history of soap making

If you have ever wondered about the history of soap making, here are some interesting facts.

We all use soap several times a day for everything from washing our hands and bathing to doing the dishes and the laundry, yet few of us have ever actually given thought to where it came from and how soap came to be in the first place.

It turns out that the history of soap making is a bit of a mystery because of the many different stories that have surfaced over the centuries.

The earliest evidence of soap making that we know of comes from Egypt in 1550BC as indicated in Ebers papyrus showing that Egyptians bathed using a combination of vegetable and animal oils, and alkaline salts which created a soap type of substance.

Though there is evidence of the Egyptians making soap, the Roman history of soap making also provides us with some colorful stories that have led many to believe that they were responsible for first manufacturing soap as well as naming it.

One such story is that soap got its name from a place called “Mount Sapo”. Story has it that Mount Sapo was where animal sacrifices took place and the tallow, ashes and water produced soap. The funny thing about this story is that there is no evidence of a place called Mount Sapo in the Roman world. All we do know for certain about the name is that “sapo” means soap.

More tidbits about the history of soap making

  • There is even Biblical evidence that suggests the Israelite people mixed ashes with vegetable oils to make a product that resembles hair gel. It was in the second century AD that a famous physician called Galens recommended people as well as his patients use soap to keep clean and as a topical ointment for skin diseases.
  • The remains of a soap factory were found in the ruins of Pompeii where a batch of soap was also discovered. The Gauls and ancient Germans made soap out of ashes mixed with fat from animals which they used to decorate their hair with. It was in the Renaissance period that Europeans began using soap to clean their bodies and after this soap was widely used for personal hygiene. To date its chemical formula has not changed that much at all.
  • American colonists made their soap much the same way as people did in the Renaissance. The process used back in those days was repeated by soap makers who would collect lye by dripping water through ashes from different woods. They would then mix this lye with animal or vegetable fat to make their soap.

  • Over the following centuries the soap making process did not change at all but the next real development was when Castile soap was produced. This was soap made from the saponification of olive oil. The end product was so much better because it was less caustic, the ingredients used excluded wood ash or rank goats tallow.
  • Castile soap was a lot nicer to work with and it formed solid bars of soap. It could be shredded and then molded so 'soap balls' came into being. Soap during this period of time was considered to be a luxury item and was taxed accordingly.
  • Over time herb and plant essences became part of the history of soap making were introduced into soap recipes because it was believed these had valuable medicinal properties that cured and prevented certain common illnesses of the time. Some of the plant essences used to produce soap were in fact quite dangerous.

Then there were 3 major changes in how soap was produced.

  1. The first being the production of caustic soda which is an essential ingredient in soap making.
  2. The next was in the 20th century when the syndet bar (synthetic detergent) was introduced onto the market.
  3. The third took place around 10 years ago when ancient skills used in the making of Castile soap were rediscovered then updated which has led to the handcrafted soaps we find on the market today.
3 major changes in how soap was produced in the history of soap

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