What was used instead of toilet paper in the US and the UK prior to 1900?

What was used instead of toilet paper in the US and the UK prior to 1900?


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I read in this Wikipedia article that toilet paper came to be available only around 1920. On the other hand, this article says bidets were never popular in the UK and the US.

Moreover, colonies of the UK like India, have not adopted toilet paper during the British Raj. So what was used for anal cleansing before 1900? What fills up this missing part in the history of anal cleansing?


American Wasteland: A Social and Cultural History of Excrement,1860-1920

By Daniel Max Gerling, B.A.; M.A. Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy The University of Texas at Austin:

Although Gayetty's Medicated Paper, America's first toilet paper, was introduced in 1857, it was a luxury few Americans could afford. Therefore, most outhouses were equipped with a corncob hanging by a string from the wall. And after the Sears Catalog became commonplace in the 1890s, it was a staple in many outhouses for use as toilet paper. Several photos from the early 19th century of the inside of outhouses of tentimes feature scraps of newspaper or piles of rags. Some also had buckets of lime to control the odor.

Since corn was originally cultivated only in the Western Hemisphere, it's likely that corncobs was something the European/American settlers adopted from the indengious peoples there. But the rags and newspapers mentioned were probably commonly used in Europe, and brought by the Europeans to the New World.

In the Boy Scouts, I was taught to used dried leaves when out in the woods on a hike, and that such was the practice of Native Americans, and presumably early American Settlers.

I also found a few references to the use of stones by Native Americans, but nothing I can cite as a reliable source.


I don't think bidets were ever as popular in the UK as we believed. I've heard from a lot of people in the UK and they often say they don't have one nor do they know anyone that does have one. I think Crocodile Dundee put it in the heads of people that everyone in the UK has a bidet.

Bidets are more common in the Middle East, as well as Italy. The newer Japanese toilets seem to be more popular in Japan, China, etc. And it seems over the past few years they are getting quite popular in the US and Canada.


History Of Toilet Paper

Although we take toilet paper for granted, toilet paper has a relatively short history in the modern world.

In the 2nd century BC Chinese invented wrapping and padding material known as paper. There are many evidences that confirm that they used that paper like toilet paper too.

In the 6th century CE toilet paper was widely used in China.

Historically the first modern toilet paper was made in 1391, when it was created for the needs of the Chinese Emperor family. Each sheet of toilet paper was even perfumed. That was toilet paper as we have come to think of it.

In the late fifteenth century, paper became widely available. However, mass manufacturing of modern toilet paper began in the late 19th century.

Joseph C. Gayetty created the first commercially packaged toilet paper in 1857. His toilet papers were loose, flat, sheets of paper. Joseph founded The Gayetty Firm for toilet paper production in New Jersey and his first factory-made toilet paper was "The Therapeutic Paper”. This first toilet paper in flat sheets was medicated with aloe. Gayetty named it “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper.” Joseph Gayetty printed his name on every sheet. Unfortunately, this invention failed.

Thomas Seymour, Edward Irvin and Clarence Wood Scott began selling some kind of toilet paper in Philadelphia in 1867. In 1879, Scott brothers founded the Scott Paper Company. The Scott Paper Company's toilet paper was the first toilet paper sold in rolls. In 1890 the Scott Paper Company made its Waldorf brand toilet paper in rolls.

In 1871, Zeth Wheeler patents rolled and perforated toilet paper. In 1877 he founded the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company. In 1897, company began selling and marketing standard perforated toilet paper on a roll.

In 1879, Walter Alcock, a British businessman, created toilet paper on a roll, too. He was the first that used the perforated toilet roll instead of the common flat sheets.

In 1880 the British Perforated Paper Company began selling toilet paper. That toilet paper was sold in boxes of individual squares.

In 1885 Oliver Hewlett Hicks patented package of toilet paper and the manufacturing process.

In 1896, Irvin's son Arthur Scott joined the Scott Paper Company. In 1921 Waldorf brand represented 64% of Scott's total case sales. Company became the leading toilet paper company in the world.

In 1928, German, Hans Klenk become the first toilet paper rolls seller in Europe.

In 1942 toilet paper becomes softer, St. Andrew's Paper Mill in England began selling the first two-ply toilet paper. Today two-ply toilet paper is the standard in many countries.

In 1935 Northern Tissue invented splinter free toilet paper.

In 1973, America experienced first toilet paper shortage. In December 1973 after one of Carson’s jokes (Johnny Carson, one of America’s most loved comedians) scared consumers into stockpiling supplies.

At the time, people did not speak of the toilet paper frequently. In conservative era it was 'unmentionable" to talk about this product. However, people had a desire for better hygiene and toilet paper slowly fit into the consumer market.

Today the manufacture of toilet paper is a large industry. The modern toilet paper has definitely made life much easier and more hygienic for us all.


10 Revolting Facts About the 18th Century

It is well known on Listverse that I love history it may be lesser-known that the 18th century is my favorite period in time &ndash followed shortly after by the Middle Ages. Many of our lists dealing with historic times tend to discuss the nice parts &ndash not intentionally avoiding the bad &ndash just lacking space on a list for both. This list looks at ten rather unfortunate parts of Western history in the 18th century.

Today we place high value on personal hygiene but back in the day people could go from cradle to grave without ever immersing themselves in water. Many people believed that bathing was unhealthy and that soaking in water, especially hot water, would let disease enter the body. Even if you did decide to take a bath, you would not even have contemplated taking off your clothes &ndash a habit that remained right through to the end of the 19th century!

Deodorant was not invented until the 1880s, so most people were entirely comfortable with smelling like a goat most of the time. The rich would try to hide this smell by dousing themselves in perfume. We all know that doesn&rsquot work. While 9th century polymath Ziryab did introduce the idea of underarm deodorant to Moorish Iberia (parts of Spain, France, Portugal, and Gibraltar) the idea never caught on. It wasn&rsquot until 1888 that the first commercially produced deodorant began taking the west by storm. It is still available today &ndash the brand was &ldquoMum.&rdquo

Women did not groom their body hair. In the Western world, removal of body hair did not become common until the 1920s. Of course there are some nations (that shall not be named) who do have a reputation for their women still not grooming body hair. Enough said about that, I think!

Homes stunk of urine and feces. There was no indoor plumbing most people relieved themselves into a chamber pot, which could be left to sit, until someone decided to throw it out the nearest window. In later times these chamber pot visits were less frequent as outdoor lavatories were invented &ndash but even in the Victorian era chamber pots had their place as a night time emergency loo.

