soap 9 small
Mar, 2019


Before there was much of anything to clean, there was water.  As mankind's first cleaning chemical, it was a pretty effective one; you could easily wash the mud off your hands in a waterfall, puddle or ocean.  Because of its molecular structure, many substances simply dissolved and were rinsed away in water, which is why it's considered the "universal solvent".

Around 2200 BC the ancient Babylonians found a way to improve water's cleaning power, and like so many great discoveries, it was by accident.  Water had been used to clean cooking utensils that were covered in animal fat and wood ash.  By combining the three substances, they inadvertently created the world's first soap.

The Egyptians used vegetable oils and alkaline salts to make their soap and were perhaps the first people to regularly bathe their bodies and launder their clothes.  

The hearty people of the Greek empire managed to wash themselves without soap or water.  They'd rub down their bodies with clay, sand, pumice or ashes.  Then they'd cover themselves with oil and finally scrape the oil off with metal blades.

The Romans discovered the benefits of soap and water, again by accident.  Atop Mount Sapo animal sacrifices were traditionally practiced.  When it rained animal fat and volcanic ash flowed down into the Tiber River.  The mixture created a lye soap solution, making the river an ideal place to wash up.  And "Sapo" because the basis for our word "soap".

Interestingly, after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century the tradition of washing ourselves and our stuff went away, which created 1000 years of uncleanliness and bad hygiene, not to mention several deadly plagues.

Finally, in the late 1600s, cleanliness came back into fashion in Europe as people made the connection between personal hygiene and defence against disease.  Manufactured bars of soap became available, along with the advertising campaigns to promote them.

In 1898 BJ Johnson developed the first formula for liquid soap.  Since it was made of palm and olive oils, he called it "Palmolive".  The first liquid soap for household cleaning followed.

During WW1 the animal fats that were still used to make soap were in short supply, so chemists in Germany created a cleaning chemical made from synthetic, as opposed to natural ingredients.  This resulted in the first detergent.

By the 1950s detergents had replaced soaps for washing clothes in developed countries.  In the 80s detergents were developed that could clean in cold water and in the 90s super concentrated liquid detergents came out.  By the year 2000s, biodegradable green friendly products were released.

Today however a bar of soap is not always technically "soap" - it is most likely a petroleum or synthetic based detergent.  Real soap is only available from natural-product companies.

Just in case you were wondering.....

The phrase "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" means that being clean is a sign of spiritual purity or goodness, as in Don't forget to wash behind your ears.  This phrase was first recorded in a sermon by John Wesley in 1778, but the idea is ancient, found in Babylonian and Hebrew religious tractsIt is still invoked, often as an admonition to wash or clean up.