A Soap Opera: The Inception of Soap

Nov 20, 2021
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Recent events have made many of us reconsider our relationships with things we’ve never given much thought to before. Soap, for example, the object we rub our hands and bodies with every day, what is it actually made of? And how did it come to be? While the history of soap might sound like a boring topic, the road that led to the inception of this necessary, everyday item is a lot more dramatic and interesting than you’d expect.
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How does soap work? Does soap actually clean your hands? Yes, it does. But how? Well, soap is made out of oils and fats, like coconut oil, for example. Oil helps us wash and clean our hands because oil and water don’t mix. When you put soap on your hands, the oil dissolves the dirt that is on your hands, while the water washes it away.

It is believed that we have been using soap for at least 1000 years, but in the past, soap wasn’t a household item like it is today, it was a luxury item that only royals could afford. In ancient Rome, people would spread sand all over their skin in order to try and get clean. After putting the sand on their bodies they would scrape it off using a big stick. Luckily for us, peeling techniques have advanced quite a lot since.

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Legend has it that soap was first discovered in Rome, on a mountain called “Sapo,” while some Romans were sacrificing animals on the mountain. In the middle of the ritual, it started raining. The rain washed away the oil from the animals, and the Romans found that their clothes were cleaner than ever. That led to the discovery that if you want to get clean, mixing oil and water is actually a good idea. The first soaps were made out of ashes and goat fat. Scents only came in later.

Despite being discovered so early, people only started to regularly bathe and use soap in the 18th century. We can thank French microbiologist Louis Pasteur for that, who talked to anyone who would listen about how important soap in order to prevent illness. In the 19th century soap finally made it to the United States, and today, we all get to enjoy its benefits.

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