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Bathing is the immersion of the body in a fluid, usually water or an aqueous solution. It may be practiced for hygiene, religious or therapeutic purposes or as a recreational activity.

Some spa facilities provide bathing in various other liquids such as chocolate or mud. There have been examples of bathing in champagne, milk, baked beans and all manner of other substances. The intentional exposure of the body to any agent may be considered bathing, for example to sunlight (sunbathing).

Reasons for bathing

Bathing serves several purposes:
  • Hygiene, and the physical appearance of cleanliness
  • Decontamination from chemical, biological, nuclear or other exposure-type hazards.
  • Recreation
  • Therapy (e.g. hydrotherapy), healing, rehabilitation from injury or addiction, relaxation (e.g. Blessed Rainy Day)
  • Religious, or, less frequently, other ceremonial rites (e.g. Baptism, Mikvah)
  • Celebration and socialization, e.g. running through fountains after winning the World Series, or jumping through a hole cut in the ice over a lake on New Year's Eve.
  • Ensuring people are free of certain items such as weapons or other contraband: In Chicago, Russian baths were a safe meeting place for rival gang leaders. Weapons are difficult to conceal on a nearly naked body. If the meeting resulted in reconciliation, the gangs would meet upstairs for bagels, cream cheese and borscht. Many homeless shelters, and almost all prisons have an intake facility or intake process that includes a supervised shower with change of clothes to ensure that no contraband or contamination enters the facility.

Bathing is usually done in a bath (i.e. a place designed for bathing), but may also be done in places not specifically designed for the purpose, such as rooftops (sunbathing), a lake or river.

One town known for its baths is Bathmarker (known during ancient Roman times as Aquae Sulismarker), a Roman city in Englandmarker famous for healing hydrothermal springs. It was a popular resort town for the wealthy from Elizabethan to Georgian times.

Western History

Before the late 19th Century BC, water to individual places of residence was rare. Droughts would bring difficult times to people, and water usage was prioritized according to necessity, i.e., for personal consumption, agriculture, and other industrial endeavors such as hydro-power for mills, in the cloth and dye trades, and for livestock.
Cultural attitudes also determined the use of water. In the middle ages, public bathhouses were common in larger villages and cities. The appearance of the body - of cleanliness - was believed to reflect one's soul (i.e., the common phrase 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness') and so townspeople and aristocrats bathed frequently. This, however, required public nudity, which was frowned upon by liturgical factions of the period. The public baths were also havens for prostitution, thus much opposition to the public baths was to be found. Rich people had their own bathing done at home, most likely in their bedroom, as 'bath' rooms were not as common. Bathing was done in large, wooden tubs with a linen cloth laid in it to protect the bather from splinters. Additionally, during the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation, the quality and condition of the clothing (as opposed to the actual cleanliness of the body itself) were thought to reflect the soul of an individual. Clean clothing also reflected one's social status; clothes made the man or woman. This fact still is reflected today in the industry of fashion.

Additionally, from the late Middle Ages through the end of the eighteenth century, etiquette and medical manuals advised people to only wash the parts of the body that were visible to the public; for example, the ears, hands, feet, and face and neck. This did away with the public baths and left the cleaning of oneself to the privacy of one's home.

The switch from woolen to linen clothing by the sixteenth century also accompanied the decline in bathing. Linen clothing is much easier to clean and maintain - and such clothing was becoming commonplace at the time in Western Europe. Clean linen shirts or blouses allowed people who hadn't bathed to appear clean and well groomed. The possession of a large quantity of clean linen clothing was a sign of social status. Thus, appearance became more important than personal hygiene. Medical opinion supported this claim. Physicians of the period believed that odors, or miasma, such as that which would be found in soiled linens, caused disease. A person could therefore change one's shirt every few days, but avoid baths - which might let the 'bad air' into the body through the pores. Consequently, in an age in which there were very few personal bathtubs, laundry was an important and weekly chore which were commonly undertaken by laundresses of the time.

Public opinion about bathing only began to shift in the middle and late eighteenth century, when writers argued that frequent bathing might lead to better health. Large public baths, such as those found in the ancient world and were a common fixture of the Ottoman Empire, would revive during the nineteenth century, and the germ theory of disease would eventually lead health authorities globally to urge people to bathe regularly, to rid the body of harmful germs. The great water projects of the nineteenth century thus had a lot to owe to the assurance of vast quantities of water obtained for the general health.

