THE HISTORY OF DETERGENTS
2800 BC Soap invented. Soap like materials in ancient clay from the Babylonian times is found in cylinders inscribed with “fats boiled in ashes” (a method of making soap.
1500 BC a medical document from the Egyptian times called “Ebers Papyrus” describes combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salt to form soap.
Soap got its name from an ancient Roman legend where rain would wash down Mount Sapo and mix with animal fats and ashes resulting in a clay like mixture which was found to make cleaning easier.
By the 7th century, soap-making was an established art in Italy, Spain, and France, due to their ready supply of source ingredients such as oil from olive trees.
But after the fall of Rome in 467 AD, bathing habits declined in much of Europe leading to unsanitary conditions in the Middle Ages. The uncleanliness of that time contributed heavily to illness, including the Black Death, which occurred in the 14th century.
Still there were areas of the medieval world where personal cleanliness remained important. Daily bathing was a common custom in Japan during the Middle Ages and in parts of Europe. In Iceland, pools warmed with water from hot springs were popular gathering places on Saturday evenings.
The English began making soap during the 12th century.
Commercial soap making began in American colonies in 1600 but was for many years this was a household chore and not business related.
It was not until the 17th century that cleanliness and bathing started to come back into fashion in much of Europe, particularly in the wealthier areas.
Well into the 19th century, soap was heavily taxed as a luxury item in several countries. When the tax was removed, soap became available to most people, and cleanliness standards across societies improved.
A major step toward large-scale soap making occurred in 1791 when a French chemist, Nicholas Leblanc, patented a process for making soda ash from common salt.
Soda ash is obtained from ashes and can be combined with fat to form soap. This discovery made soap-making one of America’s fastest-growing industries by 1850.
The chemistry of soap manufacturing stayed essentially the same until 1916. During World War I and again in World War II, there was a shortage of animal and vegetable fats and oils that were used in making soap. Chemists had to use other raw materials instead, which were “synthesized” into chemicals with similar properties.
And so, liquid soap detergents were born.