The History of Swedish Bathroom

The History of Swedish Bathroom stretches back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In just a few decades everything changed!


This post is translated from Swedish by me. It was first published at my newsletter BadrumsBladet. If you want to subscribe to the newsletter (in Swedish), follow the link!


The history of Swedish bathrooms is one of despair and an incredibly low standard for the lower classes to swift changes and improvements for all!

The history of Swedish bathrooms is also the history of modern Sweden and how its people was lifted out of extreme poverty in only a few decades. Nowadays we take for granted all the tools we have at our disposal to keep our hygiene, but it wasn’t always like this. This is a trend that’s been going on for little more than 100 years. Before that, the Swedish population had to do their business in big tubs or in the nearest creek or lake. We have a lot to thank the new era of hygiene and bathrooms to our health and well-being today!

Laying down the groundworks for future plumbing

Most people, at least Swedes, have one time or another seen or tried out “utedasset” (outdoor dry toilet). It was the most common way of doing our business until quite a bit into the 20th century. Even in the cities there wasn’t really any options until the 1930-1940 when the installation of drain pipes where started. Of course, a lot of people had to wait until the 1950-1960s for their own indoor toilet and bidet. Once this trend started, however, it went fast. In the 1950s the bathroom was an integral part of most Swedes’ houses or apartments!

The first bathrooms

The first bathrooms in Sweden wasn’t really the spa-like relaxing spaces we have today, but was quite simple and functional. There was a toilet, sink with a mixer, and perhaps a bidet. Bathtubs also became commonplace, but was introduced slightly after the toilet and sink.

If you happened to live in a city before this change, chances are that you had to leave your apartment and head down to the courtyard to visit the facilities. These more often than not consisted of a bench, sometimes private, sometimes open, where you sat down and did your business. One could also say it was a way of catching up with your neighbours!

Eradicating deseases

It wasn’t just about comfort, however. Another thing that really started to change was the general hygiene and health of the people. Diseases that would be a major problem before were practically eradicated due to the ability to wash in clean water in your own home. Since the introduction of the common bathroom we’ve seen a significant decrease in deadly diseases. This is of course also due to the fact we’ve put more thought into our health and well-being but my firm belief is that the bathroom have played a large, perhaps the largest role in this!

Excerpt from 1938 book and radio show “Lort Sverige” (Dirty Sweden)

An excerpt from “Lort Sverige” (Dirty Sweden), written by Ludvig Nordström 1938.

– Well? What do you say? You have seen not only different parts of Sweden but also part of America.

He was silent for a moment in his usual thoughtful manner, then replied:

– You know, I was stunned. Should you write as it was?

– Of course.

– People won’t believe you. You know, here in Sweden they are crazy. You know, in the States you can criticize. Then they say: well, we’ll redo it. But you know, in Sweden it’s different. And especially now. And you know, the public doesn’t know anything. They believe in the newspapers, and the newspapers elevate everything Swedish to the best in the world.

– It’s true, but I have my notes, and even if they are suspect, I have one thing that you have to bow to: the drawings and photographs, especially the drawings. The camera lies, but not the pencil. And finally: I have every place noted in the notebook. Anyone who wishes to check my data is free to go and look.

– Yes it’s true. It’s true.

From Projekt Runeberg (translation by Google)

Some things change and some does not. While Swedes tend to be silent on things that are not as well as they are presented, we also tend to make swift, overhauling changes once these things are presented in their natural light. One could perhaps even argue that the authorities’ embarrassment, after overhyping Sweden’s greatness, of the actual realities had quite a lot to do with the reshaping of the Swedish bathrooms and general living standards.

The history of Swedish bathrooms, from no bathrooms to modern bathrooms
“The worst house in Sweden” This house had floor boards laying directly on the ground, a broken roof, and a cherry tree growing in the living room. It was inhabited by an old man who was living on welfare. The house itself was broken but inside there was order and all items had its place. -“Lort Sverige”

Increasing rate of progress

No matter the actual reasons behind change, it was imminent and it was going fast! During the comming decades there will be an explosion of new features and products entering the bathroom!

More on the subject…

Check out my podcast series on bathroom renovations, or BadrumsBladet, my newer newsletter on bathroom, etc. You can also find the book “Lort Sverige” at Project Runeberg!


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