How Soap Works Including A Brief History

By: Sean Glynn

Soap has been around for a long time. A soap-like material found in clay cylinders during the excavation of ancient Babylon is evidence that soap making was known as early as 2800 B.C. Inscriptions on the cylinders say that fats were boiled with ashes, which is a method of making soap, but do not refer to the purpose of the "soap." Such materials were later used as hair styling aids. The earliest records show that the Egyptians as part of their mummification process mixed fat and lye to create an early form of soap. I wonder if there is a hieroglyph for soap?

At about the same time, Moses gave the Israelites detailed laws governing personal cleanliness. He also related cleanliness to health and religious purification. Biblical accounts suggest that the Israelites knew that mixing ashes and oil produced a kind of soap.

As Roman civilization advanced, so did bathing. The first of the famous Roman baths, supplied with water from their aqueducts, was built about 312 B.C. The baths were luxurious, and bathing became very popular and the use of soap increased greatly. By the second century A.D., the Greek physician, Galen, recommended soap for both medicinal and cleansing purposes.

Contrary to popular belief soap and bathing was popular in medieval times. People probably bathed more than they did in the 19th century, says the great medievalist Lynn Thorndike. Some castles had a special room beside the kitchen where the ladies might bathe sociably in parties and soaping each other. Hot water, sometimes with perfume soap or rose leaves, was brought to the lord in the bedchamber and poured into a tub shaped like a half-barrel and containing a stool, so that the occupant could sit and soak long and gently soap himself all over. In the cities there were public baths, or "stews" for the populace.

Why do we use soap? We use soap to keep ourselves clean.

By not using soap to keep clean and fresh the health of everyone suffered. Indeed research by the soap studies section of the Institute of Health at the Verne university of California, a place renowned for its consistent use of soap, found a direct correlation between the use of soap and the life expectancy of the population.

Now one might argue we use too much soap or the wrong types of soap. So we need to understand what makes soap and why it is important to use soap to keep clean.

Soap kills bacteria, soap removes dirt and soap gets rid of grime.

The word soap came from the Soap Plant whose roots were crushed in water to form a lather and could be used as a general purpose soap or shampoo for earliest man.

Soaps work by gripping dirt and by using a solvent, most normally water, they form larger compounds able to be more easily extracted in an emulsion of soap and water. This emulsion is called a lather. Of course not all soaps that lather contain just soap. Many soaps contain the same detergents that you find in shampoo along with soap. Extra ingredients can be added to make soap more effective against bacteria such as triclosan or triclocarban these chemicals kill bacteria and therefore make good anti-bacterial agents.

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By Sean Glynn
(soap | soaps) Self appointed expert on soap.

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