Evolution of Soap & Detergent Industry

Topics: Surfactant, Detergent, Soap Pages: 8 (1973 words) Published: June 13, 2012



The washing industry, usually known as the soap industry, has roots over 2000 years in the past, a soap factory having been found in the Pompeii excavations. However, among the many chemical process industries, none has experienced such a fundamental change in chemical raw materials as have the washing industries. It has been generally accepted that the per capita use of toilet soap is a reliable guide to he standard of living for any country.

Cleanliness is essential to civilized society for good health, comfort, and for esthetic reasons. The soap and detergent industry is meeting these needs with high quality, economical products that combine efficiency with convenience. The concept of maximum safety for the consumer and the environment is a top priority.

The origin of personal cleanliness goes back into prehistoric times. Since water is essential for life, the earliest prehistoric people must have lived near water and thus must have known something about its cleaning properties – even if only for rinsing mud off their hands.

Early evidence of a soap-like material in recorded history was found clay cylinders (dated about 2800 B.C.), during excavation of ancient Babylon. Inscriptions say the inhabitants boiled fats with ashes, but do not say what the “soap” was used for. The early Greeks apparently did not use soap. They cleaned their bodies with blocks of clay, sand, pumice, and ashes then anointed themselves with oil, and scraped off the oil and dirt with a metal instrument known as “strigil”. Clothes were washed without soap in streams where animals were sacrificed. Rain washed a mixture of melted animal tallow and ashes down into the clay along the edge of the Tiber River. Women found that applying this clay mixture to their laundry made their wash cleaner with much less effort.

As Roman civilization advanced, so did bathing. The first of the famous Roman baths – with water from their aqueducts was built about 312 B.C. The baths became centers of luxurious, often decadent living. By the second century A.D., the physician, Galen, recommended soap for both medicinal and washing purposes. After the fall of Rome and the decline of bathing habits, Europe felt the impact of filth upon public health. This lack of personal cleanliness and associated un-sanitary living conditions contributed heavily to the great plagues of the middle Ages; and especially to the Black Death of the 14th century.


Soap making was established craft in Europe in the early Middle Ages. Soap maker guilds guarded their trade secrets closely. Vegetable and animal oils were used with ashes of plants, along with fragrance. Gradually more variants of soap became available for shaving and shampooing, as well as bathing and laundering.

Commercial soap making in the American colonies began in 1608 but remained essentially a household art for many years. Some pioneers in private enterprising finally took the task of soap making out of the busy housewife’s hands. Professional soap makers began to make the rounds in early American villages to collect waste fats, giving a certain amount of soap in return.


The breakthrough in soap technology came in 1811. The French chemist, Michel Eugene Chevreul, discovered that soap contained several different fatty acids. His studies of these fatty acids and of glycerin established the scientific basis for both fat and soap chemistry. Further study indicated that the fat molecules used for soap making were actually triglycerides: one molecule of glycerin chemically combined with three molecules of fatty acids, so named because they were found in fat. Each fat has its own distinictive combination of 3 fatty acid molecules with glycerin molecule.

Fatty acids are mild acids that are made up of two parts, a hydrocarbon chain and an acid grouping. The hydrocarbon chain is made...
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