Industrial revolution and technology advancements have provided us a wide array of products and services that we use on a daily basis. Surprisingly, just a few centuries back, humankind did not have access to any of such privileges. And yet, it doesn’t seem that our ancestors were faced with any major challenges. One of the most common things that we use every day is soap and shampoo. As these were created in modern times, it makes us wonder what our ancestors used to keep them clean. To answer such questions, here’s a look at what people used before soap and shampoo.
Fats and salts – Substances similar to soap have been evidenced to be used in around 3,000 BC. These have been found in archeological excavations. However, it is not certain if these were used primarily for bathing, cleaning or any other purpose. Laboratory analysis reveals that these substances had fats and oils mixed with salts such as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. The salts were sourced from natural sources and the final mixture had cleaning properties. However, it is not certain if such soap-like substance was used by everyone or if it was limited only to a select few.
Plain water – In ancient times, the concept of everyday bathing was largely absent. Even if people took a bath, they would have used plain water from a well, river, lake, and other water bodies. This makes it clear that hygiene standards were fairly poor in earlier times. It is suggested that many people would go without bathing for months. There is very little evidence to prove otherwise.
Oil and ashes – During Roman civilization, evidence indicates that people used oils to keep them clean. The oils dissolved bodily oils and other debris, which was then removed using a curved metal instrument. There is also evidence of mixing oils and ashes to create a foamy substance, which could be then rinsed away. Here too, it is likely that such methods were accessible only to the elite class and not the masses.
Scented water and oils – There is evidence that scented water and oils were used by certain communities. It would help remove dust and cover up any type of bodily smell.
Mud and sand – To remove bodily grease and grime, it is likely that people in ancient times used things like mud and sand to scrub themselves off. This is likely to have been done occasionally and not every day. The scrubbing agent could then be rinsed off with plain water.
The air, water and earth would have been much cleaner before the industrial revolution. So, it can be said that our ancestors would not have to deal with the grimy black soot of modern times. However, our ancestors did sweat and excrete bodily oils. So, not bathing daily would certainly have created a significant smelly situation, at least. But as most people would be doing the same, it would have been largely a non-issue.