I have often been asked when was soap invented? Soap in its many different forms has been around for thousands years. There is certainly very good evidence that most of the major ancient civilizations used soap. We have archaeological evidence that suggests the Incas, the Aztecs, the Romans, the Persians, the Ancient Greeks, certainly the Egyptians, possibly the ancient Chinese (Warring States Period) and maybe even our great-great-great….grandparents in Mesopotamia used a soap like substance to at least wash their clothes if not their bodies.
We might now not recognize what they used today as soap. Today we think of soap in hard bars or laundry detergent. The people of ancient cultures would use whatever alkaline substance they could get their hands on and mix it with animal fat. The alkaline substance would be alkaline salts, ash, and sometimes even urine. Their clothes certainly didn’t come out bright white! And it took quite a bit of elbow grease (literally) to get what they could clean.
Did other cultures ask when was soap invented? Although there is ample evidence of soap in the Celtic and Roman cultures and even earlier peoples. There are also archaeologists that believe soap may have been solely for cleaning clothes. Public baths were the norm in Rome. And oil and wooden scrappers were the method of choice to get the dirt off your person. Romans did a thing where they applied oil to their bodies and then scraped it off with a tool called a strigil. This would remove dirt sweat and excess oils. This was often followed up with bathing with water.Although oil and soap were a luxury that most couldn’t afford. Sorry dirty plebeians, no soap for you!
As far as cleanliness and hygiene goes the Egyptians were probably most famous for their frequent washings and perfumes. There are even carvings of square objects with a bowl, a jug, and a towel. Some believe this to be soap.
There is some debate on how far back the history of soap goes and who the first to invent it was. We certainly know that around 3000 BD Sumerians had access to potash which is basically a substance of pure potassium carbonate. They would refine the potash with slaked lime, soda, castor oil and salt to mix with animal fats to form a process known as saponification. As far as we can tell it wasn’t until many centuries later where people started experimenting with strong bases like sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, and calcium hydroxide. So when was soap invented? We can safely say that soap was invented at least 5,000 years ago. How long mothers have been yelling at their children to wash behind their ears is anyone’s guess though.