Medieval and Renaissance Hygiene:

More than you ever imagined about washing, brushing, and toiletries in period.

-- Jadwiga Zajaczkowa

Keeping Clean:

Manners books decree that you should wash your hands and face every day upon arising:

You should also keep your nails short and your hands clean, and never come to the table to eat without washing first.

Water for handwashing was brought to the table at meals, ceremonially at the beginning of the meal and for practical purposes at the end of the meal and sometimes between courses. For information on handwashing, see:

Bathing was practiced irregularly but was a fairly common practice. Both steam baths and tub baths/swimming were in use. Bathing all over was a fairly luxurious practice and might be a festive occasion. "King Edward IV was provided with a barber who shaved him once a week, and washed his head, feet and legs, if he so desired." (Ricket and Naylor, p. viii-ix) For information about Bathing, see:


Many methods were used to clean the teeth, keep them sound and prevent bad breath.

"Keep white thy teeth, and wash thy mouth / with water pure and clean
And in that washing mannerly / observe and keep a mean."

Erasmus, in 1530, said: "Cleanliness of teeth must be cared for, but to whiten them with powder does for girls. To rub the gum with salt or alum is injurious... If anything sticks to the teeth, you must get it out, not with a knife or with your nails.., or with your napkin, but with a toothpick, or quill, or small bone... To wash the mouth in the morning with pure water is both mannerly and healthful; to do it often is foolish." (Rickert & Naylor, p. vii)

Manners books tell us not to pick our teeth at the table, or with a knife, fingernails, or a piece of the cloth, but to use a proper toothpick.


Among the things one should do immediately upon arising is to comb the hair.

Hair-oils, or pomatums, to make the hair smooth and shiny, appear in many texts.

Dyeing of hair, including bleaching, is mentioned in sources starting in the 12th century Trotula and continuing through the Venetian ladies sitting in the sun in crownless hats to bleach their tresses.

Hair-combs are one of the more common personal items found in archaeological digs-- a multiplicity were found on the wreck of the Mary Rose.

"Thy head, let that be combed and trimmed,
Let not thy hair be long;
It is unseemly to the eye,
Rebuked by the tongue." -- The School of Virtue, the Second part. 1619.

See for some hair care recipes.

More sources to be added later: