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

Bathing can take place in any situation where there is water, ranging from warm to cold. It can take place in a bathtub or shower, or it can be in a river, lake, water hole, pool or the sea, or any other water receptacle. The term for the act can vary. For example, a ritual religious bath is sometimes referred to as immersion, the use of water for therapeutic purposes can be called water treatment or hydrotherapy, and two recreational water activities are known as swimming and paddling. The city of Bath (known during ancient Roman times as Aquae Sulis) is famous for its public baths fed by hydrothermal springs.


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One purpose of bathing is for personal hygiene. It is a means of achieving cleanliness by washing away dirt and soil, and a preventative measure to reduce the incidence and spread of disease. It also reduces body odors.

Bathing creates a feeling of well-being and the physical appearance of cleanliness.

Bathing may also be practised for religious ritual or therapeutic purposes[1] or as a recreational activity.

Therapeutic use of bathing includes hydrotherapy, healing, rehabilitation from injury or addiction, relaxation.

The use of a bath in religious ritual or ceremonial rites include immersion during baptism in Christianity and to achieve a state of ritual cleanliness in a mikvah in Judaism. It is referred to as Ghusl in Arabic to attain ceremonial purity (Taahir) in Islam. All major religions pay an emphasis on ceremonial purity and bathing is one of the primary means of attaining outward purity. In Hindu households, any acts of defilement are countered by undergoing a bath.

Types of bathsEdit

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Where bathing is for personal hygiene, bathing in a bathtub or shower is the most common form of bathing in western, and many eastern, countries. Bathrooms usually have a tap, and a shower if it is a modern home, and a huge water heating pot. People take water from the tap or the water-heating pot into a large bucket and use a mug to pour water on themselves. A soap and loofah is used to clean the body after, and then rinsed again using the mug. People most commonly bathe in their home or use a private bath in a public bathhouse. In some societies, bathing can take place in rivers, creeks, lakes or water holes, or any other place where there is an adequate pool of water. The quality of water used for bathing purposes varies considerably. Normally bathing involves use of soap or a soap like substance, such as shower gel. In Southern India people more commonly use aromatic oil and other home made body scrubs.

Bathing occasions can also be occasions of social interactions, such as in public, Turkish, sauna or whirlpool baths.

Sponge bath Edit

When water is in short supply or a person is not fit to have a standing bath, a wet cloth or sponge can be used, or the person can wash by splashing water over their body. A sponge bath is usually conducted in hospitals, which involves one person washing another with a sponge, while the person being washed remains lying in bed. It is sometimes also used when water is limited.

Ladling water from a containerEdit

This method involves using a small container to scoop water out of a large container and pour water over the body, in such a way that this water does not go back into the large container.

In Indonesia and Malaysia this is a traditional method referred to as mandi.

In the Indonesian language mandi is the verb for this process, bak mandi is the large container, and kamar mandi is the place in which this is done.[2][3] Travel guides[4][5][6] often use the word mandi, on its own, in various ways such as for the large container, and for the process of bathing.


When bathing for cleanliness, normally, people bathe completely naked, so as to make cleaning every part of their body possible. This is the case in private baths, whether in one's home or a private bath in a public bathhouse. In public bathing situations, the social norms of the community are followed, and some people wear a swimsuit or underwear. For example, when a shower is provided in a non-sex segregated area of a public swimming pool, users of the shower commonly wear their swimsuit. The customs can vary depending on the age of a person, and whether the bathing is in a sex segregated situation. In some societies, some communal bathing is also done without clothing.

When swimming, not wearing clothing is sometimes called skinny dipping.

Bathing babiesEdit

Babies can be washed 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.[7] 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[citation needed]

Western historyEdit

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Throughout history, societies devised systems to enable water to be brought to population centres. Ancient Greece utilized small bathtubs, wash basins, and foot baths for personal cleanliness. The earliest findings of baths date from the mid-2nd millennium BC in the palace complex at Knossos, Crete, and the luxurious alabaster bathtubs excavated in Akrotiri, Santorini. The Greeks established public baths and showers within gymnasiums for relaxation and personal hygiene. In fact,the word gymnasium comes from the Greek word gymnos, meaning naked. Ancient Rome developed a network of aqueducts to supply water to all large towns and population centres and had indoor plumbing, with pipes that terminated in homes and at public wells and fountains. The Roman public baths were called thermae. With the fall of the Roman Empire the aqueduct network fell into disrepair and most of it ceased to be used. In the Middle Ages, bathing commonly took place in public bathhouses. However, public nudity was frowned upon by liturgical factions of the period. Public baths were also havens for prostitution, which created opposition to the public baths. Rich people bathed at home, most likely in their bedroom, as 'bath' rooms were not 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.

