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
Then there were 3 major changes in how soap was produced.
The first being the production of caustic soda which is an essential ingredient in soap making.
The next was in the 20th century when the syndet bar (synthetic detergent) was introduced onto the market.
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.