Toilet paper wasn&rsquot invented until the late 1800s, so you did your best with whatever was available. The rich might have had the luxury to wipe themselves with strips of linen. The poor used old rags, moss, leaves and good old trusty hand! Even the Ancient Romans fared better &ndash they used cloth on a stick which was dipped in a bucket of water! Pictured above is a portable 18th century toilet.

Bed bug infestation was rampant. They were simply considered a normal part of life. Unfortunately these bed bugs were undoubtedly the cause of many illnesses spreading. They remained a constant problem until well into modern times. In the Victorian era, women were recommended to wipe all the beds down with kerosene to kill these unwanted guests.

Women had few options when Mother Nature called once a month. Some would use a piece of cloth which would be reused several times. Rather unpleasant really, given that you had to dry them on the washing line with all your other smalls. Best not to look over the fence! Others simply used nothing and let gravity do its thing.

In larger urban areas, the streets smelled of a mixture of animal dung, human feces and rotting plant matter. If you ever wondered where the gentlemanly tradition of the man walking on the outside arose, look no further of course, it was also in part to protect his &ldquolady&rdquo from water splashes from passing carriages. When you next watch a movie where a man gallantly throws his cape across the ground for his lady to pass &ndash remember: it may not be a puddle he is covering.

Dental hygiene was little more than a toothpick and maybe wiping down your gums with a cloth. Women generally had worse dental hygiene than men due to vitamin loss from pregnancy. While this was true for the poor, Italian company Marvis began making their toothpaste in the early 1700s (they still make it today). But frankly the poor were probably more concerned with buying meat than fancy Italian toothpaste. It definitely wasn&rsquot an &ldquoessential.&rdquo

Everyone was infested with head and body lice. But never fear, they had an amazing cure for this: mercury! 18th century Europe had a love affair with mercury. They ate it, they rubbed it on their skin, and then they went batshit crazy and died. On the positive side &ndash at least it killed the lice first!


What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?

Using the bathroom has come a long way from when ancient Greeks used stones and pieces of clay for personal hygiene. Toilet paper is one of those things that often gets taken for granted in modern times, except for places Charmin has yet to infiltrate. This is definitely one of those unavoidable things in life, so through many centuries and in many cultures, everyone had their own method of staying clean.

Ancient Romans were a bit more sophisticated than the Greeks when it came to cleansing: They opted for a sponge on the end of a long stick that was shared by everyone in the community. When not in use, that stick stayed in a bucket of heavily salted seawater in the communal bathroom. The public facilities were also equipped with a long marble bench with holes carved out for—well, you know what they were carved out for—and holes at the front for your sponge-on-a-stick to slide through. Romans didn’t have dividing walls, either, so you sat right next to that cute girl from the insulae down the road.

Around 1391, during the Song Dynasty, a Chinese emperor decreed that large 2-foot-by-3-foot paper sheets must be made for his toilet time. Until then, people in China just used random paper products.

In colonial America, things weren’t much more advanced. After settlers left Great Britain for the colonies, the best things they could find were corncobs. Ouch. It wasn’t until later that they realized they could use old newspapers and catalogs. In fact, the reason there was a hole through the corner of the Old Farmer’s Almanac was so people would be able to hang it on a hook in their outhouses.

Even though Queen Elizabeth I’s godson invented one of the first flush toilets in 1596, commercially produced toilet paper didn’t begin circulating until 1857.

Quilted Northern, formerly Northern Tissue, advertised as late as 1935 that their toilet paper was “splinter-free.” Since the company is still big in the multiple-ply, multi-billion dollar industry today, the marketing plan must have been a success: splinter-free tissue was obviously in very high demand. Toilet paper's appeal is not universal, however. Many in India use the left-hand-and-bucket-of-water method.

Today we can buy luxury bathroom accessories like portable bidets, toilet stools, and toilet rolls specifically for Millennials—so there’s no going back to the brush-on-a-stick days.


Two Competing Companies: The Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad

The Pacific Railroad Act stipulated that the Central Pacific Railroad Company would start building in Sacramento and continue east across the Sierra Nevada, while a second company, the Union Pacific Railroad, would build westward from the Missouri River, near the Iowa-Nebraska border. The two lines of track would meet in the middle (the bill did not designate an exact location) and each company would receive 6,400 acres of land (later doubled to 12,800) and $48,000 in government bonds for every mile of track built. From the beginning, then, the building of the transcontinental railroad was set up in terms of a competition between the two companies.

In the West, the Central Pacific would be dominated by the 𠇋ig Four”𠄼harles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington and Mark Hopkins. All were ambitious businessmen with no prior experience with railroads, engineering or construction. They borrowed heavily to finance the project, and exploited legal loopholes to get the most possible funds from the government for their planned track construction. Disillusioned with his partners, Judah planned to recruit new investors to buy them out, but he caught yellow fever while crossing the Isthmus of Panama on his way east and died in November 1863, soon after the Central Pacific had spiked its first rails to ties in Sacramento. Meanwhile, in Omaha, Dr. Thomas Durant had illegally achieved a controlling interest in the Union Pacific Railroad Company, giving him complete authority over the project. (Durant would also illegally set up a company called Crຝit Mobilier, which guaranteed him and other investors risk-free profits from the railroad’s construction.) Though the Union Pacific celebrated its own launch in early December 1863, little would be completed until the end of the Civil War in 1865.


From Turrets to Toilets: A Partial History of the Throne Room

In a catalog assembled for the 2014 Venice Biennale to accompany an exhibition on architectural elements, the bathroom is referred to as “the architectural space in which bodies are replenished, inspected, and cultivated, and where one is left alone for private reflection - to develop and affirm identity.” I think that means it’s where you watch yourself crying in the mirror. As for the toilet specifically, Biennale curator Rem Koolhaas and his researchers, consider it to be the “ultimate” architectural element, “the fundamental zone of interaction--on the most intimate level--between humans and architecture.” So the next time that burrito doesn’t sit right or you had one too many gin and tonics, remember that you’re experiencing a corporeal union with the mother of all arts. Potty humor aside, the privatization and proliferation of the bathroom has really driven new developments in cleanliness and safety and has shaped our buildings.

The flush toilet was invented in 1596 but didn’t become widespread until 1851. Before that, the “toilet” was a motley collection of communal outhouses, chamber pots and holes in the ground. During the 11th-century castle-building boom, chamber pots were supplemented with toilets that were, for the first time, actually integrated into the architecture. These early bathrooms, known as “garderobes” were little more than continuous niches that ran vertically down to the ground, but they soon evolved into small rooms that protruded from castle walls as distinct bottomless bays (such a toilet was the setting for a pivotal scene in the season finale of "Game of Thrones"). “Garderrobe” is both a euphemism for a closet as well as a quite literal appellation, as historian Dan Snow notes: "The name garderobe - which translates as guarding one's robes - is thought to come from hanging your clothes in the toilet shaft, as the ammonia from the urine would kill the fleas."