Additionally, from the late Middle Ages through to the end of the 18th 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.[citation needed]

The switch from woolen to linen clothing by the 16th 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.[citation needed]

Public opinion about bathing began to shift in the middle and late 18th century, when writers argued that frequent bathing might lead to better health. Large public baths such as those found in the ancient world and the Ottoman Empire were revived during the 19th century. The germ theory of disease led health authorities to urge people to bathe regularly, to rid the body of harmful germs.

Before the late 19th century, water to individual places of residence was rare.[8] Many countries in Europe developed a water collection and distribution network. London water supply infrastructure developed over many centuries from early medieval conduits, through major 19th century treatment works built in response to cholera threats, to modern large scale reservoirs. (see also Water supply and sanitation in France)

The weekly Saturday night bath was common in Christian industrialized lands in the 19th and early 20th 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. The half day off allowed time for the considerable labor of drawing, carrying, and heating water, filling the bath and then afterward emptying it. To economize, bath water was shared by all 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, promoting the idea of a daily shower or bath.[citation needed]

Japanese bathing cultureEdit

Private bathsEdit

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Today, most homes in Japan have a bathroom (ofuro), which was often not the case about 30 years ago. Since swimming is part of social life, and in general all members of a family bathe together in a tub (hot tub). Sometimes guests will be invited to join a bath as part of hospitality. If the tub is not large enough for all, bathing takes place in the traditional order: first the head of the family, then the men in order of decreasing age, and finally the women.

Bath water in Japan is much hotter than what is usual in Central Europe. The temperature is usually well above 40°C. In medical literature, 47°C is considered bearable for men.[9] The heat is considered a prerequisite for complete relaxation. The custom is to thoroughly clean oneself with soap and rinse before entering the tub, so as not to contaminate the bath water. The spa itself is not for cleaning, but the social contact and well-being. Until the 19th century, the Japanese did not use soap, but rubbed the skin with certain herbs, or rice bran, which was also a natural exfoliant.

Public bathsEdit


In public baths, there is a distinction between those with natural hot springs called, onsen (hot), and the other, the sento. Since Japan is located in a volcanically active region, there are many hot springs, of which about 2000 are swimming pools. Most onsen are in the open countryside, but they are also found in cities. In Tokyo, for example, there are about 25 onsen baths. Locations of known mineral springs spas are on the Western model.

In an onsen, which are mostly outdoor pools (rotenburo), which are sometimes at different temperatures. Extremely hot springs, where the heat can stay well-proven Japanese only a few minutes, called jigoku (hell). Many onsen also have saunas, spa treatments and therapy centers. The same rules apply in public bath as in private baths requiring cleaning before entering the water. In general, the Japanese bathe naked in bathhouses, bathing suits are not permissible.

Before the 7th century, the Japanese probably mostly bathed in the many springs in the open, because there is no evidence of closed rooms. In the 6th to 8th centuries (in the Asuka and Nara periods) the Japanese took the religion of Buddhism from China, which had a strong impact on the entire culture of the country. For every Buddhist temple traditionally included a bathhouse (yuya) for the monks. These baths were opened in time for the rest of the population, because the principle of purity in Buddhism plays a major role. Only the wealthy had private baths.

The first public bathhouse was mentioned in 1266. In Tokyo, the first sento was established in 1591. The early steam baths or steam baths were called iwaburo (rock pools) or kamaburo (furnace baths). It was natural or artificial caves or stone vaults. In iwaburo along the coast, the rocks were heated by burning wood, then sea water was poured over the rocks producing steam. The entrance to these "Bath Houses" was very small, so that the steam escaped. There were no windows, so it was very dark inside and the user was constantly coughed or cleared their throats in order to signal to new entrants, which seats were already occupied. The darkness could be also used for sexual contact, because there were no gender distinction, and these baths came into disrepute. They were finally abolished in 1870 on hygienic and moral grounds.

