About Hygiene in Colonial Times

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When you mention hygiene and colonial in the same sentence, it brings to mind rotting teeth and a horrible smell, which is fairly true of the times. People only washed once every few weeks, if that, and cleaned themselves once a day with a wet cloth. However this was also the same time that hygiene was beginning to grow in popularity as bathing became easier.


The Facts

Bathing in colonial times usually involved an old wooden tub sitting outside and multiple trips to the well. The water was added to the tub one bucket at a time until full and many people skipped heating up the water because it only made it take longer. There were only a few dentists practicing at this time and they believed in solving the problems rather than preventing any potential problems. This led to a lack of proper hygiene during colonial times.


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Time Frame

Colonial America is a period of 200 to 300 years. Many people believe it begins during the 1500s when the first settlers arrived, while others argue it starts in the 1600s when more settlements appeared. The period ends at the start or end of the Revolutionary War when America was finally established. This ends the colonial period and begins the early American or post-Revolutionary era in the country's history.



In colonial America, settlers were accustomed to the lack of water and bathing. However, when Europeans came to the states, they often commented on the smell in the cities. It was something that was impossible to miss as people bathed only once every few weeks. And with the absence of dentists, those who lost teeth simply went without or had wooden teeth made if they had enough money.



Hygiene changed slightly during colonial times as people began bathing more frequently. Historians trace this back to St. George Tucker who actually had a bathtub inside his house in colonial Williamsburg. This was the first time in history that someone not only used a copper tube instead of a wooden one, but the first time someone had a full size tub in their home. This showed settlers that there were easier ways to bathe than the way they had been doing things, which was to carry pails of water to an outside bathtub.



Hygiene in colonial times generally fell into two separate categories: bathing and washing. Washing refers to the cleaning of clothing, which was something that didn't happen often because most people didn't have enough time or clothing to frequently wash their possessions. Bathing, on the other hand, meant how often they cleaned themselves, which was even less than washing. It was far easier to wipe your body off at the end of the day with a damp cloth than to take a bath.


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