The History of Soap

Soap is a common commodity in today’s world, there’s probably at least one bottle in every building you’ve ever been to! But have you ever stopped to think about when soap was invented and where it came from? Well, we’ve got all the answers for you in this whistle stop tour of the history of soap. Join us as we take you through history from 2800 BC to the present day and talk all things soap!

●       Where Does the Word “Soap” Come From?

●       When Was Soap Invented?

●       Nature’s Soap in Asia

●       Early Soap Making in Europe

●       The Soap We Know Today

Where Does the Word Soap Come From?

It seems even the history of the word “soap” is difficult to pinpoint. Supposedly, the word “soap” stems from a story beginning at ‘Mount Sapo’ or ‘Sapo Hill’ in Rome. Women would wash their clothes in a small river running at the foot of the mountain where rainwater had mixed with animal fats and ashes to create soapy clay. The women noticed the clothes became clean when washing their clothes with this substance and this is how the word “soap” was created.

When Was Soap Invented?

The big question is, when was soap invented? Well, the answer is a little more complicated than you think. There have been references to soap dating back to 2800 BC. The Babylonians produced a soap-like mixture of boiled fats and ashes, which could be classed as an early iteration of soap. This could mean the Babylonians invented soap!

Jumping to 1500 BC in Ancient Egypt, bathing using animal fats, vegetable oils and alkaline salts was popular as it was used to treat skin diseases and for bathing in general, so you could argue soap has been around for thousands of years. But this is nothing like today’s soap, is it?

Nature’s Soap In Asia

In ancient India, soap was a little different. Instead of using the typical animal fats and ashes as other countries were using, India instead utilised soap nuts or soap berries (also known as Sapindussaponaria). These soap nuts were boiled and then crushed to filter out the cleaning chemicals. This essence even lathered like the soap we know today!

In ancient China, there has been evidence they also used these soap nuts, as well as, producing their own soap. Similar to other versions of early soap, China also discovered using the ashes of plants could remove grease. This was a turning point in soap making in China as this discovery was passed down through the dynasties, with crushed sea shells being added to the ashes to create a different form of soap.

Early Soap Making in Europe

In the 8th Century, soap making became popular in Europe, particularly in Spain, Italy and France. They also had their own methods and recipes when it came to soap. The Spanish and Italians used Beech Tree ash and Goat fat to create their version of soap, whereas the French used Olive oil instead of animal fats to produce soap.

It wasn’t until the 17th Century that soap similar to what we know it today was created. Nicholas Leblanc was a French surgeon and chemist who developed the process for making soda ash from salt. This soda ash (or lye) is an ingredient that is used in soap making today, without it, you can’t make modern-day soap!

This shows the early iterations of soap were still carried through to the more modern-day with the use of animal fats and ashes but does today’s soap contain these ingredients?

The Soap We Know Today

Don’t worry, modern-day soap doesn’t typically contain animal fats! Instead, the key ingredients commonly found in soap are:

●       Vegetable Oils: Common oils include Olive oil, Coconut oil and Palm oil.

●       An Alkali: This is where the soda ash or lye comes in or alternatively sodium hydroxide is used.

●       Glycerin: This is a by-product of the chemical reaction between vegetable oils and alkali, but it is commonly kept in the final product for its moisturising properties.

●       Fragrance and Colour: Depending on the soap you buy, there may be different fragrances and colour added.

From this list of ingredients, it is clear to see how soap making dating back to 2800 BC can still be seen in today’s soap making. Although there have been a few tweaks to the type of oil and ash used in the process, the ingredients are still similar which could argue soap really was invented all those thousands of years ago.

The Importance of Hand Soap

Traditionally, soap was used for its moisturising properties and to show you were wealthy. Today, soap is more than a show of wealth but rather to be hygienic. Soap is commonly used to keep clean and kill germs, especially when it comes to handwashing.

With its antibacterial and antiviral properties, modern-day hand soap is used all around the world to protect people from harmful germs. By using hand soap, the chain of infection can be broken and diseases are less likely to be spread. Soap in all forms has become a necessity in the modern world, showing the impact it has had throughout history.

Safeguard Your Health With Soap

Today, you can simply buy soap from shops and online rather than make it at home. This shows how important soap has become to the hygiene of the modern world. So why not protect your health from harmful germs and shop soap with Woosh? From antibacterial hand soap to hair and body wash, we have all the soap you could possibly need. Contact our Wooshologists to see how we can help elevate your washroom with the help of soap!

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