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The history of soap

2013-06-18

In chemistry, soap is a salt of a fatty acid. Soaps are mainly used as surfactants for washing, bathing, and cleaning, but they are also used in textile spinning and are important components of lubricants. Soaps for cleansing are obtained by treating vegetable or animal oils and fats with a strongly alkaline solution. Fats and oils are composed of triglycerides; three molecules of fatty acids are attached to a single molecule of glycerol. The alkaline solution, which is often called lye (although the term "lye soap" refers almost exclusively to soaps made with sodium hydroxide), brings about a chemical reaction known as saponification. In saponification, the fats are first hydrolyzed into free fatty acids, which then combine with the alkali to form crude soap. Glycerol (glycerine) is liberated and is either left in or washed out and recovered as a useful byproduct, depending on the process employed.

Soaps are key components of most lubricating greases, which are usually emulsions of calcium soap or lithium soaps and mineral oil. These calcium- and lithium-based greases are widely used. Many other metallic soaps are also useful, including those of aluminium, sodium, and mixtures of them. Such soaps are also used as thickeners to increase the viscosity of oils. In ancient times, lubricating greases were made by the addition of lime to olive oil

 

Mechanism of cleansing soaps

Accumulation of dust on fabrics

When one wears clothes and as a result of physical movement, frictional force is applied to the cloth surface and the cloth fibres become charged. This is so because during the moving process, either electrons from the cloth shift to the body or some electrons get shifted from the body to the clothes. In either case, the clothes become charged and this charge produces an electric field which polarizes dust particles near it and the particles are then attracted to the charged cloth.

Action of soap

When used for cleaning, soap allows otherwise insoluble particles to become soluble in water and then be rinsed away. For example: oil/fat is insoluble in water, but when a couple of drops of dish soap are added to the mixture the oil/fat apparently disappears. The insoluble oil/fat molecules become associated inside micelles, tiny spheres formed from soap molecules with polar hydrophilic (water-loving) groups on the outside and encasing a lipophilic (fat-loving) pocket, which shields the oil/fat molecules from the water making it soluble. Anything that is soluble will be washed away with the water. Synthetic detergents operate by similar mechanisms to soap.

Effect of the alkali

The type of alkali metal used determines the kind of soap produced. Sodium soaps, prepared from sodium hydroxide, are firm, whereas potassium soaps, derived from potassium hydroxide, are softer or often liquid. Historically, potassium hydroxide was extracted from the ashes of bracken or other plants. Lithium soaps also tend to be hard—these are used exclusively in greases.

Effects of fats

Soaps are derivatives of fatty acids. Traditionally they have been made from triglycerides (oils and fats). Triglyceride is the chemical name for the triesters of fatty acids and glycerin. Tallow, is the most available triglyceride from animals. Its saponified product is called sodium tallowate. Typical vegetable oils used in soap making are palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and laurel oil. Each species offers quite different fatty acid content and, hence, results in soaps of distinct feel. The seed oils give softer but milder soaps. Soap made from pure olive oil is sometimes called Castile soap or Marseille soap, and is reputed for being extra mild. The term "Castile" is also sometimes applied to soaps from a mixture of oils, but a high percentage of olive oil.

 

History of cleansing soaps

Early history

The earliest recorded evidence of the production of soap-like materials dates back to around 2800 BC in ancient Babylon.  A formula for soap consisting of water, alkali, and cassia oil was written on a Babylonian clay tablet around 2200 BC.

The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 BC) indicates the ancient Egyptians bathed regularly and combined animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to create a soap-like substance. Egyptian documents mention a soap-like substance was used in the preparation of wool for weaving.

In the reign of Nabonidus (556–539 BC), a recipe for soap consisted of uhulu [ashes], cypress [oil] and sesame [seed oil] "for washing the stones for the servant girls".

