The amazing world of Soap, an ancient and exquisite wonder

Many of us know the term soap, but many do not know what the word refers to. Soap is nothing more than a paste that results from combining an alkali or metal oxide with the acids of an oil or other fat, as well as with resins, which may include aromas, which is water-soluble and is used for washing and which is subjected to a “saponification” process.

Etymologically speaking, it comes from the Latin “Sapo-ónis” which is derived from the Germanic saipon which is a type of ointment made of animal fat and ashes. But ultimately, the soap comes from a manufacturing process that combines components and transforms the product through saponification.

Bar soap, an age-old invention

Bar soap is a product that has been used for thousands of years, and there are even many legends about soap. One of the best-known legends states that the word “soap” comes from the Italian word “sapone”, which originates from Monte Sapo, a place used for rituals and animal sacrifices.

 It is said that the fat of those sacrificed animals reached the Tiber River, along with some ashes and that it was the women of the area who realized that these residues helped in the washing of clothes and left their hands clean.

 The truth of the matter is that soap is a compound of animal fat and potassium hydroxide, which would be a mixture of ash and water. Hence, the chemical process that gives rise to soap is called saponification.

Soap throughout history

It is believed that the invention of soap dates back to 2,500 BC since evidence has been found in Mesopotamia, on clay tablets of the Sumerian people, mentioning a mixture obtained from oils, potassium, resins, and salt, as well as its medicinal uses, so we are talking about the first soaps in history.

In Syria, approximately in the years 1,500 B.C., in the area of Aleppo, they manufactured a soap made with olive oil and how to use a bar of soap. On the other hand, in Egypt, around the same time of the combination of natron, which is a mineral sodium carbonate that was extracted from the lakes once the water evaporated, fuller’s earth, which is a clay soil that absorbs grease and lupins, which they soaked in water and crushed it to later use it for the same purpose, washing hands or clothes.

Years later, approximately in the year 1200 B.C., the Phoenicians elaborated oil with olive oil and sodium carbonate (caustic soda), a product that they obtained from the ashes of the usual silver of the salt mines.

The Celts, in 900 BC, used goat fat and ashes from trees such as birch to make their soaps. In Greece, the Etruscans, around 500 BC, used a combination of aromatic oils with sand and ash to wash their bodies using a strigil, which is a metal instrument with which they carved their bodies to remove dirt.

In 300 B.C., the Gauls and Germanic peoples used soap and claimed that it was an invention of the Gauls. This soap was made from beech tree ashes and wild boar tallow.  By the third century B.C., soap was made in Arabia by cooking a mixture containing potash, alkali derived from ashes that combined sesame oil and lemon.

It is also claimed that it was the Crusaders who introduced soap in Central Europe in the 11th century from products coming from Aleppo, however, by the Middle Ages they were not prone to the use of soap and historians claim that due to the lack of hygiene pandemics such as the Black Death originated.

It is thought that in the 7th century the first great European soap factory was established and that it was the Arabs at the end of the 10th century who manufactured soap at that time, using oil from olive groves and marshes. 

Four centuries later that particular soap would be known as Castile soap, made with vegetable oils, which did not have that unpleasant aroma that is typical of animal fat.  It was then that Europeans began to use soap, becoming cleaner and causing pandemics to decrease.

In the 14th century, in Marcella, large soap factories were established using olive oil, caustic soda, laurel ash derivatives, and Mediterranean water as ingredients, which are still being manufactured today.

A curious and historical fact is that King Louis VIV, in the year 1682 sent to the guillotine three soap manufacturers because he had suffered skin irritations. After many years, soap arrived in America, after the conquest.

It is known that in 1575 a soap factory was built in Mexico and they used tequesquite (a mineral-rich in soda) and some plants to make the product. It is also known that in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in the 17th century, soap was made from cow tallow and yerba ash.

By the 14th century, French chemists made important contributions to the soap industry, developing formulas that made it possible to obtain soda from salt and detailing how the saponification process was carried out.

Later, the famous Louis Pasteur demonstrated that improving personal cleanliness by using soap reduced the proliferation of diseases.

Soap as a staple

With technological advances, the development of electric power, and scientific research, the soap industry moved to the next level. It went from a luxury item to a daily necessity. 

With the proliferation of its use, soaps for bathing and personal hygiene began to be developed, as well as some designed exclusively for washing clothes. In the evolution of soaps, many chose to use fewer animal fats and more vegetable fats, as well as other chemical ingredients that were more affordable and easier to use.

It is known that during World War II, the Americans manufactured a soap with softening and less abrasive properties, giving rise to dermatological soaps.

The first bar of soap

Although soap has been produced for thousands of years, the first bar of soap was invented by Adolph Klumpp in 1903, who became famous for his refrigerated soap press.

