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Not so Soft to the Touch: Medieval Toilet Paper!

When it comes to personal hygiene, the modern world has provided us with the convenience of soft, readily available toilet paper.

However, in medieval times, the absence of this essential commodity necessitated alternative methods for maintaining cleanliness after using the toilet.

Here we’ll explore the intriguing world of medieval toilet paper, shedding light on the creative and sometimes peculiar practices our ancestors employed to address their hygiene needs.

The Absence of Toilet Paper

In the medieval period, toilet paper as we know it today did not exist. The concept of using soft, disposable sheets for personal hygiene was a luxury reserved for the wealthy and not accessible to the general population. As a result, people relied on a variety of substitutes to keep themselves clean.

Anything went when it came to loo roll it would seem!

One commonly used substitute for toilet paper was hay or straw. These natural materials were abundantly available and were often found in outhouses or designated toilet areas.

People would use handfuls of hay or straw to clean themselves after using the toilet. While not as soft as modern toilet paper, it provided a means of wiping and absorbing moisture. And most other things!

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Apart from hay and straw, other natural materials found in the surrounding environment were utilised for personal hygiene. Leaves, moss, and certain plant parts with soft textures were commonly employed. In regions with access to rivers, people would use water. This would either directly or with the assistance of natural sponges or moss, for cleansing.

In more affluent households, a sponge attached to a stick or handle was often used. These sponges were soaked in water or vinegar and used for cleaning. However, it is important to note that the use of sponges was primarily limited to the upper classes due to their higher cost and rarity.

Cloths and Rags

Another method employed by medieval individuals was the use of cloth or rags. These materials were often repurposed from old garments or linen and could be washed and reused. However, it should be emphasised that such practices were more common among the wealthier segments of society who had access to a wider range of textiles.

Bottom wiping was a peculiar affair in the medieval period.

While not as prevalent as the methods mentioned above, some medieval households did possess bidets or cleansing implements. These devices were often made of ceramic or metal and consisted of a basin or receptacle filled with water. They were used for rinsing and cleansing after using the toilet, providing a more efficient and hygienic solution compared to other alternatives.

Got to the Bottom?

Exploring the world of medieval toilet paper reveals the resourcefulness and adaptability of our ancestors when it came to maintaining hygiene.

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From hay and straw to natural materials and even early forms of bidets, people devised various ways to address their sanitary needs.

While these methods may seem rudimentary compared to modern conveniences, they highlight the ingenuity and resilience of individuals throughout history. As we appreciate the comforts of contemporary toilet paper, it is worth recognising the evolution of hygiene practices and the innovative solutions that preceded our current standards.