History of Bathrooms

A bathroom literally means "a room with a bath" or in this era of showers "a room where one bathes." In many places in the world the room where one bathes is separate from the room where the toilet is located. In the United States and Canada, the word bathroom is used to describe a bathing room and a lavatory.

Bathing as a Religious Act

This history of the bathroom begins as far back as 3000 BCE. Records indicate the first bathing rooms were a place to purify both the soul and the mind since water had a strong religious value. People cleansed themselves before entering a holy place by soaking in a large communal pool. Communal pools were set up in areas separate from the place of worship or living quarters. The belief was that separate bathing rooms prevented the bad spirits that were released from the body during bathing from entering the home.

Bathing as a Lifestyle Choice

Records indicate that early Romans and Greeks were likely the first people to consider baths non-religious and more of an act to improve their personal lives. Water was sometimes seen as a way to gain strength as in the case of Achilles who bathed so he would become invincible. Romans used bathing rooms as places to relax and rejuvenate and there were buildings dedicated to large thermal baths with drainage systems where people met to discuss what happened during the day and to be entertained. There were public baths and private baths. The affluent had their own bathrooms in their homes. Paintings suggest the Greeks had showers.

Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Western civilization wasn't as obsessed about bathing during the Middle Ages as the Romans were. But it was during this time that soap was produced. By the Renaissance people began to fear water as a cause and carrier of diseases. Bathrooms were no longer popular although the "enlightened' cleansed themselves with sweat baths or wore heavy perfume to cover their odor.

After the English Civil War

The early modern bathrooms were born in the 17th century when a Sir William Cavendish pioneered an innovative "new' concept called bathing rooms. People began bathing again. The common person bathed behind a sheet in the kitchen in a large metal-lined wooden container filled with water heated on the stove. The water was shared with everyone in the home. About 100 years ago John M. Kohler modified a horse trough by adding legs and enameling it to create the first real bathtub.