Stepped garderobe shafts at Langley Castle, by Viollet-le-Duc Though it might be named for a closet, the garderrobe actually had a strong resemblance to an aspect of a castle’s defenses. And it works in the same basic way: gravity. And while the garderobe was actually a weak spot in a castle’s defenses, woe be the unassuming invader scaling a castle wall beneath one. Several designs emerged to solve the problem of vertical waste disposal - some spiral up towers, for example, while some were entire towers some dropped waste into cesspools, moats, and some just dropped it onto the ground below. Not all medieval compounds were okay with merely dumping excrement onto the ground like so much hot oil. Christchurch monastery (1167) has an elaborate sewage system that separates running water, rain drainage, and waste, which can be seen marked in red seen in the below drawing, which has to be the most beautiful plumbing diagram I have ever seen:

Sewage diagram of Christchurch Monastery, Canterbury (1167)

Today, the toilet has been upgraded from architectural polyp to a central design element. A long time ago, when I had dreams of becoming an architect, I was designing a house for a client who wanted to see the television from the toilet and tub but did not want a television in the bathroom. The entire master suite, and thus a large percentage of the building’s second floor, was designed around seeing the views from the bathroom. And that was the second residence in my short career that began with the bathroom. More commonly though, toilets shape the spaces of our skyscrapers.

Plumbing arrangement in a 19th century New York house Because we can’t simply drop our waste 800 feet off the side of a skyscraper onto a busy metropolitan sidewalk, and because efficient plumbing depends on stacking fixtures that share a common “wet wall,” toilets (and elevators, of course) are the only elements drawn in the plans for high-rise buildings, whose repeating floor slabs are built out later according to a tenant’s needs. Once relegated to the periphery, the toilet is a now an oasis at the center of our busylives, a place where, as Koolhaas wrote, “one is left alone for private reflection - to develop and affirm identity.” To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we shaped our toilets, then our toilet shapes us.


What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?

The first recorded use of something resembling toilet paper comes from 6th century China where the more affluent members of society would use wads of paper to clean their nether regions.

In the Tang dynasty, a visiting diplomat to China from the middle east commented: “They are not careful about cleanliness, and they do not wash themselves with water after they have done their necessities, but they only wipe themselves with paper.”

By the Song dynasty, the Emperor decreed that paper measuring 2 feet by 3 feet be made available for his bathroom needs. This is the first-time paper was made specifically for toileting.

Early Chinese hemp fiber paper. Photo by Ytrottier CC BY SA 3.0

In Ancient Rome, where shared public toilets were all the rage, they preferred to use a tersorium, a communal sponge on a stick, which was stored in strong sea brine or vinegar when not in use.

Remains of Roman public toilets at Carthage, Tunisia.

Sometimes this would be passed from person to person, and occasionally someone would end up grabbing the wrong end of the stick, leading to much hilarity and sometimes infection and death.

Seneca tells the story of a Germanic gladiator in 64AD who committed suicide by tersorium rather than face the horrors of the Colosseum.

Things were equally as strange in Ancient Greece where there was also a sponge on a stick called a xylospongium, but the preferred method was pieces of ceramic called pessoi.

These were used in a left to right scraping motion and historians have estimated that your average wipe would use three pieces.

A replica xylospongium (sponge on a stick). Photo by D. Herdemerten ( Hannibal21 ) CC BY 3.0

While it was common to do the business al fresco, there is evidence that the more privileged in society had access to flushing toilets.

As the Times reports, “The oldest flushing toilets in the world are thought to be in the Minoan palace of Knossos, in Crete, where their 4,000-year-old remains can still be seen. Minoan royalty sat on a wooden seat over a clay bowl, which was flushed with water into stone sewers.”

Dholavira sophisticated water reservoir, evidence for hydraulic sewage systems in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Photo by Rama’s Arrow CC BY-SA 3.0

In ancient Japan they used a metal implement called a chugi that looked similar to a tongue depressor to clean any hard to reach areas — thankfully there are no reports of anyone confusing the two.

Things were slightly more sanitary in the ancient Middle East where they would use running water and their left hand to direct the stream of water to the correct area and then making sure to thoroughly wash the hand after use.

Anal cleansing instruments known as chūgi from the Nara period (710 to 784) in Japan. The modern rolls in the background are for size comparison. Photo by Chris 73 CC BY-SA 3.0

In Europe it was common to use rags which could be washed and used again, many of these rags ended up in the sewer system, so it’s impossible to know how many times these rags were used before being thrown away.

In the Americas it was common to use the corn cobs once the corn had been removed, this was a popular option because the cobs were readily available and surprisingly soft and flexible.

Even though the flushing toilet was invented in 1596, the first toilet paper was not produced until 1857, when an American inventor called Joseph Gayetty began selling with first therapeutic paper infused with aloe at 500 sheets for 50 cents.

Initially, Gayetty’s product was sold as a medical accessory, advertised as a help for people who struggled with hemorrhoids.

An advertisement for Gayetty’s Medicated Paper.

Before Gayetty’s invention became popular, people were using whatever they could get their hands on. Mail order catalogs and publications such as the Farmer’s Almanac were favorite bathroom substitutes, or something more natural like a piece of moss, piles of dirt or a bit of fur, or even in some cases mussel and oyster shells.

Although Gayetty was very proud of his invention, the product was later remembered as a commercial disaster. Following his example, a few other inventors tried to place their papers in a roll on the market.

Many of them were unsuccessful until 1867 when the brothers Thomas, Edward, and Clarence Scott managed to successfully market their toilet paper.

So, 1867 was the year when the perforated toilet paper in rolls, as we know it today, saw a wider use.

In 1935, Northern Issue started advertising the “splinter-free” toilet paper on the market. And in 1942, St. Andrew’s Paper Mill, in the UK introduced softness by launching the two-ply paper.

From that point on, it was only a matter of quality of the TP – size, weight, resistance, roughness, residues, water-absorption, etc. Some companies invested in surveys to come up with the perfect formula for a better product. This, for example, led to adding aloe in the paper to soften it.

Rolls of toilet paper produced by Nokia in the 1960’s, Museum Centre Vapriikki, Tampere, Finland. Photo by Catlemur CC BY SA 4.0

The quality of this product depends on its durability, coarseness, and quantity of piles. The low-grade TP consists of only 1 or 2 piles and sometimes can be very rough. Mid-Grade is stronger and slightly softer while the ultimate quality is the Premium paper consists of 2 to 4 piles.

