Just in case you ever feel the need to know a proper (if outdated) technique for bathing… here are some actual instructions on how to take a bath. Based on the prevailing health beliefs at the time, this information comes from an 1884 book on physiology and hygiene. My first thought after reading these instructions all these years later was to wonder which parts of OUR ordinary life will seem strange after a similar passage of time. My second thought… brrrr!

For a person in good health, a daily cold bath is advisable. To this should be added occasionally a warm bath with soap, water alone not being sufficient to remove impurities of a greasy nature. Soap facilitates this by forming with such substances a chemical mixture which is taken up by water and by it removed from the body. Most persons experience the best results when the water is about the temperature of the body — “blood heat.”

A person in sound health may take a bath at almost any time except directly after a full meal. The most appropriate time is about three hours after a meal, the noon hour being probably the best. For the cold bath, taken rapidly, no time is better than immediately after rising. Those beginning the use of cold baths should first try them at 70°F and gradually use those of a lower temperature. From five to twenty minutes may be considered the proper limit of time to remain in a bath, but a sensation of chilliness is a signal to withdraw instantly.

The body should be warm rather than cold when stepping into the bath, and after it the skin should be thoroughly dried with a coarse towel. It is best to continue friction until there is a sensation of warmth or “glow” throughout the entire surface. This reaction is the test of the good effects of the bath. It is very congenial both to health and comfort to rest for a short time after bathing, or to take some light refreshment.

–from Hutchison’s Physiology and Hygiene, 1884

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This is priceless! Thanks for sharing such an interesting find. Love your blog BTW.

Stan J.

I agree with the brrr. I can’t imagine taking a cold water bath! This is great stuff. Thanks for posting this. Keep up the good work!


Brrr, I love my hot shower in the morning. Guess I am just spoiled. Great post.


I stayed with friends back in the 1960’s that didn’t have indoor plumbing. Once a week – Saturday night usually – they all had a bath. They put a metal wash tub on the kitchen floor and poured water heated from the kitchen stove into the tub. The girls all had a bath in order of age. The mom washed their hair and sent them to bed. Then the boys had their chance. I assume the parents took their baths after the kids were in bed. When they finally got a bathroom in the house, it was a good sized room addition. They had 2 toilets with a divider between – just like a school, 2 sinks, a tub and a shower. There was a door to the outside of the house and another door going to the inside of the house. Just inside the house door was a hand washing sink and a place for hosing off mud. There was an outside spigot for hosing shoes in warmer weather. That bathroom was nothing fancy but I can’t tell you how thrilled those kids were to show that off. It meant no more trips outside in the winter too. The kids said their dad never would use the indoor toilet.


If I were to take a “cold” bath upon arising, you can bet I would dry off with enough friction to produce warmth. And then I’d happily rest and partake of some refreshment.

Makes me think of a college roommate whom I didn’t know until the day we moved in. One of her first comments to me was that she only bathed once a week. Seeing the look on my face, she explained that she had just spent a year abroad studying in Austria. She lived with a local family who set her straight the very first day by telling her that unlike Americans, they bathed once a week and expected her to do the same. And she did. Back in America, she relaxed that rule somewhat and I never thought her to be unclean.

Funny how our culture shapes us. When I was growing up, anyone who shampooed daily would have been considered a little odd. Today, the “rules” are different. Bathing seems to have been replaced by the shower, for one thing. What’s in store for us in the future? Who knows?

I love to tell my students that Queen Elizabeth bathed once a month and was thought to be putting her health in great jeopardy. =-) Their groans may well be echoed by later generations when they study our habits.


This explains a portion of my grandfather’s aversion to hot baths!