The weekly Saturday night bath was much the rule in Christian industrialized lands in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. A half day's work on Saturday was the norm for factory workers allowing them some leisure to prepare for the Sunday day of rest. Following a Saturday bath one's Sunday best clothes could then be put on a clean body for church the next day. The workers' Saturday half day off allowed time and leisure for the considerable labor of drawing, carrying, and heating water, filling the bath and then afterward emptying it. (Servants, indoor plumbing, more especially with hot water, were the luxury of a very few.) As an economy of effort, bath water was shared by all the immediate family members. Precedence in bath order could lead to contention since the first user enjoyed the cleanest and warmest water. Indoor plumbing became more common in the 20th century and commercial advertising campaigns pushing new bath products began to influence public ideas about cleanliness and the daily shower or bath then became more the rule.

Kinds of baths

There are various kinds of baths, which include:

Bathtub and shower

Bathtub and shower are most commonly used for bathing both in private houses and hotels.

Bathwear / nudity

Bathing usually involves the removal of at least some clothing; normally in private baths all clothing is removed. The amount of clothing removed depends on circumstance, custom, and willingness of bathers to reveal themselves. A swimsuit, swimming costume, or bathing suit is a garment designed for swimming or bathing. Typically a men's suit consists of shorts or briefs. A women's suit often consists of two pieces that cover the breasts and pubic region, or of one piece that resembles the combination of briefs and a tank top joined together.

Bathing Babies

Babies can be bathed in a kitchen sink or a small plastic baby bath, instead of using a standard bath, which offers less control of the infant's movements and requires the parent to lean awkwardly or kneel.

Frequency and time of the day

In Western culture, it is typical for people to bathe in the morning before starting the activities of the day or meeting with others outside the home. Arriving at work without having showered may be seen as a sign of unprofessionalism or slovenliness. In contrast, people in Asia and Eastern Europe customarily bathe twice a day especially during the evening or the night, the rationale being that after a day's work one should remove sweat and dirt, in order to be comfortable and clean, thus keeping the bed clean. One should also note that the humidity in some Eastern Asian countries such as China can be quite high. As a result, frequent baths or showers are needed to remove the sticky sensation from sweat.


  • Drowning is one possible danger of bathing. Drowning has been known to occur in a shower, though the risks are less than in an immersion bath.
  • Heatstroke can also result from the use of sauna baths or other hot baths.
  • Hypothermia from using cool baths and not being sensitive to the cold, as a result of falling asleep for example.
  • Ear infections, also known as swimmer's ear can result from water building up and the resulting increase in bacteria.
  • Impact injuries are also possible from landing inappropriately in a bath, from an elevation, or from collision with other bathers, or with the sides of the bath.
  • Infections caused by bacteria thriving in the warm water of pipe and holders, such as Legionellosis.
  • Irritation caused by bathing solutions or other cosmetic products.
  • Infection caused by sharing dirty bathwater or bathing with others.
  • Collapsing when getting out of the bath because of the sudden change in blood pressure can occur, particularly when the bath is hot. Fainting can lead to accidents (including drowning if one falls back into the bath).
  • Falling due to the wet and smooth surface of the bath itself, spilt water on the adjoining floor, or having the bath raised above the floor (common in some European countries). Therefore, it is advisable to place a rubber mat in the bath, and for people with less dexterity or balance to be seated during bathing.
  • With advanced age, some people experience a diminished ability to sense temperature, and must use extra care to avoid accidentally scalding themselves while bathing. This is also true of individuals of any age with sensory nerve damage. Caution is needed with children as well, as their body is much more sensitive to temperature and pain and they are more vulnerable to changes in temperature; this is particularly the case with infants.
  • Bathing infants too often has been linked to the development of asthma or severe eczema according to some researchers, including Michael Welch, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' section on allergy and immunology .
  • Tap water, if used for bathing, most likely contains chlorine, which may have negative effects on skin.

See also


  1. The Russian Bania:The Spreading Influence of the Russian Steam Bath
  2. The Western Heritage, Eighth Edition, Copyright 2004 by Prentice Hall Books. Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and Frank M. Turner
  3. Bathing your baby
  4. Safety ideas we can learn from Japanese bathing method

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