a lot more common in the 17th century where the rich enjoyed human flesh and human blood. Some reports suggest that they also often applied human fat all over their skin to look young and beautiful. Vampire facial, anyone?

Morphine for Everyone

Morphine, one of the most addictive drugs, was easily available in the 20th century. One could purchase it over the counter without needing a prescription. Moreover, it was given to children in syrup form. It took doctors a while to realize the side effects of consuming morphine like this. The drug is greatly controlled today.

No Mopping the Floor

Rush floors were pretty common during the Middle Ages and continued to rule the roost until the 17th century due to their benefits including soft-footing and excellent insulation. While they were soft on the foot, they didn’t come without side effects. Rush floors remained unchanged for years and proved to be a breeding ground for diseases and bacteria.

Turning to Beavers for Birth Control

Here’s one more reason to be thankful that you’re born in this technologically advanced era. Women in the 16th century were presented with a special potion made from beavers’ male parts as birth control. The practice was common in parts of America and was believed to be quite effective despite being gross.

#30 Natural Pads

Women have been dealing with their monthly processes since the birth of the planet Earth but they didn’t always have access to tampons and pads. Back in the day, they turned to all sorts of things including moss. It wasn’t just risky and unhygienic but was also not very reliable. We’re glad there are better options available today.

Feces Feces Everywhere

There were no proper dumping yards back then and servants would often dump out feces and other waste in water bodies surrounding the cities they worked in. This caused moats to stink and the practice gave birth to strange rumors to prevent people from visiting infested water bodies. According to reports, the moat near Cyprus’ Saranda Kolones castle still contains parasites from Crusader’s waste.

No Need for Utensils

If you frown at people using their hands to eat food then you’re in for a shock because hundreds of years ago, utensils were unheard of. People didn’t only use hands to eat food, they’d often collected food in whatever they could get their hands on, from skulls to bones to leaves.

 

medieval hygiene

Bleed to Get Better

Bloodletting was used as a method to treat all kinds of diseases until the 19th century. The technique is still common in some parts of the world where leeches are used to suck blood. However, since not everyone could afford leeches, some would cut open a wound and let it bleed assuming it would cure them.

Urine As a Detergent

Our ancestors were quite creative but it seems like they thought a lot about urine, which they used to make soap and give their clothes a new shine. Some reports suggest that the chemicals present in the urine can be helpful in getting rid of stains but we’re not sure about how their outfits smelt like.

Walking With Flowers

Today we can choose fragrances that smell like our favorite flowers but people in history didn’t have access to such products hence they often carried flowers in their pockets, arms, or bags to smell nice. The practice was named “nosegay” and continued to be in existence until the introduction of perfumes.

bad hygiene, groom of the stool

King’s Special Servant

Yesteryear’s kings were truly royal and most wouldn’t even move to wipe their own ass. A person was hired to perform the job, which was considered special and was usually given to the sons of the noble men. We don’t know anyone who’d be glad to accept this position in this era.

The Dirty Towel

Here’s a horror story, peasants didn’t have access to wipes or tissues and everyone in the house would use the same towel to wipe their hands and mouth after eating or visiting the loo. The towel was often dirty and was rarely washed or replaced. This is why it was common for entire households to fall sick at the same time.

Water Tanks Containing Lead

 

It seems like our ancestors loved lead, which is why they used it everywhere. It was common for communities to store water in tanks lined with lead, which resulted in lead poisoning.  Unfortunately, it took science a lot of years to find the cause. Today the government controls how much lead can be used when manufacturing products.

bad hygieneNo Underwear

The opinion on underwear seems to be divided. Some people believe that it is healthy to avoid wearing underwear and while we’re not so sure about the health effects of not wearing undergarments, we assure you it’s very unhygienic. The practice was sadly common until the 19th century where both men and women avoided wearing any undergarments.

Poor Feeding Habits

Breastfeeding was considered a negative practice in the early 20th century mainly due to how unhygienic it was considered to be. In parts of the US and Canada, it was considered a low class and uncultured practice. Women didn’t always wipe the nipple and some would feed multiple babies in one go, which proved to be very unhealthy. This gave rise to baby formulas.

Open Toilets

India’s ‘more toilets’ scheme brought to light the importance of proper toilets and how the world still pees in the open. Hundreds of years ago, people didn’t care for toilets and they’d do it in holes or in the bushes. We have fortunately evolved over the years and seem to have come far with the argument now being about keeping the seat up or down.

Eating It Raw

While some foods such as certain vegetables are better enjoyed raw, certain foods can be very unhygienic and harmful if eaten raw. These include fish and meats as they often contain parasites and other harmful elements that can be bad for the body. In the early years, people would eat fresh kills without even washing the meat.

Silphum was Common

The ancient Romans utilized a natural birth control tool called Silphium, a plant known to prevent pregnancy. Women were given the parts of the plant to consume. Silphium gained huge popularity due to its effectiveness and was even printed on some coins. It was so widely used that it eventually became extinct in some regions.

No Washing in Winters

Hundreds of years ago, people weren’t as clean as they are. today. Most avoided taking baths in winters and some would keep their clothes on for days without changes or washing. They didn’t have access to geysers and heating water on wood was quite a task, this is why some would either go for communal bathing or avoid it altogether. We bet winters were tougher then they are now.

Sleeping with Pets

There is no harm in sleeping with pets, a large number of pet owners share their sleeping space with their furry friends. However, in the bygone era, people didn’t care for animal hygiene and would sleep with dirty pets including sick pets. There was no concept of animal vaccination and most couldn’t even afford it.

Brushing Teeth with Anything

Since there were no proper toothbrushes in the previous centuries, people turned to all sorts of things including twigs. While some trees such as the Salvadora persica tree, used to make miswak, have proven to be beneficial, people would often pick poisonous or harmful twigs that ended up causing more damage. Thankfully, today we can choose from different toothbrushes.

Not the Right Toothpaste

Urine isn’t the only ‘strange’ item people used to brush their teeth. Burnt herbs, wine, and mouth brains were also commonly used by Egyptians and Romans. Today’s mouthwashes contain wine and herbs but it isn’t the same since people in the old era used to mix these items with different things including ash.

Cough Syrup That Puts You To Sleep

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Pick any cough syrup and you will read a warning: might make you drowsy. Cough syrups in the previous eras used to be even more dangerous as they contained heroin. Up until 1913, most commercially-available cough medicines had heroin in them. While it did have some health benefits, it wasn’t fully safe. Heroin today is a controlled substance and is very rarely used in commonly-consumed medicines.

Tapeworms to Lose Weight

People in the 20th century had a magic pill in the form of tapeworms. They were encouraged to eat anything they wanted to and balance it with tapeworm to continue to look thin. Such ads were quickly disapproved as scientists found out the side effects of consuming tapeworm. They advertised how it could make people sick and cause the abdomen to get distended.