Soap is Older Than His Grandma !

It has existed for more than a few millennia. It is also perhaps one of the most underrated and overlooked chemical compounds in much of modern civilization. It greets you at least a few times a week (hopefully more; a lot more) and is content to hang out primarily in bathrooms and kitchens. Indeed, that chemical compound is soap.

Records show that the existence of soap dates back as far as the Babylonian times. But the most reliable and accountable report (the “Papyrus Ebers“) of the earliest form of soap used for bathing and eradicating the pungent stench of smelly humans is approximately 1550BC, used by ancient Egyptians. In fact, throughout early history predating Christ there are numerous writings chronicling the use and manufacturing process of the odor eliminating chemical. Unfortunately, like all things good, only the rich and gaudy head honchos had access to this wonderful thing called “soap” much of the time.

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Who would guess that lye and boiling water mixed with animal fats could produce this chemical? Which leads one to wonder how grease could make things clean. Seems more like an oxymoron, like trying to breathe water. Interestingly enough, the people of yore did and had no fear of using it. Nonetheless, this was a tried and true formula for many, many years. Additionally, it also must be said that some of the older cultures that committed human sacrifice used human fat instead of animal fat, most likely because feeding the animals was lower on the list compared to feeding humans. This takes “bathing with your spouse” to a whole new level.

Fortunately for the rest of humanity, such barbaric acts like using your neighbor to bathe yourself and your clothes with were put aside in favor of using things like vegetable oils. Using vegetable oil produced fine soaps for those that could afford it, soap makers even adding scents to the hard and liquid forms. However, regular bathing did not seem to be a normal practice as much as it was an aesthetic routine. Enlightened people did not learn about the more practical uses for soap, such as it being an effective disinfectant against pathogens until much later, closer to the Modern Age. Regrettably for those with arrow and sword wounds, this may have been a little too late.

Now, in the 21st century, humanity has modernized ways of making soap, which is also the most common way. This process is inventively called the “cold-process.” I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t use boiling water. Clever, is it not?

Soap has come an extremely long way throughout history and is more than likely one of the oldest and still used chemical compounds of all time. So appreciate that friendly, scented bar on its decorative holder or that talkative liquid that quite enjoys saying “squelch.” Soap has been through a lot.

Copyright Lewis Frost 2010