American Cleaning Institute - For Better Living
 

Soaps & Detergent: History (1200s-1850)

00Hist

 08HistSoapmaking was an established craft in Europe by the seventh century. Soapmaker guilds guarded their trade secrets closely. Vegetable and animal oils were used with ashes of plants, along with fragrance. Gradually more varieties of soap became available for shaving and shampooing, as well as bathing and laundering.

 Italy, Spain and France were early centers of soap manufacturing, due to their 09Histready supply of raw materials such as oil from olive trees. The English began making soap during the 12th century. The soap business was so good that in 1622, King James I granted a monopoly to a soapmaker for $100,000 a year. Well into the 19th century, soap was heavily taxed as a luxury item in several countries. When the high tax was removed, soap became available to ordinary people, and cleanliness standards improved.

10HistCommercial soapmaking in the American colonies began in 1608 with the arrival of several soapmakers on the second ship from England to reach Jamestown, VA. However, for many years, soapmaking stayed essentially a household chore. Eventually, professional soapmakers began regularly collecting waste fats from households, in exchange for some soap.

A major step toward large-scale commercial soapmaking occurred in 1791 11Histwhen a French chemist, Nicholas Leblanc, patented a process for making soda ash, or sodium carbonate, from common salt. Soda ash is the alkali obtained from ashes that combines with fat to form soap. The Leblanc process yielded quantities of good quality, inexpensive soda ash. 

13HistThe science of modern soapmaking was bom some 20 years later with the discovery by Michel Eugene Chevreul, another French chemist, of the chemical nature and relationship of fats, glycerine and fatty acids. His studies established the basis for both fat and soap chemistry. 

15HistAlso important to the advancement of soap technology was the mid-1800s invention by the Belgian chemist, Ernest Solvay, of the ammonia process, which also used common table salt, or sodium chloride, to make soda ash. Solvay's process further reduced the cost of obtaining this alkali, and increased both the quality and quantity of the soda ash available for manufacturing soap. 

These scientific discoveries, together with the development of power to operate factories, made soapmaking one of America's fastest-growing industries by 1850. At the same time, its broad availability changed soap from a luxury item to an everyday necessity. With this widespread use came the development of milder soaps for bathing and soaps for use in the washing machines that were available to consumers by the turn of the century.

Continued... 


Soaps & Detergents
History (Prehistoric to Middle Ages) (1200s-1850) (1900s to Now) 
Chemistry (Soap & Alkali) (Surfactants in Detergents)
Safety (Human) (Environmental)
Products & Ingredients (Personal Cleansing, Laundry, Dishwashing & Household Cleaners)
(Surfactants & Builders) (Ingredient Key)
Manufacturing
Download the Soaps and Detergents Book (PDF)
 

© American Cleaning Institute   All rights reserved.

1331 L Street NW, Suite 650 Washington, DC 20005
Tel: 202-347-2900 Fax: 202-347-4110
E-mail: info@cleaninginstitute.org