Indoor Plumbing

Before indoor plumbing and central heating, rooms were heated by fireplaces and coal or wood-burning stoves. 

Bathing was done by bringing water in from an outside well or pump, heating it on the stove, and then pouring it into a large tub. Because this was a lengthy process, people bathed once a week or less.

Changes Come

By the turn of the century, indoor plumbing brought water into buildings through pipes. With indoor plumbing came new ways for heating the water. Houses installed gas or electric water heaters and no longer had to use the stove. Indoor plumbing and water heaters made hot water spill from the faucets for bathing and washing, and warmed homes through radiators. The hot water for radiators was heated by the furnace in the basement. Flushing toilets meant Iowans no longer had to face cold weather and dark nights when they needed to visit the outhouse. 

Indoor plumbing was first installed in town and city houses. Throughout the early 1900s, farm magazines published articles urging farm families to modernize their houses. But even in 1940, most Iowa farms did not have indoor toilets, showers and bathtubs.


  • Amy Ruth, “The Changing Home,” The Goldfinch 17, no. 3 (Spring 1996): 11-13.