In ancient Rome, it was considered a sign of wealth and sophistication to have one’s own private urine collection. Urine was collected and then sold to launderers, who used it to bleach clothing because it contained ammonia, a natural cleaning agent. Urine from men who ate a lot of vegetables was considered the most valuable because it was the most acidic, which made it more effective at bleaching cloth.
In fact, the demand for urine was so high that the Roman Empire established a tax on it, known as the “urinary tax,” which was collected by the government. The urine trade was so lucrative that some people even went so far as to fake their own urine collection in order to avoid paying the tax. It may seem bizarre to us today, but in ancient Rome, urine was an important commodity that was used in a variety of everyday products and processes.
In WWI Canadian soldiers used urine-soaked cloths as primitive respirators against chemical attacks. The ammonia in urine would react with the chlorine, neutralizing it, and that the water would dissolve the chlorine, allowing the soldiers to breathe through the gas.
Aztecs took two showers a day and used flowers as soap and cleaned their mouth with them as well. The Spaniards at the time avoided water because it was thought water on your skin made you more susceptible to the plague and they used urine to clean their mouths and teeth.
In 1669, Hennig Brand discovered phosphorus by boiling down urine and heating the residue to very high temperatures. He was trying to make gold though, and he hoped that the yellow color of urine meant there was gold in it.
Red, blue, violet and green – a whole spectrum of colors regularly show up on urine tests in hospital labs. A worker in a hospital lab collected colorful urine samples from patients in order to create a urine rainbow. All the samples were unaltered, straight from the patients. “A mix between art and science.”