Bathing and Hygiene: What constitutes "rewilded" cleanliness habits?

Hi everyone: What constitutes “rewilded” behavior around cleanliness and hygiene habits?
I have met people who chose not to bathe because they believed civilization taught them to be over-obsessed with eliminating odors and such, and I’ve met many people who have stopped or slowed their bathing in order to reduce water use. I meet so many people who want to change or re-balance the world who at the same time don’t seem to bathe or comb their hair or brush their teeth and as a result have a sort of disheveled or greasy appearance. But then I watch the wild animals, and it seems like they are preening, cleaning, splashing, and bathing as often as they possibly can, and joining each other in the practice. And I notice in my own life that it feels good to be clean and well-groomed, and to massage and groom with people you love and trust (i.e. combing each other’s hair).
What do you all think?
I’d love to post this on the rewild forum, I’m not sure where it should go.


Dang. Yeah, those are some great thoughts. I struggle with this stuff, too, and I have no ideas. Thanks for asking. I’m looking forward to this discussion.

I’m cutting and pasting our facebook conversation in here, so bear with me.

From Gabrielle:
Great points! I think “cleanliness” needs to be separated from “hygienic” or “sterile”. Ever since we discovered germs, we mistakenly assumed they’re all bad. It’s pretty clear that’s not the case; however, the chemical industry has made a lot of money convincing people that clean means sterile. The dishabille you’re describing seems to be a pendulum swing in the opposite direction, and is likely throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I think the animal behavior you described serves as a lovely role model!

From Amy:
Definitely agree with Gabrielle above. I also think that, as in many areas of rewilding, there is no one right answer. Each person is going to have their own opinion, and their own type of clean. You shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to smell nice or feel fresh, nor should you be shamed for having a “greasy/unwashed appearance”. Just try to use non-harmful products and conserve water (or recycle it) when ever possible.

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From Hannah:
Although many animals also practice behaviors typically seen as “unclean” such as mud bathing, wallowing in urine, wallowing in rotting flesh, etc. It’s not that these behaviors don’t serve a purpose, but it’s important to take all behaviors into account if you’re thinking about emulating the behaviors of other animals. What applies to other species may not apply to us, or it may be very useful. It all depends.

From Peter:
Someone once said to me (I think it was a biologist) “In the wild, a dirty animal is a sick animal.” A lot of our body odor in civilization comes from bad diets/bacterium, so that odor isn’t necessarily a sign of health or “naturalness.” If it’s “natural” for wild animals to keep themselves clean, then “letting yourself go” isn’t natural at all–and possibly an extension of the myth of “wilderness/wild nature” as an “untamed” or “unmanaged” place.

From George:
Yes, yes, yes. No dirty chimps out there for long. We often don’t know how to stay “clean” without “cleaning.” You get it down after you spend long periods out in the wild. That’s not to say that people won’t notice you when you are in a more civilized setting, but you don’t have to appear filthy either. A horse smells like a horse, a dog like a dog, but humans smell like a mess of things until we’re out foraging and reach a balance.

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From Alyosha:
I think it’s important to stay clean body and clothes. Natural methods (no soap, sun-bleaching etc) work well, but not as well as harsh chemicals. I think it’s worth accepting that difference, especially since harsh chemicals kill bacteria and pollute the environment. It also might not be as necessary to bathe/launder as much as civ. people often do, depending on personal body chemistry. For example, I’m a grease monkey so at least washing my pits and groin every day or every other day is a must.

From Bobbie:
I live off grid on 20 acres in a very wild natural environment and have explored this question quite a bit. Yes, as Alyosha said, I do some minimal washing (in a stream with natural or no soap) every day. I only wash my hair about every 5 days. My hair and skin have adjusted and produce much less oil - less acne too. I also am completely comfortable with much more “dirt” or “germs” in my environment than most people. I have no need to completely “sanitize” anything and everything around me (like the almost phobic use of hand sanitizers by many). Dirts ok, it’s not going to kill you. However, soaking in a hot bath at least once a week is a JOY!!!

From Markus:
Microbiology class in med school for sure turned my views / understanding of cleanliness upside down. Cultivating in petri dishes what was swapped from regular daily use items like money, doorknobs a.s.o. was an eye opening endeavor. So I think after that I did wash my hands a lot more than what probably was necessary. On the other hand over a long time period later I more and more realized that the goal should not be total sterilization of hands, body, or everything but making smart decisions to help ‘the good guys (good bacteria)’ and make life harder for the bad guys. A lot of potential danger disappears when the human population density we live in is reduced. Also body odor is influenced a lot by the food we eat. A lot of ‘toxins’ get excreted through our skin / sweat. So the ‘cleaner’ we eat the less ‘stuff’ we need to excrete and wash of. Most of oder causing substances can easily be washed of with plain water as long as we keep our natural skin ‘oil film’ intact. Regular soap quickly kills the bad guys but keeps most the good guys, our ph barrier producing helpers, alive. So I think depending on the environment we live in and the food we eat the cleanliness and hygiene requirements can change significantly.

