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  • Thanks to fiction, when we think of the Victorian era,

  • we tend to think of lavish homes, beautiful gowns,

  • and passionate romances.

  • But as we all know, the truth is often

  • stranger than fiction, smellier too.

  • Victorians may have had a lot of nice things,

  • but when it came to hygiene they were,

  • for lack of a better term, [BLEEP] gross.

  • Beneath the fancy garments of lace and silk

  • were people who had no indoor plumbing

  • and didn't regularly bathe.

  • Diseases were common, and the hygienic practices

  • meant to cure them were often as bad, if not worse,

  • than the illnesses themselves.

  • Today, we're going to take a look at what hygiene

  • was like in the Victorian era.

  • But before we get started, be sure to subscribe to the Weird

  • History channel, and let us know in the comments below what

  • other hygiene-related topics you would like to hear about.

  • OK, plug your nose.

  • We're going to Victorian England.

  • Victorians had to do laundry just like everyone else,

  • but they often used more than mere soap

  • to get their clothing clean and fresh.

  • For example, oil and grease stains

  • would be combated by rubbing chalk into the fabric.

  • Grass and bloodstains, on the other hand,

  • would be removed with kerosene while other miscellaneous odors

  • would be dealt with using milk.

  • So far, these all sound like life

  • hacks you might find in a modern YouTube video.

  • But when it came to bleaching their clothes,

  • the Victorians used a method modern folks probably

  • wouldn't be too keen on--

  • they soaked their clothes in their own urine.

  • Mmm, mmm.

  • Asparagus.

  • It sounds disgusting, but as it turns out,

  • urine contains ammonia, which is a very effective cleaning

  • agent, except windows, not very effective on windows.

  • Trust me when I tell you that.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste existed at the time

  • and were available to the Victorians, but typically only

  • the middle and upper classes.

  • Most working-class folks had to get a little bit more creative.

  • Toothpaste, for example, could be made at home

  • using common ingredients that include things

  • like chalk, soot, or even powdered cuttlefish.

  • Toothbrushes of the era typically

  • had wooden handles, harsh bristles,

  • and weren't terribly comfortable to use.

  • Despite this, they were relatively expensive.

  • And those who couldn't afford them had to find alternate ways

  • to clean their teeth.

  • One common method was the use of celery,

  • which was believed to be abrasive enough to clean

  • one's teeth while being chewed.

  • It was better than nothing, but as you probably guessed,

  • it wasn't a medically ideal way to keep

  • one's chompers looking good.

  • Nonetheless, you'd want to do your best

  • to protect your teeth, because the dental care

  • available at the time was, to be kind, utterly terrifying.

  • Many areas didn't even have dentists,

  • which meant if you needed oral care,

  • you would probably have to go to your local barber

  • or blacksmith.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • The earliest indoor toilets, also known as water closets,

  • were both convenient and popular.

  • But because they predated the invention of indoor plumbing,

  • they had some undesirable drawbacks.

  • With no pipes to carry away the waste,

  • it often just dropped into a large cesspool

  • that was located in the building's basement.

  • While this arrangement was more accessible than an outhouse

  • and less exposed than a chamber pot,

  • the cesspool would eventually fill up.

  • Once that happened, it didn't take too long

  • for the whole house to start smelling, well,

  • like a cesspool.

  • To combat the stink, a cottage industry of night soil men

  • sprung up.

  • These laborers would empty the cesspool

  • and then sell the waste to farmers, who

  • needed it to use as fertilizer.

  • They were known as night soil men because the laws of the era

  • restricted the emptying of cesspools to night time,

  • as the task was considered too disturbing to be undertaken

  • in broad daylight.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • You would think something as simple as how

  • to take a bath would be pretty intuitive to most people.

  • You sit in water and wash yourself.

  • But in Victorian times that wasn't common knowledge.

  • In fact, as regular or at least semi-regular bathing

  • came into fashion, Victorians were

  • besieged by publishers selling books

  • that taught the uninitiated what to expect from a bath.

  • Much of this guidance, though, was non-scientific.

  • For example, one such book advised the curious

  • and unwashed among Victorian society

  • to avoid bathing within four hours of eating a large meal.

  • This rule still exists today, though it's usually

  • applied to swimming after meals, rather than bathing.

  • Another tip one might find in these books

  • was to avoid washing their face when they traveled,

  • unless they had the means to first purify

  • the water with ammonia or alcohol.

  • So-called Russian baths, which consisted

  • of washing the face with extremely hot and then

  • extremely cold water, were advised

  • for those who were worried about preventing wrinkles.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Today, pretty much everyone is obsessed with their hair.

  • Victorian times were much the same,

  • except that modern shampoos were still a ways off.

  • So how did one clean their hair back then?

  • Well, women of the era would typically use eggs.

  • One would crack an egg over their head,

  • and then work the yolks into their hair

  • like with a modern shampoo.

  • The egg would then be washed out with a pitcher of water.

  • Another popular option was vinegar diluted with water.

  • Mmm, that's got to smell morning fresh.

