How ordinary people washed themselves, early 20th Century
Soap, flannel and cold water was the only way to keep ourselves clean when I was a child growing up on the working class Victorian housing estate. Yet it was a matter of principle that we were kept clean. This page describes and explains the everyday washing routine for ordinary Victorians and Edwardians with no bathroom and only a single cold water tap. It is brought to live through personal recollections.
Where we washed
The 'wash basin' was the sink that was also used for washing up. It was large and box-like and made of glazed stone, with a single brass cold-water tap in the wall above it. Sometimes we used an enamel bowl in the sink.
A wooden soap box was also on the wall. No exotic soap ever found its way there. It was always general household soap, usually Sunlight, which invariably had little pieces of grit embedded in where my mother had used it to wash the floor. I don't think our complexions suffered as a result. I was reputed to have had a very good complexion as a child.
So the Sunlight soap did little harm, although I well recall having little patches of dry skin in on my chin in the winter. This was quite common with most children and was treated with Vaseline.
The temperature of the water
In summer when it was too hot to light the range, water was heated in the kettle on a primus stove - a cooking device designed for camping. The image shows the principle, but there were many designs.
Essentially, a receptical at the bottom was filled with paraffin oil which created fumes were lit on a burner. There was some sort of support for a kettle or saucepan as shown. The size of the flames and hence their heat was governed by a pump which was normally integrated into the stove and/or an arrangement to limit the flow of the paraffin.
The flannel and towel
Flannels were squares of plain white towelling. I don't think anyone in the family was particularly fussy about which flannel or towel they used. There wasn't space in the little sink alcove to store much.
Being washed as a young child
I always remember my great grandmother washing me at the scullery sink. It wasn't a case of just wiping sticky hands. It was a good old wash, and my ears burnt for hours afterwards. Her generation seemed to have a thing about ears. It was always, "Have you washed behind your ears?". It could have been why earache seemed so prevalent in those days. We children always had a twisted corner of the flannel rammed down our ears.
Unlike adults, we children did have a bath once a week.