The modern bathroom didn’t always exist as we know it. Thankfully, we can enjoy the pleasures of a modern bathroom, including luxurious steam showers and whirlpool bathtubs. Imagine having to set aside time to visit a public bathhouse or having to carry warm water to and dirty water from a freestanding bathtub. These practices may have seemed commonplace to our ancestors but would seem cumbersome and time consuming to people in the 21st century.
Originally, the only baths available to people were public baths that served entire villages of people. The purpose of these baths was for people to bathe before entering a sacred place and bathing was done to cleanse the body for religious reasons.
The Egyptians actually created shower rooms in which servants would pour water over people. Early forms of showers were thought to have been inspired by waterfalls in nature. The Greeks had a sewage system and used public shower rooms. The Greeks and the Romans created public bathhouses that were seats of socialization as well as a place to practice proper hygiene. The Romans constructed aqueducts that transported water into cities. Hot and cold water systems for indoor plumbing can be traced back to as early as the 15th century; however, indoor plumbing did not re-emerge into popularity until the 1850s.
Early forms of the modern showers were powered by hand pumps and appeared in the 18th century. They pumped water through a vessel above the user. The water would fall on the user and would be pumped back up and the same water would be used again. In the Victorian era, a technological problem stopped bathrooms from being more widespread: people needed a toilet that would flush water without letting sewage gases into the home.
The modern bathroom was popularized and required after urbanization and industrialization brought people closer together. In cities, people lived in tighter quarters and a solution was needed to deal with human waste; otherwise, disease would be rampant today in modern cities. In the 1920s, indoor bathrooms became required by code in homes in the United States.
Bathrooms still differ from region to region and from country to country. Bidets are popular in Europe but not in the United States. In the United States, public bathing is less common, while in Japan, people bathe in public in hot springs, sento and onsen.
Today, the bathroom comes in many forms and sizes. A full bathroom includes a shower, toilet and bathtub. A half bath includes a toilet and a sink; this is also known as a “powder room.” The terminology is not set in stone, but sometimes a bathroom with a shower and a toilet, but without a bathtub, is referred to as a three-quarter bathroom. There are bathrooms meant to serve an entire home and there are bathrooms that are only connected to specific rooms.
The bathroom has always served the primary need to providing a place for hygiene in an effort to prevent illness and disease. However, the modern bathroom is becoming more luxurious with spa features that were once only accessible by going to an actual spa or resort. People are more likely now to install steam showers, towel warmers, heated flooring and all the bells and whistles that make the bathroom a special space.