Soaps are washing-active substances, so-called surfactants. Chemically, they are alkali salts of higher fatty acids, produced from vegetable or animal fats, which are "saponified" with caustic soda. These days, they are mainly used for body cleansing. As a detergent of fabrics and textiles, the soap has lost in importance, as in the washing process insoluble residues ("lime soaps") form.
First soap was invented over 6, 500 years ago
For thousands of years people have been using soap. Already ca. 4.500 v. Chr. The Sumerians developed a preform made of potash and oils. To get the needed plant ash, the Sumerians burnt pine cones or date palms. However, they overlooked the cleansing effect and used the mixture as a cure.
The Egyptians and Greeks (about 2, 700-2, 200 BC) are likely to have used a similar guide to the production of soap, but only the Germans and Gauls discovered the soap as a "decorative cosmetic". They used the soap made from goat, cattle or deer tallow as a bleaching agent for their hair or used a type of soap pomade; Customs that were gladly adopted by the Romans.
Luxury soaps and bathhouses
In spite of their highly developed bathing culture, the Romans used the soap for body cleansing only from the 2nd century AD. In the further development of soap boiling, the Arabs in the 7th century proved to be very resourceful: They first canned oil and lye using burnt Lime with each other and thereby gained particularly solid soaps, which is comparable in its consistency with today.
This knowledge quickly spread throughout Europe. The most perfumed luxury soaps were initially reserved only for the rich nobility. Gradually, a bathing culture developed with public bath houses, which were also accessible to the middle classes and the poorer population.
From bathing culture to dry laundry
However, plague and syphilis came to a sudden end in the 14th century in this bathing culture. 25% of the European population fell victim to the great plague epidemic between 1347 and 1351. In the Middle Ages, therefore, they took care of water and soap because of the misconception that illnesses enter the body through soap alone. The population thus achieved exactly the opposite, because epidemics such as plague and cholera spread more and more.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, therefore, the dry laundry was considered chic - completely without soap and water, but with towels, perfume and powder. In aristocratic circles, people put their faith in this kind of body care, which is why germs, lice and fleas could spread unhindered.