About Soap Making

Putting as a chemist would put it, soap is basically the salt of a fatty acid. It is, as we all know, used to wash, clean and bathe. If you treat vegetable fat or animal oil with strong alkaline solution you get soap. The fats are basically triglycerides and the alkaline solution is called lye. The reaction that takes place between these two substances that creates soap is called saponification. The process involves the hydrolysis of the fats into fatty acids. This combines with the alkaline solution to become crude soap. A side product of this process is glycerol or glycerin.

Based on current information, the earliest soap that has been found dates back to 2800 BC in Babylon. This original recipe consisted of ingredients such as ashes, cypress oil and sesame seeds. Another option was a combination of water, alkali and cassia oil. Some documents that date back to 1550 BC in Egypt indicate that a combination of vegetable oils and alkali were used in the baths.

Sapo, the Latin version of soap was a word that was mentioned in Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis. This is a written version of the manner in which soap is manufactured from tallow and ashes. However, this written version does not refer to the cleansing properties of sapo. It is believed that soap derives its name from sapo that in turn was named based on Mount Sapo, a place where animal sacrifices were made. It is here that the tallow from the animals, mixed with the ashes of previously burnt animals and water and created soap. However, this seems to be more like a apocryphal story than an authentic one since there is not Mount Sapo that has been found.

In the late sixth century guilds of soap makers were formed in Naples and by the 8th century soap making had become a common thing in Italy and Spain. Making soap was considered to be a woman's job.

The process of soap making was industrialized to some level and there were specific manufacturing hubs in most places. As the soap came to be known as a symbol for reducing the population of harmful organisms, it started to become extremely popular. The soap was made in small scale manner till the age of industrialization. High quality transparent soap was created in London in 1789. And this was the first time that the brand Pears was created. A factory was opened by his son in law Barratt started a factory in Isleworth in 1862. William Gossage is attributed the discovery of low price and good quality soap. Soap powder was made for the first time in 1837 by Robert Spear Hudson and this was initially done by grinding soap in a mortar and pestle. When Benjamin T. Babbitt started sample distribution, William Hesketh Lever and his brother bought a soap business and formed what we know today as Unilever.


NOTE: Information on this site is not guaranteed to be accurate. Some content is compiled from 3rd party sources. If you are aware of incorrect or outdated information, feel free to contact us.

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