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The History of Soap Making

Posted on November 02 2016

history of soap making

5,000 Year History of Soap Making

We take soap making for granted, having used it almost daily for our entire lives. But where did it actually come from, and who thought of the idea for such an ingenious and now commonplace substance? To answer this question, we have to look much further into the past than you may expect, back to a time of legends and wonders to find the origin of a seemingly ordinary substance.

Traced Back to Ancient Babylonia

The first usage of soap can be traced back to ancient Babylonia, an empire located in present day Iraq and Iran. Evidence points to 2800 B.C. being the earliest date that soap has been proven to have been used. Back then, the process of making soap was quite rudimentary compared to modern techniques, using mostly animal fats, water, cassia oil, and alkali or wood ash to create their soap.

In Babylon, it seems that personal hygiene was not the primary usage of soap due to its expensive nature; rather it became a key component of the textile industry and medical field, and remains so to this day. Earliest usage for personal hygiene and cleaning can be claimed by the ancient Egyptians, who were documented by 1550 B.C to have bathed by combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts and water.

Soap Comes from a Latin Word

The actual word soap, comes from the Latin word sapo, and carries with it an interesting however unproven legend of how soap obtained its name. Supposedly there existed a Mount Sapo in the times of the Roman Empire where animal sacrifices were carried out regularly. The tallow from these animals would be mixed with the ash of the fire they were killed with to create soap.

There exists however, no proof of a Mount Sapo, nor does the story have much credibility, as Roman animal sacrifices were usually just bones with no fat or meat. More than likely, the word was simply adopted from an older Germanic language the Gauls used who the Romans had conquered.

Soap Takes Off During the 7th & 9th Century

During the 7th and 9th Century, soap became a common product in countries and empires around the world, gaining popularity in both commercial and personal usage. The textile industry, the medical field, and the cleaning and preparation of cooking utensils were all areas of high consumption for soap.
Using soap to clean one’s self however really took off around the 7th-8th century AD with the introduction of the famous Aleppo Soap.

All over different Arabic nations, replacing animal fats with vegetable oils such as olive oil and thyme oil became popular, as did the usage of lye instead of alkali. This new recipe gave birth to one of the most influential and time lasting soaps in history, made out of the everlasting city of Aleppo in Syria.

This particular soap was a foundation for modern biodegradable soaps and remains to this day one of the most popular beauty products using the same all natural recipe that had been used for thousands of years.

The Culture of Soap Making - Video From Soaping101

Soap Became Important Around the World

Soap became an increasingly important factor in public health and sanitation sectors, especially during the middle ages.

In Europe, the spread of disease was high, personal hygiene was negligible, and public sanitation was abysmal. The introduction of soap by the eastern world into the west started with Aleppo, but soon spread like wildfire through Italy and Spain, who became huge exporters of soap by the 13th century.

Perhaps most famous of this time period is the Castile Soap, named such for development in the Spanish city of Castile. Many European cities tried to adopt the vegetable oil method of the Aleppo soap, but failed to copy it’s exact qualities.

The city of Castile, with a large amount of available olive oil, created the closest soap to it, and the most famous in Europe for centuries. Because of the awareness being created for the importance of public and personal health, the soap industry was only growing. While it was industrialized by the mid to late 18th century, it lacked the widespread availability of other products until the turn of the 19th century.

Two French chemists, Nicholas Leblanc and Michael Chevreul made enormous breakthroughs in the soap making industry in 1791 and 1811 respectively. Leblanc was responsible for the discovery of a method that created sodium carbonate, or soda ash from common table salt.This drastically reduced the cost of producing soap and made the business boom. Chevreul made discoveries into the chemical composition and relationship between fatty acids, glycerin, and fats, thereby increasing the potency of soap and the competency of soap makers.

After this, the production of soap on a large scale took off, with manufacturers in America and Europe both jumping on the bandwagon and getting their piece in the soap industry gold mine.

The Introduction of Liquid Soap

The next major advancement for soap would be the introduction of liquid soap that we all know today. The first patent of liquid soap was in 1865 by William Shepphard, but became even more popular in 1898 with the introduction of Palmolive. This product, created by B.J Johnson, quickly became the most popular, best selling soap in the world and remains one of the top products to this day.

From the 20th century on, various other liquid soap products like Tide and Pine-Sol have shown up but have recently been more focused on the cleaning of non personal items such as showers, cars, countertops, clothing, floors, etc. Liquid soap and flake soap remain highly important products in 2015, just as have been through all of history. However, the use of more eco-friendly soap products are becoming ever more popular and lucrative.

But regardless of the choice of product, soap will remain to be a common and needed household product as it has stood the test of time. At Soap.Club we only use the cold process soap making method which is considered the old fashion way. The soap is still made by hand and cured for over 4 weeks. We strictly use only natural ingredients like olive oil, coconut oil, hemp oil, shea butter & essential oils & fragrances. For more information about our soaps contact us at

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