Ancient Rome

The word sapo, Latin for soap, first appears in Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis, which discusses the manufacture of soap from tallow and ashes, but the only use he mentions for it is as a pomade for hair; he mentions rather disapprovingly that the men of the Gauls and Germans were more likely to use it than their female counterparts.  Aretaeus of Cappadocia, writing in the first century AD, observes among "Celts, which are men called Gauls, those alkaline substances that are made into balls, called soap".

A popular belief claims soap takes its name from a supposed Mount Sapo, where animal sacrifices were supposed to have taken place; tallow from these sacrifices would then have mixed with ashes from fires associated with these sacrifices and with water to produce soap, but there is no evidence of a Mount Sapo in the Roman world and no evidence for the apocryphal story. The Latin word sapo simply means "soap"; it was likely borrowed from an early Germanic language and is cognate with Latin sebum, "tallow", which appears in Pliny the Elder's account.  Roman animal sacrifices usually burned only the bones and inedible entrails of the sacrificed animals; edible meat and fat from the sacrifices were taken by the humans rather than the gods.

Zosimos of Panopolis, circa 300 AD, describes soap and soapmaking.  Galen describes soap-making using lye and prescribes washing to carry away impurities from the body and clothes. According to Galen, the best soaps were Germanic, and soaps from Gaul were second best. This is a reference to true soap in antiquity.

Ancient China

Soap, or more accurately a detergent similar to soap, was manufactured in ancient China from vegetation and herbs. True soap, made of animal fat, did not appear in China until the modern era.  Soap-like detergents were not as popular as ointments and cerams.

Middle East

A 12th-century Islamic document describes the process of soap production.  It mentions the key ingredient, alkali, which later becomes crucial to modern chemistry, derived from al-qaly or "ashes".

By the 13th century, the manufacture of soap in the Islamic world had become virtually industrialized, with sources in Nablus, Fes, Damascus, and Aleppo.

Medieval Europe

Soapmakers in Naples were members of a guild in the late sixth century, and in the eighth century, soap-making was well known in Italy and Spain. The Carolingian capitulary De Villis, dating to around 800, representing the royal will of Charlemagne, mentions soap as being one of the products the stewards of royal estates are to tally. Soapmaking is mentioned both as "women's work" and as the produce of "good workmen" alongside other necessities such as the produce of carpenters, blacksmiths, and bakers.

15th–19th centuries

In France, by the second half of the 15th century, the semi-industrialized professional manufacture of soap was concentrated in a few centers of Provence— Toulon, Hyères, and Marseille — which supplied the rest of France. In Marseilles, by 1525, production was concentrated in at least two factories, and soap production at Marseille tended to eclipse the other Provençal centers. English manufacture tended to concentrate in London.

Finer soaps were later produced in Europe from the 16th century, using vegetable oils (such as olive oil) as opposed to animal fats. Many of these soaps are still produced, both industrially and by small-scale artisans. Castile soap is a popular example of the vegetable-only soaps derived by the oldest "white soap" of Italy.

In modern times, the use of soap has become universal in industrialized nations due to a better understanding of the role of hygiene in reducing the population size of pathogenic microorganisms. Industrially manufactured bar soaps first became available in the late 18th century, as advertising campaigns in Europe and the United States promoted popular awareness of the relationship between cleanliness and health.

Until the Industrial Revolution, soapmaking was conducted on a small scale and the product was rough. Andrew Pears started making a high-quality, transparent soap in 1789 in London. His son-in-law, Thomas J. Barratt, opened a factory in Isleworth in 1862. William Gossage produced low-priced, good-quality soap from the 1850s. Robert Spear Hudson began manufacturing a soap powder in 1837, initially by grinding the soap with a mortar and pestle. American manufacturer Benjamin T. Babbitt introduced marketing innovations that included sale of bar soap and distribution of product samples. William Hesketh Lever and his brother, James, bought a small soap works in Warrington in 1886 and founded what is still one of the largest soap businesses, formerly called Lever Brothers and now called Unilever.

* Info from wikipedia.

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