This high-grade TP might be enriched with lotions and creams for softness, and it can be textured, patterned, or quilted so that it would also have a luxury feel.

The Ladies’ home journal (1948)

Eventually, the price difference between the two types of papers decreased, and the soft one became the preferred choice of the people.

For most of the 20 th Century, there was a huge gap between the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ toilet paper not only in the quality but also in the price. The hard one was more affordable and it was common to have prints on it, such as ‘NOW WASH YOUR HANDS PLEASE’, ‘IZAL MEDICATED’, or ‘GOVERNMENT PROPERTY’ which was written on every sheet towards the perforated parts.


Victorian Bathrooms : A History Lesson

As I said in Part One, creating a period PERFECT Victorian era bathroom is pretty challenging, if you want modern conveniences. But there are SO many period-appropriate elements that you can incorporate into a bathroom that will make the room feel like it fits the architecture of a Victorian home. Disclaimer: I am not an expert in any of this, by any means, and I’m very excited and passionate about this topic, which I’m sure clouds my judgement! So take anything I say with a grain of salt (preferably a grain of bath salts, which you’ll use to soak in a vintage tub in your perfect bathroom). Grab a hot chocolate and settle in. I’ve got lots to share.

Judith Flanders says that in the Victorian Era, “men and women had different approaches to bathing.” Still true, right? Advances in plumbing changed the way people approached hygiene, and the world is a lot less smelly because of this. Three cheers for sewers and indoor plumbing! Bathing was seen primarily as therapeutic in the early part of the Victorian era – sponge baths were all the rage, and basically, if you washed you face, feet, pits, and naughty bits once a day, you were FINE. Bathing your whole body everyday? Totally a bad idea. When you DID wash your whole body, everything had a purpose – right down to the temperature of the water.

I have this AMAZING cookbook from 1892 that spells all of this out. YES, a cookbook. See, in the Victorian era, women were the first line of defense as far as medical care goes, and kitchens were used as minor operating rooms, and you had to know how to sew stitches, and solve all sorts of problems in the household. And cookbooks didn’t just have recipes for food, they had recipes for household hints, and cleaning, and medicine, and first aid, and child raising…..

I stumbled on the Columbia Cook Book by Adelaide Hollingsworth (1892), and it’s one of the most amazing books I’ve ever purchased. I was going to paraphrase the section on bathing, but I just can’t. You have to read it for yourself. And forgive me for taking pictures of the pages and not scanning – the condition and thickness of the book makes this a LOT easier and safer for the book. It’s not a perfect scan, but it is DELIGHTFUL.

Before houses had water pipes, bathing took place in the warmest room of the house – the kitchen. Water could be heated on the stove and poured in to a basic tin tub, and everyone would generally use the same bath water – and then laundry would be done in it last. Carrying water was a HUGE task. If you had a bathtub on the second floor, water had to be carried up, as well (TWICE – once to get the water up, and again to get the dirty water out! I’m certain that Laziness was actually the real reason that you were encourages not to bathe every day). If you were lucky to have a dedicated bathroom on the first floor, often, the drain went directly into the ground under the house. Toilets were outside, but eventually, sewer systems became necessary to fight disease. Sewer systems started in the cities first, and then eventually made their way into the country. To make this work, pipes and standard sizes for plumbing materials had to be a thing. SUCH a massive undertaking – which is why it took so long for houses to have indoor plumbing.

Judith Flanders had some great stats about Muncie, Indiana, which is only a couple hours from our house. I think it’s fun to know about this, so close to home, because it was probably a similar situation here in Franklin, Indiana. In 1890, Muncie has 11,000 people, but less than two dozen homes had a bathroom including and bath and lavatory. By 1925? Only 25% of the homes in Muncie had running water. You were more likely to own a car, than a bathroom! When did most Victorian houses finally have an indoor (often retro-fitted) bathroom? Not until the 1950s. Wowza. But it makes sense – we’re so spoiled these days by the convenience of water (and we’re so lucky). But when you think about Victorian or antique houses that don’t have Air Conditioning, it’s easy to think, “Man, what a mes that would be, to take the whole house apart to run ductwork.” It’s the same concept. Many houses that were connected to city water just had a pump in the back of their house. Anything else was too cost-prohibitive.

Most of the historians say that there were two types of Victorian Bathrooms – wood-filled rooms, or the later hygienic porcelain white bathrooms. I think there’s a third, which I call the hybrid.

The earliest Victorian bathrooms were just fitted into regular rooms. The fixtures were all fitted into wood to make the room feel equal to a parlor or a bedroom. Everything felt like furniture, and the room was decorated as such – paintings, wallpaper, wainscoting, fabrics, rugs…. everything that you’d have in a normal room, but now you had a tub, sink, and toilet.

Below, note the wicker furniture, the tableclothed tea table, and all the wood!

Eventually, the Victorians realized that maybe wood WASN’T the best choice for a bathroom – especially once hot water pipes and tanks were added to houses, towards the late 1800s. Then came this fascination with cleanliness, and rooms became tiled (or, linoleum if you weren’t as wealthy), and fixtures became made of one piece of porcelain. SO much easier to keep clean. White was considered a clean color that you would know when to clean.

Looking at pictures, though, the hybrid bathroom, as I call it, definitely exists. It uses some elements of wood from the earlier bathrooms (especially wainscoting), but has the porcelain fixtures of the “clean” bathrooms.

Here are some examples of the “Hybrid” baths, as I call them!

Can we all fall in love with the shower below? AND THE LIGHT FIXTURE.

Today, bringing in some elements of wood isn’t as terrifying – using marine varnish can help keep wood protected from the steam and water, if your bathroom is heavily used.

When bathrooms became stand-alone rooms, they were often located at the back of the house, as out of the way as possible, to deal with sewer smells. Once the S-Bend was invented, and plumbing could keep the smells out, bathrooms could move around, and often were located under stairs or in former dressing rooms. The bath and sink were commonly in one room, and the toilet in another (the lavatory or water closet).

I LOVE clawfoot tubs because of their sculptural nature, but also because they are so freaking comfortable. If you add one, make sure your floors can deal with the weight! They are really heavy. No one needs this.

Also, if your water heater can’t keep up to fill it (they are DEEP) you might want to consider that as well. We have a tankless water heater, which means we can fill to our hearts content.

The clawfoot became popular by the end of the century as hot water tanks became more prevalent. Prior to this, tin tubs were more commonplace. Often, in early bathrooms, to get the furniture feel, tubs were surrounded by mahogany.

Pretty, but it seriously reminds me of a coffin.

Clawfoot and Cast-Iron Roll Tops were often placed on top of marble slabs – pretty awesome.

