What are the good things about hygiene in the middle ages?
With the coming of the Renaissance, with a regular supply to the wealthy and fashionable of clean clothes and perfume, people decided to wash only those parts of the body that could be seen, and that being cold and wet lead to disease.
One of the really great things about Wikianswers is the things you can learn while doing research for answers. Who would have guessed?
A third answer: I agree that the common idea that people in the middle ages were filthy and never bathed is incorrect. I am not sure that I agree with the reason given in the second answer, however.
To first address the question of bathing in general, there is a good deal of evidence that medieval people kept themselves as clean as they could manage. We know from tax records and wills that the better off citizens of urban areas owned tubs and vessels for bathing. For those who could not afford this, there were bath houses in many urban areas. Writing on manners and etiquette from the period stressed hygiene, such as washing the face and hands and cleaning the mouth every day. Bathing seemed to be considered a pleasurable activity, and there is art from the period that shows people bathing socially and being served meals while bathing. Bathing was also associated with sexuality, as less reputable bath houses were sometimes a place where one might meet a prostitute. With all these positive associates, including social standing, physical pleasure, sexual appeal, and socialization opportunities, it seems likely that people keep themselves as clean as they could manager. Those too poor to afford to bathe at home (there was the cost of not only the tub but also the fuel to heat the water, not an insignificant expense) or to patronize a bath house, still likely washed their bodies regularly, even if they could not practice full immersion bathing often.
The main reason that the middle ages are often commonly conceived of as a period where there was no hygiene is that the church was somewhat against bathing. Because of its association with physical pleasure, food, sex, etc, the church saw regular baths as a morally suspicious activity. Even the church, however, allowed periodic bathing (typically weekly) for lay people to maintain hygiene, provided it did not become a "time waster". The fact that they had this concern seems to point to the the fact the the medieval man liked a good soak in the tub.
Monks were famously only allowed two to three baths per year, another source of the common idea that medieval people where dirty. This was a form of spiritual discipline, however, not a repudiation of being clean. Monks were still expected to wash daily, and might wash their hands several times each day. In an age where clerical laxity and overindulgence were common, it is hard to say how much the monks of any given monastery actually bathed. The great monastery at Cluny had a bath house with 12 tubs. How often they were used can only be speculated at.
The other primary source of opposition to bathing came from physicians, especially after the plague of the mid 14th century. The theory of disease at the time was that "bad air" or similar vapors caused disease. Because of the extreme lethality of the plague and the massive mortality rates people became obsessed with avoiding it. Doctors thought that opening the pores by warm water or steam might open one up to infection, at least during times when plague was present in an area. Bathing became less common at the end of the middle ages as a result, and this was further exacerbated by developments in clothing during the 16th century that made it easier to keep clothing cleaning and pleasant smelling. People from the 16th through the 18th century probably bathed much less than pre-plague medieval people did.(Although they they cleaned there clothing regularly) It is interesting to note that the bathing began to increase, with the endorsement of physicians, once the last of the plague epidemics had ended in the late 18th century.