Today I want to talk to you about restoration hygiene. Particularly medieval style hygiene and how it applies to restoration work.
Probably the number one question I get about living in a restoration house is ‘how do you wash’, or essentially stay clean. And especially as the nature of restoration work is that you do get dirty.
Parental Advisory – the following is rated NFE. Not for Everyone. Don’t try it at home, unless you too should find yourself restoring a home, or camping, with only the minimal basics for keeping clean.
My wee medieval manor (tongue in cheek) is barely habitable. When it comes to utilities, it has a toilet, a sink (with unattached tap), water mains turn on valve and an electricity meter. The basics to beginning a new home. So I moved in.
My electrician inserted a fuse board and 3 sockets. These now have extension leads running to 3 of the 4 rooms. Including 1 to an electric kettle. I have hot water! And 1 to a sanibroyeur toilet. This is a toilet that requires a motor to grind up waste so it can go into the mains drains. Like everything in this house it is antiquated, and on the very long list to improve. But it works. Result!
The water was next. It was turned on and sink tap re-connected, only to discover it leaks, in two places. So for water I have to turn the water mains on each time I need it. Then off when not needed to stop the leaks. Until a plumber can come and sort those out. (It’s quite high up the list. Along with a hot water tank.) So in the meantime, I have to plan any washing up. Dishes, clothes, me included.
As I live in a medieval aged house, with only a step up nod to modern hygiene, I find it interesting that my cleaning regime would harken back to ye days of old. Who hasn’t considered what it was like to wash with one of those ewers and bowls? (Like the picture at the top of this post.)
I used to have one of these sets on a stand when I was young. Purely decoration. But I was always fascinated by it. And now I get to try it out for real.
Interestingly, just as I was starting my restoration hygiene journey one of my favourite YouTube videographers posted a video on hygiene in the middle ages. Talk about apropos! (Super interesting, not to mention – educational.)
So how do you stay clean when living with only the basics? Most of us, me included, are used to hot water on demand. A shower, hot water from a tap, a flushing toilet. Well, if you have ever gone camping, you have some inclination. It is not quite like going ‘sans’ for a weekend, and then scarper back home to a much appreciated shower. It’s a tad longer term. More like a long distance hike. (I walked the Appalachian Trail, taking 8 months, which was good preparation for practising restoration hygiene.)
Wet wipes are my friend. Perfect for a quick clean up of dirt. Also facial oil cleanser. Neither of which require water. Body moisturiser helps in keeping me feeling fresh, whilst also helping my skin. And then there is bathing itself.
I have two options. The full or the half ‘bath’. And by bath, I am meaning sponge bath. I turn on the water, fill up my (vintage looking, of course) electric kettle and voila I have hot water for bathing. In additional preparation, a towel is set down on the floor near my singular heater. A little table brought nearby, and a bowl set out.
For a half bath, it actually only takes a very small amount of water in the bowl. A face cloth soaked in the water is then used to wash myself. It is blissful. Partly due to all the preparation. Partly because I no longer take hot water and bathing for granted. And it really works. Almost surprisingly so. Especially as no soap is involved.
For a full bath, this requires more effort. So I look on it as a weekly treat. Like visiting a medieval spa. I have a small zinc tub. Not the size you can lie in, but rather stand in. Almost sit in, but more like crouch in. Again a lot of water is not actually needed. Lots of water is only needed if you are going to soak in something.
One kettle full of hot water is put in the basin, plus a little cold water so as not to scald myself. Then another kettle full is heated and set to the ready. Along with a giant enamelled mug and a (recycled) bottle of cold water. Standing in the tub, using my mug, the water in the tub is used to fully wash myself. With soap this time.
The mug then is filled with a mixture of the hot and cold waters and used to rinse myself in the tub. Though note, take a care not to go heavy on the soap or you will need a lot of water later for rinsing. Because then the not so nice aspect of a full bath comes into play. Emptying the basin. 2 kettles full plus cold is about 3 litres of water, which is a doable weight to lift the basin and empty outside. More than that and you have to make more trips, emptying it a bit first.
Here is a curious thing I discovered, long before my medieval restoration. Food affects your body odour. Far far more then hard work sweating. In dealing with some food intolerances by removing foods and bringing them back to determine what was an issue, I found out that lactose makes my armpits stink.
When I stopped eating cheese, etc. my armpits stopped stinking. So much so that I no longer needed to use deodorant. Honest. I could wear shirts, even sweat, and there would be no armpit odour to the shirt. Even synthetic ones. It just goes to show how much food plays a part in how we smell.
As for hair. Here I cheat. Hair would require as much effort, if not more, as the full bath version. Except instead of washing and rinsing the body, it would be bent over the basin and washing my hair. Doable. But… I have a hair salon 2 minutes walk from my house.
My weekly treat to myself is to have my hair shampooed. Not only am I assured truly clean hair, but it’s also conditioned. And bonus is it gets me out of the house, into the village. A chance to meet and greet my neighbours and other locals. Hairdressers are a great source of opportunity to meet people, chat and in my case practise my French. 5 euros well spent.
In fact the most difficult aspect of keeping clean in a restoration house is clothing. With no washing machine (it’s on the list), and no facilities in my village, this means forays in to the ‘big’ nearby town. Luckily there is a 24/7 automated machine at one of the supermarkets. And also an even better launderette in the centre of town. It’s just a question of getting there. (Purchasing a car is on that list too.)
Knowing that this was going to be a potential issue, particularly during winter, I made sure to keep all my old clothes. Clothes I normally would have re-purposed, and one day will, but in the meantime I can use when I am doing restoration work.
I do not have the luxury of washing my clothes after one wearing. That is certainly a very modern day concept. Rather they get about a weeks worth before they go in the laundry bin. The exterior layers that is. I do hand wash my smalls (underwear, socks, etc.) at home. It is actually surprising how slow it takes to fill a laundry bin this way.
And since I am working on my own, it doesn’t matter that the clothes get grubby. I simply change to a clean nice set of clothes when I wish to go out, to see people. And that change in itself feels like a luxurious treat.
None of the above is told to garner sympathy. Rather knowledge. Sometimes it is good to know how things were done in the old days. Or without mod cons. Or in a needs must situation. (And you will thank me for having read this should there be a zombie apocalypse or similar.) Yes, it is an inconvenience. But it is also an interesting test of self-reliance. And, for me, a recognition of what luxury truly is.
Of course I also rely on visiting friends to tell me if I waft a tad. So far so good. (And they have been wonderfully willing to aid in taking me to the big town’s launderette, in exchange for lunch in a delicious local bistro.)
If you are fascinated by my restoration work and all that goes into it, including staying clean, consider supporting Pumpjack & Piddlewick. Check out the Nourising Page on how to be more involved.
Or there is always My Shop to buy from, where I sell vintage and antiques, plus some of my own design work. Here’s a taste…
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