Aztec Personal Cleanliness

Andres de Tapia comments (with some astonishment) that Montezuma washed his body twice a day, but this love of personal cleanliness was general among the Aztecs, and everybody bathed frequently in the rivers and lakes. True soap was unknown. but among the substitutes available were the fruit of the soap-tree and the roots of certain plants which could produce a lather.

Besides these cold-water baths, a kind of sauna or steam bath was in use everywhere in the Valley of Mexico. Almost every dwelling had its bath-house, a little hemispherical building shaped rather like an igloo with a low doorway. Against it was constructed a fire-place, and the blaze warmed the adjacent wall of the bath-house until it glowed red-hot. At this stage, the bather crept into the house and threw water onto the hot wall until the interior was filled with steam. To increase the flow of perspiration and to gain full benefit from the treatment, the bather switched himself with twigs or bundles of grass. 'Soap' was used for washing, and the process might be completed with a massage, followed by a period of relaxation, lying stretched out on a mat. Both men and women used the steam baths, not only for ritual purifications and the treatment of certain diseases but as a normal part of everyday hygiene.

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