Candle & Soap Company

A Brief History of Soap.

Fire & Water.

Lipids & Lye.

First of all, soap is really important.  Soap is one of those things that is often taken for granted, but was a crucial factor in the development of modern society, kind of like electricity or algebra.

One could contend that without soap, the formation of densely populated metropolitan areas would not have been possible.  Without soap, modern high rise buildings would smell of body odor, as to make them untenable, possibly even toxic.  

Obviously, there are many important reasons to need soap but like algebra, they are too many to list.  Unlike algebra, we do not know when or by whom soap was invented.

According to a billion dollar government study, soap probably originated a long time ago, possibly maybe invented by a guy named “Bob.”  Not really.  Wikipedia says that the earliest evidence of soap comes from ancient Mesopotamia, wherever that is.  Who cares?

Considering that again, unlike Algebra, the process for producing soap is so simple, it might have originated long before the very first documented “evidence.” That’s enough about algebra.  Let’s get back to soap.

Basic soap comes from a likely accidental combination of materials.  Heat, water, fat, & lye will give you soap, whether you want it or not. The first three ingredients are easy to imagine.  The last one, Lye, is a bit more complicated, but not much.

I’ll not bore you with the nerdy intimate details of the who’s, where’s, and when’s of the history of soap.  If you need the full “www,” please go here. If you want a very brief historical perspective..…

Heat, coming from fire, is a technology that humans have enjoyed for a very long time. Water has also been around for a while.  Fat comes from animals & vegetables, which have also been with us for quite some time.

Those three ingredients have something in common: Cooking.  It’s easy to think about how those might have come together.  The one ingredient left needed to create soap is lye.  Lye is actually a chemical called potassium hydroxide.

Where might very early humans have procured something as technologically sophisticated sounding as “potassium hydroxide?”  This brings us back to the heat, or more specifically to the fire.  Wood fires produce ashes.  Potassium hydroxide can be produced by mixing hardwood ashes and water.  A little rain falls on the fire pit and boom: potassium hydroxide.

Picture this, if you will.  A very early human, we’ll call him “Uhg,” is cooking an animal over a fire, under the stars. As the fire roasted animal becomes deliciously ready to eat, a rainstorm comes on.  Uhg takes his delicious animal into the shelter to feast, out of the cold rain.

Early the next morning, “Uhg” wakes to find that his hands are all greasy from handling the delicious roasted animal that he enjoyed for dinner the previous evening.  He discovers that there is a puddle of warm watery goo in the fire pit, left over from the previous nights rain.

For lack of a clean bathroom, and being too sore from sleeping on a rock to walk down to the creek, Uhg groggily decides to clean his hands in the warm goo of the fire pit.

Uhg does this everyday, for years.  After a while, he notices that his hands become more clean from washing in the sudsy bubbly fire pit, than from the clean water of the distant creek. Eureka!  Soap is invented.  There is probably more to the story, but you won’t find it here.