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From Utility to Luxury: A Short History of the Modern Bathroom


When is the last time you took a moment to really think about your bathroom and its history? Don’t worry, if the answer is ‘never’, you’re very much in the majority. But here at The Spa Bath Co. we’re naturally obsessive about bathrooms — and that led us to wonder exactly how the modern bathroom came to be. So, without further ado, may we humbly present our short history of the modern bathroom.

Part 1: The dawn of man

Okay, so we may not want to go all the way back to the stone age, so let’s skip ahead to the first time bathrooms of any kind were recorded. Around the year 3000 B.C., the earliest records show that there was a split across continents regarding how best to bathe. In America and Europe, steam baths (essentially a basic steam room) were in common use, whereas the population of Asia preferred cold water baths. Back then, due to the religious connotations of water, baths were very much communal utilities, and were generally used for cleansing the body prior to religious ceremonies.

Part 2: The Greeks, the Romans, and the advent of sanitation

As the millennia went on, so too did our grasp of technology – and huge leaps were made during both the Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman eras. The Greeks, for example, would apparently take three baths per day in a ceramic tub – evidence of which was found in a palace in Knossos, dating back to around 2500 B.C. Just like the Greeks, the Romans had a great talent for technology, constructing grand aqueducts to carry water across throughout their European Empire. They also brought about public sanitation as well as public baths and gymnasiums. In fact, the thermal baths used by the Romans during the 2nd millennium B.C. were popular ‘hangouts’ for both socialising and conducting business – a bit like a modern-day coffee shop.

Part 3: The rise and fall of bath houses

Public bath houses became a mainstay of human civilisation across the globe as time went on. Evidence of bath houses has been found in Medieval Japan, Mesoamerica, Europe – and many other places, too. During the Middle Ages – approximately 5 to 15 A.D. – bathing mainly took place in public bathhouses, with only the very rich having the means to enjoy a private bathroom at home. The baths were usually made of wood with a linen lining so prevent splinters – ouch! Towards the end of the 18th century, public modesty became more of a concern, starting with rules about which body parts could be washed in public, and ending with the abolition of bathhouses. It was here that bathing became something we did in the privacy of our own homes.

Part 4:  The bathroom of today 

And here we find ourselves in the modern era of the 20th and 21st centuries. As we moved through the Victorian era, and private bathing became the done thing, the actual bathtubs were incredibly basic. They were generally made of cast iron or tin and copper, and were naturally not plumbed in at all. It was around this time when epidemics like the plague struck population centres, in no small part because sanitation involved throwing waste out of the window. Thankfully, modern plumbing systems were eventually introduced in the mid-20th Century, along with metal pipework and fully plumbed-in bathtubs. From here, bathtub (and bathroom) designs exploded in complexity and style – and it’s thanks to this modern boom that we’re here now to tell the tale.

 We may not have converted you into a card-carrying bathroom fanatic with today’s post, but we at least hope you learned something new!  And, as always, if you’d like to ask our bathroom geeks any questions about whirlpool baths, showers, bathroom accessories — or really anything else — you can always find us.

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