At the beginning of the so-called Edo period (1603–1867) there were two different types of baths. In Tokyo (then called Edo) hot-water baths (yuya) were common, while in Osaka, steam baths (mushiburo) were common. At that time shared bathrooms for men and women were the rule. These bathhouses were very popular especially for men. "Bathing girls" (Yuna), were employed to scrub the guests' backs and wash their hair, etc. Some guests apparently offered to pay but the yuna also provided favors. In 1841, the employment of Yuna were generally prohibited, as well as mixed bathing. The segregation of the sexes, however, were often ignored by operators of bathhouses, or areas for men and women were separated only by a symbolic line. The official removed to the prohibitions. Today, sento baths have separate rooms for men and women.[11]

Art motifEdit

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Bathing scenes were already in the Middle Ages a popular subject of painters. Most of the subjects were women shown nude, but the interest was probably less to the bathing itself rather than to provide the context for an art nude. From the Middle Ages, illustrated books of the time contained such bathing scenes. Biblical and mythological themes which featured bathing were depicted by numerous painters. Especially popular themes included Bathsheba in the bath, in which she is observed by King David, and Susanna in the sight of lecherous old men.

In the High Middle Ages, public baths were a popular subject of painting, with rather clear depictions of sexual advances, which probably were not based on actual observations. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, bathing was particularly popular as an allegory, which were observed in the ancient gods and nymphs bathing, such as with Titian and François Boucher. But the images of women bathing in the river were also found.

In the 19th century, the use of the bathing scene reached its high point in classicism, realism and impressionism. Edgar Degas, for example, painted over 100 paintings with a bathing theme. Sometimes painters worked with models, but especially in the 19th century, popular oriental themes and harem and turkish baths scenes were used. These were clearly based purely on the artists' imagination, because access by men to Islamic women was not generally permitted.[12]

Known bathing scenes were painted by, among others:

See alsoEdit


  1. Shove, Elizabeth (2004). Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience The Social Organization of Normality (New Technologies/New Cultures), New York: Berg.
  2. From the Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia, fourth edition:
    mandi v. to wash one's body with water and soap (by pouring water over or soaking one's body, etc.) [membersihkan tubuh dng air dan sabun (dng cara menyiramkan, merendamkan diri ke air, dsb.] p.871
    bak mandi n. something used to hold water for bathing [kolam tempat air untuk mandi], p. 121
    kamar mandi n. place for bathing [bilik tempat mandi], p. 611
  3. Accessed: 2011-03-08. (Archived by WebCite® at
  4. Lonely Planet website - Indonesia: “Cheaper hotels, where they exist, may not have running water or showers. Washing facilities are likely to be Indonesian mandi style, something with which travellers who have been off the beaten track in Indonesia will be familiar. A mandi is a large water tank, from which you scoop water with a ladle, jug or what looks like a plastic saucepan. Once wet, you soap yourself down and then rinse the soap off with more water from the mandi. You certainly do not climb into the mandi.”[1] Accessed: 2011-03-08. (Archived by WebCite® at [2])
  5. Rough Guide website - Malaysia - Accommodation: “Instead of showers, a few older places, usually in rural areas, sometimes have a mandi – a large basin of cold water which you throw over yourself with a bucket or ladle.”[3]
  6. Accessed: 2011-03-08. (Archived by WebCite® at
  7. Bathing your baby
  8. The Western Heritage (2004) by Donald Kagan, Steven E Ozment, and Frank M Turner. ISBN 0-13-182839-8
  9. K.Kubota, K.Tamura, H.Take, H.Kurabayashi, M.Mori, T.Shirakura: Dependence on very hot hot-spring bathing in a refractory case of atopic dermatitis. in: Journal of medicine. 25.1994, 5,333-336. ISSN 0025-7850
  10. Photo from "Sketches of Japanese Manners and Customs", by J. M. W. Silver. ISBN 978-1-4346-9833-9.
  11. Badehäuser, Schwitzbäder, Heisse Quellen. Katalog der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Berlin 1997.
  12. Alev Lytle Croutier: Wasser. Elixier des Lebens. Heyne, München 1992, S. 187 ff. ISBN 3-453-05924-7

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