Showers were all the rage for the well-to-do. Some were just tanks suspended over the tub, and you could operate them with a pull-chain (a lot like a camp shower). Rib cage showers are hard to find these days ( and expensive! ), and they look a little like torture chambers, but they are SUPER cool.

Here are some more showers!

Sinks were initially just a pitcher and basin on a washstand, usually with a marble top.

Then, plumbing was added, but the furniture feel remained.

Marble sinks with legs or brackets were also popular – this sink is VERY similar to what we’ll be putting in the first floor bath.

The pedestal sink came along, and it was so easy to clean (and is pretty beautiful, too).

The first flush toilet was invented by Thomas Crapper in 1861, but it took a while to get right. Gravity aided the flushing, so high-tanks assisted with this. It took a lot of water to make this work!

Early toilets were very decorative, with lots of patterns and florals. Like a giant tea cup!

By 1875, a more successful “Wash out” water closet was being used to flush more effectively. Newsprint and recycled magazines were used for toilet paper – the first roll came about in the 1880s.

Floors could be made of wood, or dark cork tiles. Tile (especially hexagonal patterns) became all the rage with hygienic bathrooms. These could be pricey. So many middle-class houses also used linoleum. Moveable rugs were also used – small area rugs. Even in Victorian times, people understood that you should never, EVER carpet a bathroom. Gross.

Initially, décor on the walls was no different than any other room. Painting, portraits, mirrors….all was fair game. If the walls were papered, they were often varnished to deal with water and steam. Woodwork could be painted with enamel for this issue, as well. Lincrusta and Anaglypta were also used on walls, as well. Eventually, tile took over here, as well, going all (or partly) up the walls to deal with heat and steam.

I hope this gives you some ideas of what to incorporate into a bathroom to make it feel Victorian!

I’m Not Smart! I just read things written by other smart people.

Here’s where I researched / stole everything for this blog post. (Except any sass. I’l take full credit for that.)

  • Flanders, Judith. The Making Of Home
  • Flanders, Judith. Inside the Victorian Home
  • Goodman, Ruth. How to Be a Victorian
  • Hollingsworth, Adelaide. Columbia Cookbook , 1892 (the link has the full book from the 1902 edit)
  • Guild, Robin. The Victorian House Book
  • Gay, Cheri Y. Victorian Style: Classic Homes of North America

Where can you find reproductions or authentic victorian bath fixtures?

Ebay, Craigslist, Antique Stores, Salvage Yards, Habitat Stores, ask around if a local house is being re-habbed..

Ask your neighbors. We got a clawfoot tub from our next-door neighbors, because they no longer wanted it. We love that we have something original to the neighborhood to install sometime!

Tell me other sites or stores, if you love them!

Next up, in Part Three, I’ll take you through our four bathrooms, so you can see exactly why they need help. And dreams.


A Brief History of the Bathroom

Read the fascinating history of a room that we often take for granted.

The privacy, comfort, luxury and extreme sanitary conditions that we associate with our bathrooms today are the result of thousands of years of civil engineering and social change. Indoor plumbing, flushing toilets, heated water, water pressure, electricity and ventilation may be features we take for granted in our modern bathroom. But all of our bathroom’s high tech gadgets had a long history in the making. Although humans have always had the need to use toilet facilities and have used bathing as a way to cleanse themselves, it took centuries for our culture to bring these two important functions together into one convenient room. Let’s explore the fascinating history of the bathroom and see how much, or how little, has changed.

Ancient Societies and Public Bathing

When we talk about the activities we perform in our bathrooms today, we tend to speak of everything that relates to taking care of our bodies: washing, bathing, cleaning, relieving ourselves, manicuring our outer appearance…it’s a place we cleanse ourselves, ensure proper hygiene, and a place we prepare ourselves for the day. In ancient cultures, these tasks weren’t necessarily performed all in the same room. In many societies, the toilet was a function performed far away from the home. And cleaning or bathing the body was performed in another area. Bathing played an important role in many societies as water was often used in religious or political ceremonies. Of course, each society had a unique version of cleansing let’s take a look at some well-known traditions.

Ancient Rome

The famous Roman baths, and the ritual of bathing, was a tradition that extended as far as the Empire itself. Ruins of ancient Roman baths have been found in England, Northern Africa and the Middle East. To the Romans, bathing was a public ritual, an opportunity to socialize, take care of the body, and rub elbows with the elite. Similar to our modern day golf club or country club, the Roman bath was considered absolutely mandatory for a certain class of people. Roman baths were derived from ancient Greek bathhouse design and usually featured large facilities in addition to smaller rooms. There was usually a reception area (apodyterium), a hot room (caldarium), a warm room (tepidarium), and a cold room (frigidarium). Some baths featured other rooms for steam, sauna or exercise. Men and women usually bathed separately and used different entrances. Because the Roman baths were such an integral part of their empire, its history and archeological sites have helped shed light on what life may have been like back then. Bathing, it seems, was performed for hygienic reasons, but also reflected a certain level of importance for the middle and upper classes. Some of the best-preserved ruins of a Roman bath can be seen in Rome and Pompeii.

Many Roman baths took advantage of natural hot springs but the Romans were also skilled civil engineers, with aqueducts supplying fresh water not only for agriculture and drinking fountains, but for baths as well. The bathhouses were so important for many cities that they often incorporated spaces for exercise, libraries, lecture halls and gardens. There was a therapeutic aspect to Roman bathing as well as an educational one.

The Baths of Caracalla were built between 212 and 219 A.D. by the emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Image found here.

Middle East

The Romans introduced the idea of the public bathing throughout their empire, which included Northern Africa and the eastern Mediterranean countries. As the idea of public bathing slowly died out in the west, the east continued the tradition with their hammam, or public baths. One of the oldest surviving hammams is the Hammam al-Nahhasin located in Syria, which dates back to the 12 th century. Like ancient Rome, the hammams in the east were an important part of the culture and their presence seemed to signify a prosperous city. It was noted by medieval authors that ancient Baghdad had nearly 60,000 bathhouses at its height of prosperity. During the late medieval period, western travelers to the east re-discovered the public baths and introduced them back into European culture.

This Iranian public bathhouse, located in Kashan, Iran, was constructed in the 16th century. “Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse 2” by Adam Jones. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Baths in the West

European crusaders, who traveled to the east between 1095 and 1291, brought back home to England citrus fruits and herbs as well as the love of steam baths.