Klumpp’s invention allowed hot, liquid soap to solidify quickly through water cooling, reducing the manufacturing process time.

Years later, chemists S. Geisler and J Bauer invented the process for making powdered laundry soap.

By 1950, natural products were replaced by synthetic products, mainly for washing clothes, however, this new way of preparing soap bars began to worry about its impact on the environment, which then gave way to biodegradable products that do not affect nature.

Soap bars in personal hygiene

Bars of soap have certainly been a fundamental element in personal hygiene for many years and today there is no household in the world that does not use a bar of soap.

There are classic soaps that only clean, moisturizing soaps, soaps for sensitive skin, antibacterial and specific soaps for facial skin or the delicate skin of babies, some of them dermatologically tested and without harmful effects. 

Some soap bars are environmentally friendly, have a very affordable price, and even have scents that complement the use of a branded perfume or, on the contrary, unscented soaps that are very effective in cleaning the skin.

Nowadays, soaps are part of everyday life for all mankind, and awareness of good hygiene practices has increased to the point of using antibacterial soap bars as a measure to keep hands and body free of germs and bacteria.

However, in order to keep the bars of soap germ-free, as well as extend the shelf life of the bars of soap and not contaminate ourselves it is necessary to take a few precautions.

Use the bar of soap the right way

When using any bar of soap, it is important that the water is at the right temperature. If the water is too hot, the soap lather will be minimal and the bar of soap will be consumed more quickly. 

Therefore, it is preferable to use lukewarm water, which will also not affect your skin and will provide the amount of lather needed to be effective.

It is important that before using the bar of soap you rinse it before washing your hands, then rub the soap generously between your hands for at least 20 seconds to enhance its cleaning effect.

After use, place the bar of soap in a place that allows it to dry, that way the soap will last longer and will prevent the proliferation of germs, which are mainly produced by the water that remains in the soap. 

Therefore, keeping it dry will keep it germ-free. Avoid placing it on the shower shelves as it will be exposed to a large amount of water. It is best to place it on a sponge in a ventilated soap dish that allows moisture to be absorbed.

Use bar soap to remove dirt and grime from the body

While many people use shower gel to keep their bodies clean, bar soaps are more effective. Just rub the soap on a small towel or sponge until you get a lather. Then you should apply it to the skin.

 It is important that the towel or sponge you use is clean, every time you use it, so it is recommended that once you finish your bath, rinse it well and allow it to dry by hanging it in an area next to the bathtub or sink.

If you want your bar of soap to last a long time, make sure it stays dry. Believe it or not, it can last up to six weeks if you use it correctly. One way to avoid wasting soap is to cut the bars in half or even into quarters, which will be much more cost-effective.

When purchasing a bar of soap, you should think about your needs and those of your family. Choose an antibacterial soap that will in turn nourish your skin, despite washing your hands continuously.

Handmade Soap Bars

There are several commercial soap brands, of different brands, scents, and even soaps that complement well-known and high-end brand name perfumes. There are also handmade soaps, totally elaborated by hand.

In India, the “Khadi Natural” soap is very well known, produced in the country in an artisanal way and following the traditions. They use herbs and spices, which makes each soap a unique product.

One of the most commercialized is the herbal soap called “Neem”. This handmade soap is made with Neem oil, which comes from the fruits of the Neem tree and is native to India.  

When extracted, the oil has a greenish-brown color and a strong aroma, but it is combined with other essential oils to make it more pleasant. Neem soap is a product commonly used in India and is attributed with healing and medicinal properties, among which it is said to have antibacterial, antiseptic, and disinfectant properties.

It is ideal for people with skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, and even ringworm and fungus. It is also suitable for oily skin, to reduce skin burns and marks caused by cuts. 

Spice soaps are another popular product in India and are that the spices in the country are characterized by their quality and the quality of the same. For thousands of years, plants have been used to make soaps using plants such as lavender, mint, cloves, and various flowers.

Make your own soaps

Making handmade soaps is easier than you might think, you just need a few ingredients and a little cleverness. It can even become a way to generate income.

Handmade soap can be used on a regular basis and is much cheaper than buying soap from a commercial brand. But, you should know that there are different handmade soaps and the ingredients can be very diverse and made in different ways.

The weight of the soaps varies, although in general commercial soaps are usually between 35 and 100 grams. However, handmade soaps can have more or less weight.

soap making

Cold process soaps

Starting with ingredients such as butter, olive oil, purified tallow, coconut oil, and caustic soda, you can easily prepare an exquisite soap. You will only need the ingredients and a hand blender. Once you have prepared the mixture, pour them into molds, let them harden, cut them and wait a few weeks to use them.

Hot soaps

This type of soaps includes cooking as part of its elaboration. The ingredients are combined and cooked over low heat until the mixture is uniform. They are then poured into molds and waited a few hours until they harden. The product is a softer soap to the touch.

