Soap and all kinds of detergent products are found in almost every home and workplace and practically in everyday life. Shreds of evidence reveal that the production and use of soap has a long history and its evolution has begun since ancient times. This unique invention has never stopped development and has undergone much innovative change during recent decades. In this article, this invention and its history are discussed.
One of the basic human needs is cleanliness and hygiene. Cleaning a person, which in the simplest form, is in the form of hand, face, and other body parts requires proper materials and products that can remove various contaminants, including dirt, viruses and bacteria and even dead skin cells, and freshness and restore freshness to it. This simple essential demand has led to a wide range of inventions and innovations, perhaps the most famous of which is soap.
Soap and all kinds of detergent products are found in almost every home and workplace and practically everyone in the community depends on them in some way. Interestingly, with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the health recommendations for frequent hand washing, the use of these products has increased dramatically. Soap has practically become known as one of the essential products against this small and deadly virus.
This history of soap is a long one, dating back thousands of years to ancient Babylon. Humans have built on that knowledge to create the soaps and detergents we use to clean dishes, laundry, our homes, and ourselves today. Interestingly, this unique invention has never been inactive, while in recent decades, it has been accompanied by many innovative changes. This continuous improvement and archeological finding prove the key role of soap in human life!
Evidence has been found that ancient Babylonians understood soap making as early as 2800 BC Archeologists have found soap-like material in historic clay cylinders from this time. These cylinders were inscribed with what we understand as saying, “fats boiled with ashes” (a method of making soap). This technique was later developed by the Egyptians, and new forms of soaps made from ash, oil, animal fat, and salt were produced. The final product had similar properties to modern soaps, and when mixed with water, it formed a kind of powder to remove contaminants, specifically soil.
It is worth mentioning that the first soaps were used not for bathing and personal hygiene, but for cleaning dishes, clothes, and medicinal uses. A Sumerian text dating to 2200 BC describes the use of soap for a specific type of skin condition. Of course, it is not clear whether the idea of medical use of soap worked perfectly. Evidence shows that natural soaps have also been used to wash wool in the textile industry!
Although there are many documents about the use of soap among different traditional groups and in different historical periods, the invention of soap in its modern sense dates back to the nineteenth century. With the advancement of chemistry and more involvement of researchers in chemical production processes, soap making industrialized, and various companies were established to develop and produce detergent products.
In 1864, Caleb Johnson founded his own soap company, B.J. He founded the Johnson Soap Company in Milwaukee, USA, and began investigating various ideas for new soaps. The result of these individual creations was the production of a type of soap based on olive oil called "Palmolive" in 1898, which was well-received by customers. This product was successful in extending that in 1917 the company changed its name to "Palmolive"!
Another interesting product in recent years is Ivory Soap, which was produced in a completely random accident. In 1879, when one of the Procter and Gamble company employees went for lunch, he forgot to turn off the soap mixer. As a result of this forgetfulness, more air entered the soap molds than usual. Fearing that he would get into trouble at work, he kept the incident a secret and packed air-filled soap instead of white soap. The result of sending these samples to customers was quite amazing. Soon a flood of customers gathered to the company, who demanded new soaps. After the managers searched and found out what had happened, this method was used in the production line and a new soap was introduced to the market.
Another great innovation in the history of soap development is the invention of liquid soap. William Shepphard, a manufacturer of a variety of health products, thought that soap might be available in liquid form and in special containers. He began experimenting and eventually succeeded in producing liquid soap.
Before any attempt to commercialize his invention and in the first step, he filed a patent application in the US patent system. The result was a US patent number 49561, which issued on August 22, 1965, by the USPTO.
It seemed that this invention could be a great turning point in the market, but maybe it was not the right time! Years later, in the early 1980s, Minnetonka Corporation introduced the first modern liquid soap, SOFT SOAP. The company attracted the attention of customers to this innovative product by using plastic pumps and exhibiting them in the streets.
In addition to these efforts, a range of by-products have been manufactured in the soap industry, each based on creative ideas and developed to meet a potential need. One of these products is called "Pine-Sol", which was invented in 1923 by Harry A. Cole, an American chemist. He invented a kind of pine-scented cleanser that soon became the largest household cleaner in the United States and then worldwide. In the wake of Cole's efforts, a metal ware vendor named Ed Cox developed a soap pad that made cleaning dishes extremely easy. Surprisingly, Ed Cox found that these cleaning pads, originally offered to customers as a giveaway, were in greater demand than the dishes themselves!
In recent decades, the detergent industry has experienced significant technical advances. Production and supply of washing powders with different characteristics (fabric softener, anti-wrinkle, antibacterial, for colored clothes, etc.), is the result of these innovative efforts that are offered to customers at an affordable price and high technical efficiency.