England in the Middle Ages favored steam baths and bathing, and many social activities took place in and around the “stews,” or baths. Men and women could bath together (however women may have covered their hair for decency). Dining, grooming and other social activities were common scenes at the stew (as depicted in the image below). Contrary to modern belief, the medieval people in England were quite clean. But like many trends, public bathing in England fell out of favor at the end of the 16 th century as the bagnios/bagno, or baths became associated with brothels. Another reason public bathing was falling out of favor was that the sudden increase in population was making it difficult to find clean water. As waves of disease hit Europe in the Middle Ages (the most famous being the Bubonic Plague otherwise known as the Black Death in 1347), it was believed that bathing, and exposing the body to water, may contribute to early death.

An English stew. Luxuries: A Bathhouse in Valerius Maximus’ Facta et Dicta Memorabilia (fol. 244), c. 1470, tempera and gold leaf on parchment. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin—Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Depot Breslau 2). Image found here.

Medieval Japan

The bathing rituals in medieval Japan were well documented by traveling Europeans who traveled to the islands. It was noted that bathing was not only common but encouraged, both for religious reasons and social ones. Like many ancient cultures of the time, bathing could have been centered on religious ceremonies. Zen monasteries used bathing to cleanse the body and mind as well as a place to meditate. It was common to see “charity” baths, donated and constructed by the wealthy for use by the poor.

In medieval Japan several types of therapeutic baths were used by all classes, many of these baths were created not necessarily because of wealth but because of geographical advantages. Natural hot springs were one type of therapeutic bathing (and is still being used today). Another type was rock bath, which originated near the Inland Sea. This was an early form of a steam bath, in which stone enclosures were heated and then poured over with salt water. The resulting steam and salt was thought to be therapeutic. A third type of bathing, the oven bath, was similar to a sauna or steam bath and found in the mountain regions. A clay hut, similar to a large oven, was heated with green branches. The ashes were raked away and a person would lie down inside on a mat that had been soaked in water. The heat and steam would be sealed off, resulting in a therapeutic steam/sauna experience.

An image depicting a Japanese medieval charity bath at a Buddhist temple, circa 1326. Image found here.

Ancient Toilets

Ancient civilizations most likely used both a portable system, like a chamber pot, and a public toilet system. Squat toilets, still in use today, have been discovered in Asia dating as early as 1500 B.C. Of course where you lived and your status within your society may have dictated the level of comfort or privacy of your toilet. Some ancient public toilets, like this one pictured below in Ostia Antica, Italy, give us a good idea about what toilet life was like back in the Roman Empire. For the most part, our modern concept of privacy when using the toilet is relatively new. It’s true that the most powerful or wealthy may have been able to use the toilet in relative privacy. But for the lower or middle classes, nearly all aspects of life was commonly shared. Like we explored in the history of the bedroom and kitchen, shared activities was a way to foster relationships, establish bonds and share communal life.

“Ostia-Toilets” by Fubar Obfusco – en.wiki. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

You can still see private toilet seats in European castles. Much like a modern port-a-potty, garderobes were a wood or stone seat in which the toilet debris could fall down a cute into a moat below. A medieval garderobe was much like a small closet, used to store clothing and other wearables. But some featured a stone seat for use as a toilet (like the one shown below). Medieval cities may have situated public toilets on bridges, so that the toilet debris could simply float away with the river. Ancient Romans were known for having chamber pots available during dining events (which could last hours). There is evidence of using natural materials (whatever was available in that region) for wiping. Sponges on a stick, rushes or weeds, or even pieces of linen cloth may have been used. And what you used, and how expensive it was to produce, would have reflected your status within society.

The garderobe shown at Peveril Castle, circa 1086. “Garderobe, Peveril Castle, Derbyshire” by Dave.Dunford. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Image found here.

16 th Century Europe: No baths, flushing toilets invented

The plague hit England 7 times in 200 years and greatly impacted public opinion of bathing, hygiene and cleanliness. In 1546 King Henry VIII shut down public bathhouses in England for good, blaming them for sickness. Instead of bathing to keep clean, it was thought that wearing clean linen next to the skin would make the body clean. As a result, laundry and washing became incredibly important (as well as time consuming) for the women in Tudor England. Brilliant white, as seen in portraits of the day, became a status symbol.

Image of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) showing off her brilliant white clothing. Painting by Marcus Gheeraerts.

Instead of bathing, white linen underclothes, soaking up toxins and smells, became the solution of keeping the body clean. Washing these linens was laborious. Soap was made from water poured over ash and boiled with mutton fat and herbs. This recipe created a ball of scented soap lye that could be rubbed on linen and clothing. A flat paddle, called a washing bat or beetle, was used to hit the clothing during the washing process – an old style of washing clothes. It is thought that Tudor children may have used these balls of soap and beetle bat in a game, like cricket. Urine was also used as a whitener or stain remover. Because bathing the body was a rare occasion, it was common for people to carry pomades made from citrus fruits, spices and vinegar that would help mitigate body odor. As far as other bodily hygiene was concerned, teeth were cleaned regularly with a paste made from cloves, salt, burnt toast or vinegar in various combinations.

A painting depicting 16th century laundry. Notice the beetles used to hit the clothing. Image found here.

There were basically three types of toilets in the Tudor period and who used them was decided entirely upon the status of that person. There were Great Houses of Easement or communal privies, which were public toilets for the lower class. These toilets, like the ones before them, were often situated over rivers and enclosed in a bridge-like structure. Chamber pots were used by the middle class and would have been emptied onto the street or river. Chamber pots were considered to be discrete and somewhat private, as the person could use them in their bedroom or whichever room they chose. Women wearing large skirts could actually place a chamber pot up their skirts and use the chamber pot in relative privacy. The wealthy royals used velvet-lined clothes stools with a chamber pot inside. They would be attended by servants who would bring the clothes stool to the person and then wheel them out when finished. Queen Elizabeth I even had a carriage for her clothes stool so that it could be brought with her wherever she went. The servants who would be chosen to attend to the semi-private chambers of the royal family, the Privy Council, played a very important role. The lord of the chamber (which later became Lord Chamberlain) was quite literally the person in charge of attending the king while on the toilet or while using the private chambers. Being physically close to the king had enormous privileges.

In 1596 a wealthy poet, and godson to Queen Elizabeth I, Sir John Harrington, invented Britain’s first flushing toilet. He published a book called A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax. “Ajax” being a play on the Tudor word for toilet, “jax.” The basic engineering of this first flushing toilet isn’t too far different from today’s toilet and because of his relationship to the queen it was installed in the castle. Unfortunately, it was not a hit. The royals were used to the toilet being brought to them, and this new device could not be moved. The queen did not want to walk to a room specifically for using the toilet – that would have been seen as lewd and too obvious. Additionally, this toilet didn’t flush after every use and had no device to prevent fumes and smells from rising. So although this toilet design was incredibly inventive, it did not catch on among the wealthy. Still, Elizabethan London was becoming polluted with human waste. 180,000 people lived in London at that time and there became a strong need for fresh water to be piped into the city to help with the stench.

