Memegenerator has references to everything.
This is one that I've heard ever since I was little. People who lived before the Victorians were dirty. Except for maybe the Romans, but public baths are pretty dirty, so they were probably still dirty except for the rich. The Victorian rich revolutionized the world with their ideas of cleanliness, but it didn't really spread until the mid 1800s.
Which means it should be simple to give the exact date of the invention of soap, right?
The earliest written recipe for soap we have was written in 2500 BCE. [*] It's clearly been around for a while, and people wouldn't have been making it if they weren't using it.
The simple fact is that people knew that cleanliness and health went together. The Ancient Greeks had even figured out how to make public showers, with fresh flowing water from aqueduct, pipes, and everything.
Boundary Bathrooms has more than you thought there was ever to know on the history of showers.
What I think caused the confusion was that while most people bathed often, they didn't take baths or showers.
If you'd like to try a historical experiment on why, take the largest pot you own. Fill it full of water. Once it's boiling, pour it into your bathtub, and then fill it up and boil another. And then repeat the process until your bathtub is full. You might be beginning to understand why baths fell out of style when the public bathing facilities weren't available.
Instead people would heat a large pot of water, and then use a cloth and that smaller tub of heated water to clean themselves off. Because it took a lot of energy to heat large amounts of water, and unless you were super rich, a warm bath was something one only did for special occasions. In the summer one could take a bath in a river or stream, but that only worked in warm weather.
Not ideal bathing conditions.
Larger cities in the Middle Ages were able to keep public baths open. Some people may be familiar with the Latin saying that was popularized at the time, think of it as the Medieval YOLO, "venari, ludere, lavari, bibere; hoc est vivere! It translates to, "to hunt, to play, to wash, to drink, – this is to live!" [**]
So why then, do the Victorians get the credit for bathing? Gas. With the advent of gas heated water, people could heat larger tubs of water faster, indeed, they could heat a whole tub and control the temperature so it wasn't a boiling cauldron of 3rd degree burns to bathe in. This also meant private baths, like we have today.