I work at a baptismal site on the Jordan River. When people come out of the water, they smell. Heck if you shower without soap and shampoo you don't smell very delightful either. Skinny dipping is great for getting mud and manure off, but you will still smell afterwards. Not only that, but you wouldn't be able to bathe all year round. Winter is a given, but I think you couldn't bathe during the lents. Another factor is convenience. If you are up before dawn, work until it gets dark and have to get up early again, you are hardly likely to go down to the river or pond every day, especially if it isn't right next door. Then factor in drying time. Weigh that up against spending time with the wife, kids, helping your parents, chatting with your neighbours, maintainance work, fishing, hunting, hobbies and parties then tell me how frequently you would go bathing. And this is only men I am talking about. Who knows when women would find the time.6. Smelly People
Myth: People didnt bathe in the Middle Ages, therefore they smelled bad
Not only is this a total myth, it is so widely believed that it has given rise to a whole other series of myths, such as the false belief that Church incense was designed to hide the stink of so many people in one place. In fact, the incense was part of the Churchs rituals due to its history coming from the Jewish religion which also used incense in its sacrifices. This myth has also lead to the strange idea that people usually married in May or June because they didnt stink so badly - having had their yearly bath. It is, of course, utter rubbish. People married in those months because marriage was not allowed during Lent (the season of penance). So, back to smelly people. In the Middle Ages, most towns had bathhouses - in fact, cleanliness and hygiene was very highly regarded - so much so that bathing was incorporated into various ceremonies such as those surrounding knighthood. Some people bathed daily, others less regularly - but most people bathed. Furthermore, they used hot water - they just had to heat it up themselves, unlike us with our modern plumbed hot water. The French put it best in the following Latin statement: Venari, ludere, lavari, bibere; Hoc est vivere! (To hunt, to play, to wash, to drink, - This is to live!)
Bathing at home was just as difficult. Take a barrel, see how long it takes to fill by hand, then consider that you probably have to walk twenty minutes in each direction to draw water. Heating water was a lengthy process. It also uses up precious firewood. I have friends who live in a village in southern Russia. They have no running water, it has to come from a well. The village is barely electrified. The stove and oven are fuelled by firewood. I went to help them fetch more firewood and even figuring in my inexperience it was tiring and time consuming.
Ladelling water is not fun, it is also really cold! Up until a week ago our water heater was out of action, so I speak from experience.
I've recently lived in southern Russia, a really poor region. Deoderant is a bit more than what a large portion of the population can afford on a frequent basis. For the first ten years of my life (I was born and grew up in Israel) deoderant was a rarity, period. Few shops carried it. People stink without it.
The odour of sweat permeates everythig. For the medieval era you also have to factor in smoky stoves, cooking odours, the stench of detergents, animals and everything relating to your profession.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't most medieval soap not intended for personal hygiene?
So this, I submit, is why the middle ages really did stink. Not for neglect, but for other factors.