What was personal and sexual hygiene like in the United Kingdom during the 1800s?

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boomer-sooner | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Personal hygiene in the UK was far from what it is today.  While poor hygiene today is often pointed out for ridicule and a known cause of disease, during the 1800s epidemics of disease such as cholera, typhus, and influenza were an accepted part of life.

Bathing during the early part of the century was avoided because it was thought soaking in water would expose the body to disease.  They were right, but not for the reasons they thought.  Sewage flowed from the streets and into the same waterways used for drinking water or bathing, therefore sitting in such water could expose the body to disease.  Most of the country just grew accustomed to the smell of unwashed bodies.  Bathing was often limited to a sponge bath and wiping off buildup of visible dirt, but rarely going beyond such measures.

Beauty products common today were not invented until the later part of the century.  Deodorant was not introduced until the 1880s and even toilet paper was not packaged as a product until around the same time.  Although toothpaste had been around since the early 1700s, the poor simply couldn't afford such a luxury item.  Wiping the teeth with a cloth or using a toothpick was the standard until well into the 1900s. 

The Public Health Bill of 1848 helped to increase hygiene habits.  Greater scientific knowledge identified the transmission of disease and engineering helped to separate potable water from sewage.

Sexual hygiene was not much better.  Condoms have been around for centuries and were usually made of goat or sheep intestines, but once again it was not a product generally used by the masses.  Sexually transmitted diseases were common and could be deadly.  Due to the general lack of bathing, urinary tract infections were common in men and women during the time.

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