Ancient Roman legend gives soap its name: From Mount Sapo, where animals were sacrificed, rain washed a mixture of melted animal fats and wood ashes down into the Tiber River below. There, the soapy mixture was discovered to be useful for washing clothing and skin.
Soap is a product for cleaning made from natural ingredients that may include both plant and animal products, including items as: animal fat, such as tallow or vegetable oil, such as castor, olive, or coconut oil. Soap supposedly got its name from Mount Sapo in Rome. The word sapo, Latin for soap, first appeared in Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis. The first soap was made by Babylonians around 2800 B.C. The early references to soap making were for the use of soap in the textile industry and medicinally.
In the early beginnings of soap making, it was an exclusive technique used by small groups of soap makers. The demand for soap was high, but it was very expensive and there was a monopoly on soap production in many areas. Over time, recipes for soap making became more widely known, but soap was still expensive. Back then, plant byproducts and animal and vegetable oils were the main ingredients of soap. The price of soap was significantly reduced in 1791 when a Frenchman by the name of LeBlanc discovered a chemical process that allowed soap to be sold for significantly less money.
More than 20 years later, another Frenchman identified relationships between glycerin, fats and acid what marked the beginning of modern soap making. With the 1800 discovery of another method of making soap ingredients, soap became even less expensive. Since that time, there have been no major discoveries and the same processes are used for the soap making we use and enjoy today.
History of Soap Making Techniques
Archeologist found a barrel containing a soap-like substance, dating back 2800 B.C. during the excavations in Iraq. It is believed that these large canisters were used in Babylonia for some kind of soap making process.
The first proof of soap’s existence was a Mesopotamian clay tablet dating back to 2200 B.C. with a soap recipe inscribed on it. The soap making technique in the ancient times was mixing supplies taken from animals and from nature, such as animal fat and tree ash to form a cleansing agent.
Egyptians also made some type of soap. Manuscripts from approximately 1500 B.C found in Egypt describe a substance made by combining animal fats and vegetable oils to create a soap-like base and go on to explain another type of soap which is produced for the use in the production of wool.
Around 200 A.D., the ancient Greeks have combined lye and ashes to clean their pots and statues. The Gauls and Romans also used animal fat, beech tree ashes and goat’s tallow to produce both hard and soft soap products.
By 600 A.D., soap making guilds and the modern formula for the soap that we use today were created.
By the eight century, soap factories were built in Italy and Spain. One of the first soap factories was built in Marseilles which soil was great for olive trees and vegetable sodas. The industry began in France during the twelfth or thirteenth century and England soon followed the tradition. While the French soap was exclusively made from olive oil, the English produced soap from a variety of ingredients.
Nicholas Le Blanc’s discovery of an inexpensive method to extract soda from salt expanded and revolutionized the soap industry. In 1811, Eugene-Michel Chevreul determined the exact amount of fat that was necessary to produce soap. Before this discovery, it was simply guessed the amount of fat to use. These and other discoveries and inventions helped producing soap easier, expanded its availability and popularity as type of soap and soap making supplies.
The commercial production of soap was changed during The Industrial Revolution. Soap wasn’t anymore made at home and people started buying it from a catalog or store.
After the Great War and until 1930’s, a method called batch kettle boiling was used for soap manufacture. Shortly thereafter, continuous process that decreased soap making production time to less than a day was introduced and refined by Procter & Gamble. Continuous process is still used by large commercial soap manufacturers.
Benefits of Using Soap
Because our skin is bombarded daily with foreign influences such as scorching sun, drying winds, biting cold weather, bacteria and dirt, our distant ancestors learned quickly that preserving the health of skin is a way for better and longer life. As our civilization slowly evolved from Stone Age into modern times, advancements in technology, chemistry and medicine enabled the rise of soap – multipurpose cleaning tool of skin, clothes and the area that we live in. Created from the countless variation of ingredients, all soaps have two main components – animal oils or fats and alkaline solution that enables the process of saponification. During the last few thousand years, process of soap creation received numerous upgrades and tweaks, mostly by adding natural additives of color and smell, but in modern times also many new industrial substances that increase soap’s performance in cleaning and lubrication.
How Soap is Made?
“The cold process method” is the most popular soap making process today. Some soap makers use the hot process, which was much more significant in the past centuries.
Handmade soap is technically glycerin soap and it differs from industrial soap. In hand soap process method an excess of fat is used to consume the alkali, and in that the glycerin is not harvest out. This supperfatted soap is more skin-friendly than industrial soap.
Cold process soap is made by mixing fatty acids and sodium hydroxide (lye) together. Fatty acids used in this method can be almost any oil, such as beef tallow, olive oil or hemp oil. Cold process soap making represents a combination of an art and science. In order to manufacture the product which is mild and skin friendly, cold-process method require exact measurement of lye (sodium hydroxide) and fat amount that forms a chemical reaction called ”saponification”during which the oils and lye mix and become soap.
Soap makers who use cold-process method to manufacture soap first look for the saponification value of the fats being used on a saponification chart. This value is then used to calculate the appropriate amount of lye. If there is excess unreacted lye in the soap it will result in a very high pH and can burn or irritate skin. If there is not enough lye the soap is greasy. In the cold process method a sufficient temperature for saponification is also required. After the lye and fat have been mixed, this mixture may be kept warm to ensure that the soap is completely saponified. The cold process method takes approximately six weeks to fully complete. Soap produced by cold process method has hard, long lasting quality. Depending on the oils used, the soap can be incredibly mild or be very moisturizing.
Hot process soap making is a variation and an interesting take on the cold process method. Unlike cold-process method, hot process method does not require the exact concentration of the lye to perform the process with success. This is the main benefit of this process.
You can take all your ingredients, and put them to a pot (that is then placed over a heat source, such as a stove) and you have to stir frequently until the soap goes through different stages. The excess water is evaporated off and the soap can be used once cooled. Hot process soap, unlike soap produced by cold-process, can be used right away because the higher temperature required in hot process soap making method enables that lye and fat saponify more quickly. The temperature required for boiling lye and fat in the hot process is 80-100°C until saponification occurs. Before the invention of modern thermometers, the soap manufacturers determined the temperature by taste or by eye.
Thankfully, the 21st century has marked a return to natural products and a re-enlightenment concerning the benefits of naturally occurring oils and butters in our cleaning products. This is evident in little boutiques as well as our grocery stores. A desire to use natural ingredients with a focus on health and well being has become the driving force behind many fledgling businesses in the skin-care product arena. People are beginning to understand that natural products are beneficial, even though they may cost a bit more than their mass-produced counterparts. It’s a perfect time in history to use the chemistry of modern days, the abundance of natural materials and an old-world technique, to once again create natural handcrafted soap with attributes that just can’t be found in synthetic detergents.
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^ Abu-Rabiʻa, ʻAref (2001). Bedouin Century: Education and Development among the Negev Tribes in the Twentieth Century. New York. pp. 47–48. OCLC 47119256.