Did Vikings Really Use Soap?

When we conjure up images of Vikings, our minds often drift to scenes of fierce warriors and daunting longships. Rarely do we associate them with cleanliness and grooming. Therefore, it might come as a surprise that the Vikings had a more sophisticated relationship with soap and personal hygiene than popular culture might suggest. Yes, Viking soap did exist. 

A Hagar the Horrible comic strip shows him in a tub with his wife giving him a bath. In Panel 1, his word bubble says "I'm going straight to the tavern after this nonsense! Nothing will stop me!" Panel 2 shows his smiling wife pouring a bottle into the tub, and Hagar says "Except lavender oil!" with an unhappy expression.

Would I Lye To You?

Historical records and archaeological findings about ancient Norse peoples paint a picture of a society that valued cleanliness. For example, they used personal hygiene tools like combs, tweezers, razors, and ear cleaners crafted from antler and bone. Accordingly, Viking soap was also a simple recipe of natural ingredients like animal fat, wood ash, and lye. In fact, the word "lye" is cognate to the Old Norse word laug, meaning "pool" or "hot spring."  Notably, the Norse name for Saturday is Laugardagr, which literally means "hot water day," but is translated as "washing day" or "bathing day".

A comb recovered from an excavation of a Viking site
A comb recovered from the excavation of a Viking site, now part of the Yorkshire Museum's collection.

Although they crafted a strong, effective soap, it probably did not have any colors or fragrances to enhance their bathing experience. In contrast, at Birds of Valhalla we specialize in more fragrant, colorful bars of soap. Our natural recipes and use of ethical mica for brilliant colors are intended to spark the imagination. We strive to create an immersive, fantasy experience beyond simply getting clean.

A multicolored assortment of Birds of Valhalla's signature soaps surrounding a crystal skull
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"I bathe once a week, whether I need it or not!" 

Regarding bathing, Vikings were relatively ahead of their time. They bathed at least once a week, which was a lot more frequently than many other societies in Europe at the time. This weekly bath, often in communal bathhouses, also served as a social event, bringing communities together.

So remarkable were the Nordic practices of bathing and personal care that it prompted a 12th Century English cleric named John of Wallingford to write that they "...caused much trouble to the natives of the land; for they were wont, after the fashion of their country, to comb their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their garments often, and set off their persons by many frivolous devices. In this matter they laid siege to the virtue of the married woman, and persuaded the daughters even of the nobles to be their concubines."

Odin's All-Natural Beard Oil
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Smell Ya Later, Norse Invader 

So you might be wondering, what was the quintessential 'Viking smell'? It wasn't as off-putting as one might assume. The Viking's world was a tapestry of natural scents: sea salt, smoky hearthfires, and earthy tones of leather and wood. These robust smells were likely complemented by the natural freshness of their soap and clean, wool clothes.

Named in honor of Yggdrasil, The World Tree Signature Soap smells like ranging through a deep pine forest.

So, the next time you envision a Viking, think beyond the battle-hardened warrior archetype. Picture also a society of people who, despite the limitations of their era, made efforts towards personal hygiene, using the tools and knowledge they had at hand. It's a nuanced image that adds depth to our understanding of Viking life, reminding us that there was more to these historical figures than just their exploits on the battlefield.


Hagar The Horrible comics ©2019 and 2022 by King Features Syndicate
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I guess Viking scents are my thing!

Hippy Dippy Things

I love information like this, stuff I would have never looked up on my own, and Hagar used to be one of my favorites, love it.

Ashley Leacock

This was very interesting. It seems to me the Vikings were cleaner than the Romans with their oil and stigels I wonder if they had communal squats and a sponge on a stick that was rinsed in communal running water.

Georgane Vann

Vikings sure would have smelt wonderful


Thank you for sharing this information.

Shannon Dupee

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