You wrote “I notice in my own life that it feels good to be clean and well-groomed, and to massage and groom with people you love and trust (i.e. combing each other’s hair).” I think you made an excellent observation! If we all did more of that (massaging, grooming, caring for) each other it would help us healing / strengthening our relationships.

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From Arrowyn:
In reading Holistic Dental Care I discovered that brushing your teeth actually encourages tooth decay. Our teeth are kept healthy from the inside out and have very little to do with what’s in our mouths. Weston Price, a dentist that travelled around in the 30s studying cultures still consuming traditional diets commented that most people with healthy teeth never brush, have good breath, and have a green film covering their perfectly straight white teeth smile emoticon

From 200?-2009ish Giulianna Lamanna used to keep a blog called the Fabulous Forager on exactly this topic. I can’t seem to find it, but of course it’s highly recommended.

My mate and I struggle with this a bit. My mother is a domesticated OCD germaphobe neat-freak with violent neurotic tendencies. I had a fucked up greasy nasty early puberty (a common plight these days) when I was about 7 or so, and she’d beat my ass and scream at me if I didn’t use all the dandruff shampoos and antibiotic face creams that just made everything worse. That’s one of the many thing that prompted me to study herbal medicine and stop taking manmade drugs, aside from a lifelong love of biology and history, when I was 11-12. Problem is I lacked funds for any natural alternatives and stayed a “filthy piece of shit bitch” all through adolescence.

Fast forward about a decade, I’m still a filthy blah blah blah. My mate and I both quit using shampoo a couple months ago, both have long brown hair, I shower maybe 2-3 times a week and he showers once every 2-3 weeks. No soap or shampoo, no natural alternatives, just icky tap water from a steel town through a years-old water filter that he’s been showering with his whole life. His hair is much smoother and less greasy than mine (though he needs to eat better and stimulate his scalp more) and he just smells and looks cleaner in general.

Just water doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried various other methods to no avail, and recently decided that baking soda followed by an herbal vinegar rinse is the best method for my personal makeup. I’m not sure what my dear mother will think of that, I haven’t seen her but a few times this past month, but I’m sure my mate and I will both still be filthy hoosiers to her. No one else seems to give a damn except his aunt, a Stepford-type childless housewife and cosmetologist (also a germaphobe neat-freak like my mom) who purposefully fucked up his last haircut 3 years ago so she “had” to cut it all off. Then she threatened to do it again a couple summers ago.

How do my mom and his aunt do their hair? They wash it with harsh shampoos and dry it out, blow-dry and flat-iron it every day, “need” petroleum-based conditioners to keep it from breaking like twigs, feel like greasy messes by the next morning, and dye it every couple months.“Filthy” or not, I can at least go half a week between my baking soda and vinegar before anyone has shit to say about it. At least my mate and I smell fine without deodorant and perfumes. We do brush our teeth with coconut oil/calcium carbonate toothpaste, and I shave certain areas because I have since I was 10 and the hair grows back like a cactus now. Otherwise frequent brushing and rinsing are extent of our grooming habits.

My point? With our bodies in the lesser state that our artificial selection has granted us, polluted by the many toxins we’ll never fully escape in this age, our grooming needs may be complex and differ greatly from each other. My mate, who’s mom has bombarded him with even more drugs and procedures since birth than mine has, has the good fortune of an extremely adaptable body compared to me. I want to credit his greater amount of indigenous American blood, but I’m not sure. But you’ll never please everyone, some people will die in their ways. What’s important is that your level of hygiene supports a healthy body and mind overall.

I bathe as little as possible since all I have is city water to bathe in at this time. I use a lot of coconut oil for it’s antibacterial qualities and wipe off with a dry cloth. Bathing in water once a week works for me. I know I produced more oils when I was younger, so it may not work for every one. If you have fresh water near by you can bathe anywhere. Look up Nadine Artimis. “Living Libations” She has never used soap on her son and does not use soap herself. I use it sparingly only when needed. Wash your arm pits and genitals with eco friendly soap that is proven not to hurt your water source. There are plenty of harmless soaps out there.

If I find soapberries that would seem the right thing to use for cleaning, without production to be involved for it, and without harmful effects to environments with using it.