Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The History of Soap Making

Anyone who has seen Fight Club knows that Tyler Durden said that soap was the yardstick of civilization. Now whether that was an actual quote from someone of historical importance or not, it is difficult to deny the influence soap has had on human civilization.

When studying the history of soap, many theories emerge.  Some claim that soap was first used in prehistoric times while others claim that the Gauls created it.  There is even the possibility that soap may not have been used as a means to clean at first.  In fact, it may instead have been used as an antiseptic to heal wounds.

This article will cover some of the history of soap making and a few interesting facts.


The History of Soap Making by the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews

Before soap became popularly used, the ancient Greeks were said to have used a combination of lye and ashes as a cleanser for pots and to clean the statues of their gods.

Goat’s Milk Soap Recipes seemed to be the soap of choice by the Gauls and the Romans.  They combined goat’s tallow and the ashes of the beech tree to create both hard and soft soap products.

Today, soap is made from of fats and an alkali. In the past however, people made their own soap from animal fats and wood ashes. Regardless of who first created the concoction, it was undoubtedly used in Rome. This is an established fact because a soapmaker’s shop was discovered within the rubble of Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The Romans often used soap as a cosmetic. It was quite popular with the ladies, for they used it to dye their hair red. Plant extracts were probably used to acquire this color.

In order to make natural soap, fat was and still is combined with an alkali. The Hebrews used a salt base when creating their cleanser. This salt, used in a similar manner by many ancient cultures, could be found quite easily in their local lakes. They used the salt to create the alkali called for in the recipes.


The History of Soap Making and Innovation

The first soap manufacturing plant was Marseilles. Its soil was perfect for the cultivation of olive trees and the factory produced vegetable sodas. However, in time the industry grew so large that it was necessary to import oil and vegetable sodas from Spain and Italy. By the eighth century, it is documented that there were soap factories in Italy and Spain. It was not until the twelfth or thirteenth century that this industry was embraced by France. France then passed on the tradition to England. The French made their soaps almost exclusively from olive oil, while the English delved into many different kinds of soap. Eventually the French added palm and cocoa oils and expanded their product base.

Nicholas Le Blanc revolutionized the soap industry by developing an inexpensive method of extracting soda from salt. Called the Le Blanc process he created the means of turning salt into soda ash using sulfuric acid, limestone and coal. This method was then introduced in England by James Muspratt. In 1811 Eugene-Michel Chevreul identified the exact quantities of fat necessary to manufacture soap rather than using approximations. This change took the manufacture of soap from a cottage industry to an art form. As technology advanced, so did the number and types of soap and today we have literally hundreds to choose from, thankfully.

Today many products marked as soap are actually detergent products. They produce a higher degree of lather and therefore are more appealing to the public. “True” soaps are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, not the FDA, and do not require ingredient labeling because of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. This law exempted soap from regulation as a cosmetic so the regulations are far less stringent. As long as the soap manufacturer only refers to cleaning the body in their ads and on the product it is exempt from the restrictions that cosmetics face. On the other hand if it says that it is a deodorant soap, then it must list the ingredients, just like any other cosmetic product.


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April 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Making Homemade Soap

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