Monday, September 29, 2008

The History of making soaps!

Well, with the increased awareness towards personal hygiene and consciousness towards beauty, soaps have gained popularity from the past few centuries. Soaps can be categorized as detergents used for washing utensils or clothes and as beauty soaps used for cleansing the skin. Everyday we see advertisements of movie stars endorsing the beauty soap on television. Soaps are a part of life or a routine thing. But this was not the case a number of centuries ago yet it does not imply that the soap was not invented then.

Archaeological excavations track the invention of soaps back in 2800 B.C. Babylonia. A material similar to that of soap was found in the clay cylinders during the excavations. The inscriptions on the pots read that the ashes were boiled with fats; this is the method of making soaps. However, the purpose of the soap or its use is not specified. This material was later on used for styling hair.

Ancient Egyptians took bath on a regular basis. A 1500 B.C. Medical document describes that animal and vegetable oils were boiled with ashes and alkali salts to make soap like material. This was used for the treatment of skin diseases and for washing.

Moses too, gave laws specifying the importance of personal hygiene to the Israelis. He associated cleanliness with sound health and religious purification. The Israelis possessed the knowledge of making hair gel by mixing oil and ashes have been mentioned in the biblical accounts.

In today’s world where soap is a regular commodity used everyday for personal and household purposes got its name as per the ancient roman legend from “Mount Sapo”, a mountain where animals were sacrificed. The rains washed the melted animal fats and ashes of wood bringing them down in the clay soil aligning Tiber River. The women who came there for washing clothes discovered that the mixture at the river bank cleansed them thoroughly.


The bathing system saw the most flourishing times with the progress of the Roman civilization. The famous huge roman bath that was built in 312 B.C. was supplied with water from the aqueducts. Quite similar to their eastern counterpart “The Great Bath” of the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro civilization the roman baths were luxurious. Bathing gained popularity and became an integral part of roman lifestyle.

In the second century A.D. bathing with soap was recommended by Galen a Greek physician for both cleansing and medical reasons.

But the situation changed completely after the fall of Rome in 467 A.D. The bathing habits declined and this resulted in the great plagues of the middle centuries. The most remarkable was Black Death of the 14th century. However, in the 17th century Europe began to regain its soap culture.

Soap making in Europe can be traced back to the 7th century. The method of making soaps in Europe was slightly different. Europeans made the use of fragrances along with animal and vegetable oils as well as plant ashes. Italy, France and Spain were early centers of soap making due to their ready supply of raw materials such as oil from olive trees.

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