It is also possible to find instant soap bases that only involve melting the product, incorporating aromas, and even using artificial colors to achieve soaps of the color and fragrance of your choice. 

Once you have the base and include the color and scent of your choice, you only have to pour them into the mold of your choice and wait for them to harden. Generally, soap bases include glycerin, goat’s milk, and shea butter and are often found in craft stores.

Once you have several recipes for handmade soaps and have used your imagination to create unique soaps, you can start a real business in the comfort of your home. 

By combining different oils you can create truly unique soaps that are lathering, moisturizing, and formulated according to your preferences.

To start making handmade soaps, it is recommended that you have the right ingredients, such as a glycerin base, wooden sticks to mix the products, essential oils, alcohol, and some molds or containers to pour the mixture.

To start you will need to cut the glycerin base and melt it in a container over a fire, you can even use a microwave oven. Once the base is melted, add the essential oil and mix it with a wooden stick.

It is advisable to spray the molds with alcohol to avoid the formation of bubbles in the soap. Then pour the mixture into the molds and let it set. When it hardens you can remove the soap from the molds and they will be ready for use.

Soap and lye come from saponification.

The soap we use is nothing more than a product obtained by combining a fatty acid with an alkali such as sodium hydroxide. It was in 1861 that Ernest Solvay, a Belgian scientist, designed the procedure and established several techniques for the manufacture of soaps. 

Saponification is a process by which, after boiling the fat, whether animal or vegetable, caustic soda is added, which is then mixed continuously until it solidifies.  From this process not only soap is obtained, but also residual lye, which includes glycerin in its composition.

When the soap is deposited on a surface, common salt must be added to harden it, and this stage of the process is called bleeding or salting and separates the soap from the water and caustic soda. 

Once the products have been separated by bleeding, essences, colorants, and even medicinal products are included and then poured into molds and cut into the desired size.

Why is soap so amazing?


We all know the properties of soap to remove dirt and grease, what is little known is that its properties derive from the characteristics of its molecules since it is composed of an apolar hydrophobic group, which repels water. 

We know that water cannot dissolve grease or oils, but thanks to a process called a micelle, the molecules surround the substance, emulsifying it and causing the grease to dissolve.

The benefits of soap

Certainly, the main benefit of soap is that it allows us to keep them clean and free of germs, but also depending on its formulation can help us to moisturize the skin and most have a very pleasant aroma that does not require the use of fragrances. 

Uses of soap

Soap is the right product to remove dirt adhered to clothes or skin, but it can also be used as an air freshener, to place in drawers and scent clothes, eliminate the smell of shoes, and perfume the bathroom.

Some less known uses of bar soap, but very useful, are to apply it wet on door and window frames, as well as on locks to avoid paint or wallpaper glue stains when you decide to renovate your home. 

To remove wallpaper from your walls, you can combine the bar of soap with water to make a soapy solution. Apply that solution to the wallpaper and it will be very easy to remove it.

It is also convenient to use bars of soap on the drawer rails to lubricate them or place a little soap with a small bar brush on the door hinges to prevent squeaking. You can also use the bar of soap to cover cracks in the walls of your home and they won’t be visible.

If you want your nails to be clean at all times, even if you do mechanical work or gardening, just scrape your nails on a bar of soap before you do your chores to prevent dirt from getting under your nails.

Bars of soap are also perfect for softening the leather of new leather shoes. Just rub the bar on the inside of the shoe and leave it on for a few hours, you will notice the difference. In case your shoes are a little tight, bar soap will help.

If a delicate fiber garment gets stained, you can use the bar soap that you use for your skin to remove it without damaging it. Just rub the stained piece with the soap and you will get excellent results.

Fairly frequent use is to run the bar of soap over the zippers to lubricate it and although it may be hard to believe you can use a bar of soap to remove the tiny particles of broken glass or crystal.  To remove those tiny shards wet the bar of soap and run it over the surface, but be sure to discard the soap afterward.

You can also make homemade detergent for delicate clothes by grating a bar of soap and combining it with four cups of water in a pot that you should put on the fire. You need to stir the soap until it dissolves. 

Then combine in equal parts the liquid detergent obtained with baking soda and borax. Mix until they are well integrated. It is necessary to let the mixture stand and to wash your clothes you should only use two tablespoons of the mixture per a load of clothes.

Bar soap is an excellent home remedy to relieve insect bites. Lightly moisten the bar of soap and rub it gently on the bite, the relief is immediate. Another alternative to bar soap is that you can make your own liquid body soap, just dilute it in water, take it to a heat source and stir constantly. You will be surprised how much liquid soap you can get.

