We have a lot to thank the Victorians for developing modern personal hygiene and flushing toilets

In pre-Victorian Britain many households relied  on a chamber pot or hole in the ground in the backyard privy. Richer people used non-flushing water closets but while they could be made to look nice their contents still had to be disposed. The Victorians made the connection between unsanitary conditions and disease and developed sewer systems to keep their cities cleaner. The problem  was how to build a flushing water closet that would efficiently and cleanly remove waste without allowing dangerous sewer gases to enter the house.

On the right a Victorian toilet from 1902.


The Englishman Thomas Crapper invented the flushing toilet in 1891. The wall mounted cistern in the 1870s made a big improvement to hygiene because it provided a large volume of water under more pressure. With the invention of the flushable toilet people no longer needed to rely on chamber pots and open windows and backyards to dispose of their waste. Nor did they have to fear sewer gases like methane seeping back up into their homes and causing explosions. 

Unfortunately, while Victorian engineers refined the process of using water to flush away waste, people living in the 20th century discovered it wasn't possible to just flush everything down the toilet. In developed countries sewage is treated in water treatment plants but wet-wipes and nappies can cause severe blockages. In developing countries, however, many people don't have access to clean water and water treatment plants which is the cause of pollution and disease.  Clean water is a valuable resource so modern toilets need to use less water. Perhaps the next revolution will occur in the development of waste treatment systems that minimise our reliance on water. In the meantime, look for technology to become increasingly water-conscious, both in toilets and in other bathroom fixtures.

On the right, a modern toilet designed to look Victorian



For the Victorians cleanliness was next to Godliness.  Soap played a very important part of Victorian culture.  It was cheap to make from animal and vegitable fats but soap made from sperm whales smelled very fishy! Soap made from almond oil smelled of almonds but was very expensive.
Soap was advertised as health and beauty products do now, by linking the product to current concerns, for example, about the health of infants and children, to the desirability of a good complexion, and even used celebrity endorsements form the time. In terms of hygiene, soap was presented as a protection against infection and Victorian households always made sure a bowl of water, soap and towel for any doctors, clergymen or visitors who might call.  
Perhaps the most famous Victorian soap was Pears.  Pears had been a soap manufacturer since the late eighteenth-century, and famed for a transparent soap first made in 1807. It has been popular ever since and can still be bought, although modern soaps are more fragrant.