  • Eggs in vinegar weren't the only cooking-related items

  • that made for a popular pre-shampoo hair cleaner.

  • Rum, black tea, and rosemary were all

  • considered normal and effective for hair washing.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Cleaning one's hair is important,

  • but maintaining a youthful and vital look

  • is, to many, equally important.

  • The Victorians were no different.

  • To that end, Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer,

  • first introduced in the 1860s, became

  • a staple of the era's hair care regimens.

  • The product's main benefit was to darken hair

  • in such a way that allowed people to hide their gray.

  • Unfortunately for the people who used it,

  • Hall's Hair Renewer used lead as a bonding agent.

  • Its function was to aid other chemicals

  • in darkening the hair, but it had the slight side effect

  • of causing lead poisoning.

  • Eventually, the company that manufactured

  • Hall's managed to get the lead out, or at least most of it,

  • in the formula, and the product managed to stay on the market

  • well into the 1930s.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Most people don't like a bad smell, but in Victorian times

  • bad smells were considered more than just unpleasant.

  • They were believed to be downright dangerous.

  • The idea that various conditions, including cholera

  • and chlamydia, were spread through pollutants

  • in the unclean air was called the miasma theory, or night

  • air, and it dated back to antiquity.

  • Victorians put a lot of stock in the miasma theory

  • and blamed the poor health endemic

  • in London's impoverished districts

  • on wicked smells that floated through the streets.

  • Even Florence Nightingale, one of the most famous nurses

  • in history, believed it and thought

  • that clean air would restore health to sick patients.

  • While there was a connection between the bad smells

  • and poor health, it wasn't the causative one Victorians

  • believed.

  • Turns out the poor sanitation that

  • was normal in industrial areas of the time

  • was independently causing both the bad smells

  • and many of the diseases.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Victorian hygiene obviously had a lot of shortcomings,

  • but it was also one of the first times in history

  • that mainstream society took the time

  • to address the concerns of feminine hygiene.

  • Indeed, both the disposable pad and the earliest versions

  • of the tampon were invented in the late 19th century.

  • These new technologies took some time

  • to become normal and widespread, and in the interim women

  • of the era got creative.

  • It was discovered that the wood pulp

  • base used to make the bandages typically used

  • to treat the wounds of soldiers at war

  • were also used for menstruation care.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Ask anyone who lives in New York, London, or Hong Kong,

  • and they'll tell you that in the heat of the summer

  • big cities, even modern ones, can develop a noxious smell.

  • But the stench that emanated from London in 1858

  • was something else entirely.

  • It was so unbearably heinous that the whole city practically

  • shut down.

  • During the Victorian era, the River Thames

  • used to be the hub of the entire London sewage system.

  • In practice, this meant that most citizens

  • disposed of their waste by simply dumping it

  • into the river.

  • Londoners were not happy, and they raised quite a stink

  • over the foul odors that came from the water.

  • Doctors, in accordance with the aforementioned miasma theory,

  • blamed the stench for causing rampant disease

  • throughout the entire city.

  • It was so horrible that the summer of 1858

  • would forever be known as the Great Stink.

  • That's a T-shirt waiting to happen.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • From bad smells to evil spirits, many strange things

  • were blamed for causing diseases in the past.

  • Among the strangest, though, had to be the Victorian era theory

  • that tuberculosis and its spread was attributable to women's

  • clothing.

  • Doctors of the era theorized that long skirts dragging

  • along the street were picking up the disease and women who

  • wore them were unwittingly bringing sickness

  • into their home and spreading it to their families.

  • The theory didn't stop at dresses though.

  • Doctors of the time also believed that the tight corsets

  • women wore were also responsible for tuberculosis

  • on account of the fact that they constricted the lungs.

  • As such, doctors trying to stop the spread of the disease

  • were prone to prescribing looser corsets and shorter skirts--

  • very fashionable.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Despite being socially unacceptable

  • during the Victorian era, escort work

  • was a very common way for the women

  • who lived in London's most impoverished neighborhoods

  • to make a living.

  • Sexually transmitted diseases were extremely common

  • at the time.

  • And without regular access to contraceptives,

  • sex workers often transmitted those STDs to their clients.

  • The clients, in turn, would then transmit them

  • to their wives and anyone else they might be involved with.

  • Things got so bad that the spread of sexually

  • transmitted diseases was eventually declared

  • a public health hazard.

  • Laws were passed that allowed escorts

  • to be detained by police and forcibly treated for STDs.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Though it wouldn't be widely marketed

  • until 1914, the mouthwash we know

  • as Listerine was invented by Dr. Jordan

  • Lawrence and chemist-turned-entrepreneur

  • Jordan Wheat Lambert in 1879.

  • Victorians were slowly beginning to accept notions

  • of modern hygiene, so Lambert first

  • tried marketing his concoction as a medical antiseptic.

  • For whatever reason, the product was overlooked and failed

  • to turn a profit for its creators.

  • Not one to give up easily, Lambert

  • began to suggest additional, and often unusual,

  • uses for Listerine.

  • Before he finally hit on selling it as a mouthwash,

  • he tried marketing it as everything from a floor cleaner