In case you wear glasses, prevent them from fogging up by rubbing their lenses with a bar of soap, then you can easily clean them. Also, soap bars make an excellent pincushion, which will prevent pins and needles from getting lost and make it easier to slide them into fabrics. Wrap the bar of soap in a piece of fabric and you’re done, just stick the needles and pins in there.

Types of soaps

Taking into consideration the materials used in its elaboration, we will find natural oils, soaps made with animal fats, vegetable fats, glycerin, and natural products. The common element is their usefulness to clean the body.

Commercial soaps are made with fatty tallow and sodium or potassium. They are found for all skin types. Moisturizers usually include vegetable oils and fats enriched with olive oil, neutral seeds, or moisturizing creams. 

They are perfect for dry skin. Dermatological soaps, on the other hand, include synthetic cleansing agents and are designed for problematic or delicate skin, such as people with skin conditions like acne. 

They usually include vegetable oils and seeds that favor the regeneration of skin cells. Finally, there are aromatic soaps, which are made with essences and are used in aromatherapy or for air freshening.

To wash clothes, soap bars with a more acid pH are used, so they are more abrasive to the skin, although some have a neutral pH and are used for delicate garments and have no harmful effects on the skin. 

Ingredients present in soaps

It is rare for a user to pay attention to the labels of soaps, mainly because they can be incomprehensible, so we will talk about their main ingredients and how to recognize them.

One of the main components of soaps is sodium sulfate, which is a cleanser that foams and also provides softness to the skin. This is a safe ingredient, which works as a surfactant, making it an excellent cleanser. Also included in its composition is sodium palmitate, which acts as an emulsifier and has excellent cleansing power, although it can dry the skin. 

The third ingredient in today’s soaps is sodium isethionate, another emulsifying cleansing agent that may dry the skin, but is an excellent oil remover and, when combined with sodium carbonate lauryl alcohol, is suitable for delicate skin.

The fourth ingredient is usually sodium olivate, which is nothing more than the fatty acid salt of the oil. Olive oil is often used as an ingredient for its safety and mildness.

Sodium cocoate, another cleansing element, is also often used, which is very effective and recommended for sensitive skin. In summary, with these basic ingredients, a suitable soap is made, for commercial soaps, which include chemical components.

Soaps from India

In India, there are different brands of soap among which we can mention Godrej, ITC, Medimix, Lifebuoy, Lux among others.

Godrej, one of the largest soap manufacturers in India, was the manufacturer of the first soap made without animal fat. Their first soap included vegetable oil in its formulation and immediately gained many followers, in addition to gaining the trust of customers. Soon they launched the second Godrej No. 2 soap, which was named after Godrej as a marketing strategy. 

Then they launched the much-awaited Godrej No. 1, which is currently one of the best sellers in India. Then they launched Cinthol soap, which together with Godrej No. 1 is the market leader. 

Medimix is also very popular and their products are designed for Ayurvedic skincare.  They offer a wide range of soaps, for all skin types and skin conditions, as well as specific soaps for different parts of the body, such as for the face, hands, feet, acne, pimples, among others.

Its most popular product is the Classic Soap, made with 18 herbs, effective for treating pimples and eliminating body odor. It is dermatologically tested and offers excellent results for treating acne. Another one of the best sellers is Sandalia Soap is made with sandalwood and Elady, is formulated to treat skin blemishes, and offers abundant lather and a delicious fragrance.

Transparent Soap is also a popular choice. It is a clear, fresh, and natural green bar. It includes glycerin and lathers well. In addition, it includes Lakshadi, an ayurvedic oil that is moisturizing and reduces itchy skin due to dryness.

They also offer the Deep Moisturizing Soap, which nourishes the skin and contains aloe vera, glycerin, and Lakshadi. The Ayurvedic Medimix includes 18 herbs that protect the skin and reduce skin conditions.

Another of their products is the bright skin soap, handmade, with 18 herbs, which also includes Eladi and sandalwood, which has moisturizing properties and is suitable for all skin types. They also have other soaps that are widely sold in India.

Lifebuoy is another traditional and best-selling brand.  They offer both hand wash soaps and soap bars for body use. One of the best-selling soap bars is the fresh lemon soap, a lemon-scented antibacterial soap that leaves a fresh sensation that has allowed the brand to position itself globally. Other variations of this soap are Lifebuoy Total 10, Lifebuoy Neem, Lifebuoy Turmeric, and Lifebuoy Mild Care.

Environmental contamination and soap

Concern about the contamination of soap bars is becoming less about the product and more about its packaging, as the harmful effects of the packaging affect the environment considerably. In this area, artisanal products use other types of packaging that are less harmful or even biodegradable.

Undoubtedly, soap bars are a wonderful invention that is part of the daily life of millions of people around the world. Its multiple uses and benefits make soap an essential product for maintaining health.

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