Soaps, detergents and other cleaning products are a huge part of our lives; we literally use them every day, for many different purposes.
However, what are they and how are they produced? Soap is the result of the salts found in fatty acids, usually from animals or vegetables.
The history of soaps and detergents is perhaps one of the longest in the world. Personal hygiene is something that has been there since prehistoric times ever since man realized that water could be used to clean themselves and things.
Ancient Babylonian artefacts reveal that soap making has been going on from about 2800 B.C. soaps were first used as hair styling acids before they were used for cleaning.
Ancient writings during this time reveal that fats were boiled with ashes to make soap, even though they were not clear about the purpose of soap.
It was during the time of the Egyptians that the purpose of soap was revealed, as being especially important to clean wounds and for washing.
During the time of the Greek civilisation, however, there was no mention of soaps and cleaning agents, and apparently, they did not use any of it.
Soap got itys name from an ancient Roman legend of Mount Sapo, a place where animals were sacrificed. The animal fat used to mix into earth of the Tiber River where women washed their clothes.
They soon realized that washing near those points in the river made their washes cleaner and faster, without much effort from their side.
As civilizations advanced many people especially in Europe during the Middle Ages and then in the 14th century realized that keeping clean, and washing oneself with soap prevented diseases and plagues.
The special chemistry or chemical compound of soap separates it from detergents. However, they all belong to a common group called ‘surfactants’ (surface active agents).
Surfactants are a type of chemical that allows water to spread across wet surfaces. (When water is in its natural form, it has the property of surface tension where a drop of water remains in its shape without spreading). Surfactants help it spread.
Surfactants are divided according to their electrical charge properties (ionic) in water. Some have negative charge (anionic), other have no charge (non-ionic), some have a positive charge (cationic), and others can be either negative or positive (amphoteric).
Soap is an anionic surfactant (therefore, it has a negative charge). Fats, oils and water are heated through a complicated procedure to produce soap.
Soap is a great cleaning agent but does not perform very well in hard water. Hard water is water that has many minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese.
These minerals react with the soap and form a soap film (which feels like slime), that prevents soap from actually cleaning.
Soaps are used for not only washing and cleaning ourselves, and animals, but certain special types of soap are used for washing clothes too.
The history of the detergent industry and how it became popular is not as clear as that of the history of soap.
A detergent is a cleaning agent that often has more than one surfactant. Surfactants in detergents are made so that they can be used under many conditions.
Detergents, unlike soap are not sensitive to hard water. They can mix in many conditions and still prove great cleaning agents.
Detergents are not used on humans or animals because the chemical compounds are too strong for our skin (and animals too). This means that we can develop many complications.
There are many types of detergents in the world today. They are used to clean clothes (washing powders and liquids), surfaces (countertops, tiled, cemented floors, walls, windows, mirrors, and doors), vehicles, and many other things.