The 18 th century: The bathroom as a social place

Bathing was still not a daily ritual for many westerners during this time. As London was seeing the development of its first massive irrigation project being installed, the wealthy could pay for private fresh water taps to be placed into their homes. This did not mean that these homes had access to fresh water every day, however it did mean that bathing, cleaning and washing could be done more privately inside the home.

Across the pond, George Washington noticed that the hygiene of his troops was deplorable and feared that unsanitary conditions could lead to disease. He wrote to one colonel, “While you halt you will take every measure for refreshing your Men and rendering them as comfortable as you can. Bathing themselves moderately and washing their Cloathes are of infinite Service.” (source) In fact, the British Royalists who would visit the Colonists often remarked on their odor and deplorable, unsanitary conditions. Not used to the humidity of the American south, some British colonists did find time to bath in cold water if only to escape the heat of the summer. But bathing on a regular basis was not a common practice.

In Georgian London, many of the rituals that we perform in our bathrooms today were done in the bedroom. Washbasins, set on elaborately designed and expensive stands, would hold water for washing the extremities. This area of the bedroom would have also been used for makeup, perfume, putting on wigs and general dressing. Unlike our bedrooms and bathrooms of today, these dressing tables were places where social activities took place. It was common for men and women to get ready in their bedrooms while socializing with their friends. The rising middle class created a demand for interiors that reflected their rising status in society, and no shortage of money could be spent on lavish vanities. Although not considered private, this corner of the bedroom was essentially their bathroom.

A scene depicting entertaining while sitting at the vanity. In the 18th century it was common to get ready for the day in the bedroom while eating, writing letters and socializing. Image found here.

The wealthy may have spent lots of time and money putting on makeup, dressing in elaborate clothing and using copious amounts of perfume, but bathing for hygienic reasons still wasn’t popular. Medical knowledge of health and disease still was in an infant stage of discovery. There were some that believed bathing to be the source of disease, and others who believed that bathing could be therapeutic. Some doctors prescribed bathing only in cold ocean water, others prescribed bathing in hot springs. “Taking the waters” was a prescribed activity for the sick and many believed (and still believe) in the powers of natural mineral springs. In 1742 the Mineral Water Hospital was opened in Bath, England (which was originally used as a bath by the ancient Romans in 60 A.D.) and was used to treat the seriously ill. By 1801 the town of Bath had grown to 40,000, making it one of the largest cities in England.

1750-1900s: Industrial Revolution and the issues of removing waste

Flush toilets received a huge advancement in technology when in 1775 Alexander Cummings, a Scotsman, invented the S-trap. This device, still in use today, allowed for water to be trapped within the plumbing, preventing the escape of the stench from the sewers below. The flush toilet design continued to experience new experiments with designs and inventions throughout the 1850’s. One inventor, Thomas Crapper, developed a patent for a flush toilet design however he was not the sole inventor of the flushing toilet. And contrary to popular belief, his name is not where we get the word “crap.” (Crap was another word for rubbish.) Toilet designs were being introduced by a number of manufactures with names like “The Revolver,” “The Oracle,” “Deluge,” and “Dreadnought.” The great Expo of 1851 hosted in London showcased the very best of the rising Industrial Revolution and cast a wide influence on America. Gas lamps, the kitchen range, and all manner of technological advancements showed people how their life could be made easier and more comfortable with technology.

“Cummings S-bend” by Alexander Cummings invented in 1775. Original publication: Patent applicationImmediate source. Via Wikipedia . Image found here.

The popularity of the flush toilet inside the home was creating major problems for the waste system in major cities. Nowhere was this problem seen more than in London. Although the toilet was advancing in design, the ability for cities to both pump fresh water in and remove waste away, was not. Many cities throughout Europe and America stunk, and the need for an advanced sewer system became vital to public health. Although ancient cities, like Harappa, had a complex network of sewage drains dating from 2600 BC, it took the West a long time to construct an efficient way to remove waste (and stench) from booming cities. England, being the first to experience the industrial revolution, was the first to engineer the modern sewage system. London’s sewer system was begun in 1859 by Joseph Bazalgette, a civil engineer. In America, the sewer system was also begun in the 1850’s in Chicago and Brooklyn. The first sewage treatment plant in America was built in 1890 in Worcester, Massachusetts, when it became apparent that raw sewage could lead to epidemics of typhoid and cholera. Treating sewage prior to dumping it into the water system became the new method of removing waste.

The Crossness Pumping Station was designed by Joseph Balzalgette in 1859 as part of the development of London’s sewer system. Notice the Victorian iron work design. “Crossness Pumping Station, Belvedere, Kent” by Christine Matthews. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Image found here.

With a modern sewage system in place, newer homes were constructed with a dedicated toilet, sometimes several toilets. Plumbed water was added and the concept of the bathroom, or water closet, was created. But despite the convenience of a private bathroom, behavior didn’t change so quickly, especially in prim and proper Victorian England. For women, large hoop skirts were difficult to pull up when sitting on the toilet, and it was considered far more comfortable (and more discrete) to continue to use the chamber pot in the privacy of the large bedroom. And a lady wouldn’t have wanted to make a noticeable trip to the toilet – this would have been seen as immodest. But despite any old-fashioned beliefs of privacy, the need for indoor plumbing, particularly for the toilet, was becoming a necessity as cities became more populated and vertical. There was less and less space for public facilities and Victorian attitudes demanded sanitary conditions, even for the poor. The toilet, which had taken centuries to accept, had finally become considered a necessity to have, regardless of your status in society.

Health and hygiene were hot topics of the day, and with a flushing toilet and sewer system removing horrible stench, other demands were being created, like the need for toilet paper. When the toilets were simply holes in the ground, it did not matter much what you used to wipe yourself clean. But flushing toilets used pipes that were narrow and the plumbing couldn’t handle large wads of newspaper, corncobs, moss or catalog paper. Joseph Gayetty, from New York, invented the first paper product designed specifically for wiping in 1857. However it was expensive, and people didn’t immediately see the need to buy it. In 1890 Clarence and Irvin Scott designed a perforated roll of paper for use in the water closet. Their product was sold to hotels and other distributors with various names printed on the package. (Embarrassed by the “lewd” product, they didn’t even put their name on the package until 1903.) Americans were slow to make this new product a success, and were embarrassed to be seen purchasing a product specifically for the toilet. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that toilet paper sales began to take off, thanks in part to ad campaigns directed at women.

A vintage roll of Scott Tissue, invented by the Scott brothers in 1890. Image found here.

The Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries: Germs and hot water

The late 19 th century brought about advancements in technology as well as advancements in medicine. The discovery of germs and a more specific cause for disease changed the way people thought about cleanliness and hygiene. Taking a bath and cleaning the body with soap was now generally thought of as a necessity for good health. As more homes were plumbed for water and gas heaters became widely available, the middle class started to experience the joy of bathing inside the home. Lower classes living in dense tenement buildings still shared bathtubs, toilets and laundry facilities, with sometimes just a few toilets per building. It was common that the entire family shared one tub of water: the most important person of the household (the father) would bathe first, then the mother, then the children. The expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” probably came from this period of time when babies were bathing in the (most likely murky) bath water.

A 1905 advertisement for a shower. Image found here.

In America, homes of the wealthy were also being fitted with private bathrooms, bathtubs and showers but surprisingly, the wealthy upper class in England didn’t see the need for plumbed hot bath water. With servants to perform the laborious task of heating individual pots of water, there was no need to install expensive plumbing. American heiresses who married British royalty during the turn of the century must have found it odd that their new manor houses didn’t have plumbed bathrooms. Showers were also introduced during this time and initially they were operated with a hand pump. But by the 1850’s a properly plumbed home had sufficient water pressure and gas-powered heat to operate a shower very similar to our modern versions. By 1915, Sears Roebuck was selling showers for the home.

An ad from 1913 depicting sanitary and reliable plumbing fixtures for the home. Image found here.

The 20 th Century: Bathrooms as places of luxury and privacy

After World War I and II, the glamour of Hollywood movies and the rise of the middle class demanded certain luxuries in the bathroom. Like the kitchen, the bathroom was becoming a source of pride, especially for the woman of the house. Although hair and makeup vanities still largely remained in the bedroom, the bathroom was the scene for relaxing and taking care of one’s body. The aspirational housewife of the 1950’s, along with the US housing boom, meant en suite bathrooms for the parents and separate bathrooms for the children. There was a demand for color, pattern, tile and beauty in the bathroom. Escapism was another popular use of the bathroom and it represented privacy and retreat.

1923 bathroom fixture advertisement, showing glamour and beauty in the bathroom. Image found here.

A Bon Ami ad from 1935 depicting household pride in the bathroom. Image found here.

Post WWII America saw new technologies enter the home space on a massive scale. Inventions like hairdryers, ventilation fans, new dental and toiletry products and an increase in the makeup and hair industries flooded the bathroom. New neighborhoods, plumbed for hot water and connected to sewer systems, meant that having access to hot water was expected. The 1960’s saw the advent of the sexual revolution and Jacuzzi’s and sumptuous shaped tubs became commonplace. Styles of the bathroom continued to mirror societal and economic changes that were taking place. The number of bathrooms installed in US homes also increased. According to the US Census, in 1973 40% of homes being built featured 1.5 baths or less, and only 19% had 2.5 baths. In 2013, only 5% of newly constructed homes were built with 1.5 baths and 32% featured 2.5 baths (with another 33% having 3 baths or more).

By the mid-1900’s, homeowners expected running water in their homes. This ad from 1961 shows how the bathroom, now with plenty of access to water, could be a space for play. Image found here.

This bathroom from the 1970’s shows how interior design allowed for personal style to influence the bathroom. Image found here.

The bathrooms of today: Larger size and more technology

Today we see more and more technology entering the bathroom. Sensors for automatically turning on lights, multiple shower heads with programmable temperatures, stereo equipment and televisions, steam-free mirrors, refrigerated medicine cabinets and in-floor heating have certainly created spaces of extreme luxury and comfort. Bathroom styles of today range from relishing the handcrafted details of older styles (claw foot tubs, pedestal sinks) to the ultra modern (rain shower faucets, infinity edge bathtubs). Visit any bath fixture showroom and you’ll be astounded at the options for our bathrooms today. One of the most welcome features of today’s bathroom are the new standards for conserving water. As more US cities enter water year-round water restrictions, it’s important that homeowners recognize that bathrooms account for nearly 25% of household water consumption (you can take this interactive quiz to see how much water your home uses). WaterSense labeled toilets, for example, use just over 1 gallon of water per flush whereas toilets installed prior to 1995 use nearly 6 gallons per flush.

A large and fully-fitted master bathroom, designed in 2014. By Calista Interiors.

Modern bathrooms are also gaining in square footage. Today’s master bathrooms often include walk-in closets, dressing areas, his and her sinks, a shower and bathtub that can fit two people and a toilet. Often these master bathrooms offer commanding views out the window, just like our living rooms and kitchens. Homeowners also have the luxury of materials from all over the world, allowing us to truly personalize our bathroom space. Unlike bathrooms from the 18 th century, our bathrooms are quite private spaces. Homes are generally constructed with powder or guest bathrooms, so that our master bathrooms can remain off-limits to everyone except the owners of the home. Even older homes are being retrofitted to accommodate more private bathroom retreats. Some homeowners even give up an extra bedroom in order to expand their master suite to include a much larger, and more private bathroom.

Tell us what you think about bathrooms of today – where do you see trends moving? What bathroom features of the past would you like to see today?


Please Don’t Use Cloth Toilet Paper

This story was written well before the pandemic—but now here we are, hoarding toilet paper and fearing the next shortage, and Nick Douglas’ message feels even more timely, even urgent. So we present this to you as a reminder that cloth toilet paper should never be something to consider. Everything’s bad, but it’s not that bad. —Eds.

“The family cloth” is a reusable alternative to toilet paper, made of rags, old t-shirts, sewn fabric, or purchased cloth wipes. They are mostly used for wiping pee, but some families use them for poop and periods. The practice (common until the modern era) is now mostly featured in eco-conscious and “frugal” housekeeping blogs and Etsy shops . A while back BuzzFeed published a sympathetic explainer about the wipes. (At the end, readers are asked to respond with “Good for them, not for me!” or “I’d try it at some point.”) Before it grows any more, let’s make it clear: “Family clot h” is not a life hack.

The downsides of cloth wipes (we refuse to call them “the family cloth”) are obvious: You have to keep a sealed hamper, and you have to do more laundry. Cloth users argue that it’s really not a big deal, that it’s no worse than dealing with dirty underwear, as if dealing with dirty underwear isn’t already bad. They insist that the practice is hygienic, that the wipes don’t smell much, that it’s all not a big deal really. Okay.

Cloth wipes also pose a problem for guests, in that you should never offer cloth wipes to your guests. “We always keep a box of facial tissues in the bathroom cabinet for guests,” says one of BuzzFeed’s sources. This is gross and pointless! Keep a roll of toilet paper for your guests! Good lord!

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