How Was Soap Invented and When?

The world would be a far less fragrant place without soap, and what would we buy Grandma for her birthday?

Come Clean. It’s anybody’s guess how people washed in the distant past. Maybe they didn’t bother and just picked off the crusty bits. Soap is an unlikely combination of fat and any alkaline substance, so it’s amazing that anyone invented it at all.

The ancient Mesopotamians somehow worked out that mixing animal fat with wood ash makes a substance that can clean clothes and people. They made soap in clay cylinders as far back as 2800 BC.

The ancient Egyptians were using soap made from fats and alkaline salts by about 1500 BC. Maybe they found out about it from their neighbors, the Mesopotamians.

The ancient Romans were very fond of bathing and built public baths all over their empire, but they didn’t use soap. There’s some evidence to suggest that Roman women used a soap-like substance on their hair starting from around AD 50.

People were making soap in Europe by the 600s, but they weren’t using it nearly enough. The Middle Ages saw personal hygiene at its lowest point. Soap was a luxury item until the middle of the 19th century, so be very glad you weren’t around in those days.

Getting into scrapes: Instead of using soap the ancient Romans cleaned themselves by oiling their bodies, then scraping off the oil using a special scraper called a ‘strigil’. Really posh Romans would have a slave do the scraping for them.

If you’re fed up of smelling of roses, make your own soap and you can smell however you like!

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

a neutral glycerin soap bar (available from health or craft shops), a knife, a wooden spoon, a microwaveable bowl, a microwave, various food colourings, essential oils. moulds (you can improvise with washed-out food or drink containers – or buy proper soap moulds from a craft shop)

BASIC SOAP

Cut the soap into small chunks or grate into thin shavings. Be careful not to cut yourself!

Put the soap into a microwaveable bowl and heat in a microwave until it has melted (about 50 seconds) or you can melt it in a saucepan on a cooker.

If you’d like to add colour, add it now drop by drop, stirring with a wooden spoon, until your soap is the colour you want. You can also add a scent at this point. mixing a few drops of the essential oil of your choice.

Pour the liquid soap into your mould. The soap will take about 45 minutes to harden, depending on the size of it.

STRIPY SOAP

To create stripes of colour in your soap, follow basic steps, but then rather than pouring all the colour into one mould, divide it into four moulds. You will end up with a shallow layer of colour at the bottom of each. Now you need to repeat this process using a different colour each time until you have built up four stripy soaps.

Try to add each new layer of coloured soap while the previous layer is still a bit soft. When all your layers are in place, leave it to harden fully.

SWIRLY SOAP

To create swirls of colour in your soap, follow basic steps 1-4 but don’t add any colouring to the soap until it is poured into the mould.

When the soap is in its mould, add a few drops of one colour at one end, and a different colour at the other end (add other colours too, if you want). When you’ve added your drops of colour, take a toothpick or spoon and use it to stir the colours into the soap and create swirls. Leave to harden.

CHUNKY SOAP

To create chunks of colour in your soap, you need first of all to cut up a colored soap (home-made or bought) into little chunks and put these chunks into the bottom of your mould.

Then make a different colored soap, following basic steps 1-4, pouring the liquid soap into the mould over the chunks. Leave to harden. (You can insert other things into the soap bar, such as a plastic spider to scare your mom!)

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