Kleine Geschichte Home

A short history of soap

The earliest recorded evidence of the production of a soap-like substance dates back to the 5000-year old ancient culture of the Sumerians. By mixing plant ashes and oils they created a predecessor to what we now call soap. It could be that they used this mixture more for healing purposes than for cleansing. The knowledge of the Sumerians was adopted by the early Egyptians and Greeks, but it was the Romans who first recognized the cleansing properties of soap.

Soap as we know it today first originated in the 7th century. At that time, Arabian people cooked oils and alkalies in a simplified form of modern soap manufacturing. Thanks to the intercultural exchange between cultures, soapmaking knowledge spread rapidly across Europe. Initially, it was primarily the Spanish and the French who became leaders in the manufacturing of soap.

King Ludwig XIV – a true supporter of soap culture

Soap really blossomed in the 1700s when King Ludwig XIV brought the best soapmaker in the known world at that time to Versailles. His purity law for soap still applies today: Soap is considered particularly high quality when it has a fatty acid content of at least 72%.

In the middle of the 1700s, the first soap factories opened in Marseille, Toulon and Lyon in France as well as in Germany and England.

We have the Frenchman Nicolas Leblanc to thank for its final triumph. In 1790 he developed a method for extracting soda (sodium carbonate), replacing the potash used by early soapmakers. With access to soda, it became possible to product larger amounts of soap. However, it wasn’t until 1865, when the Belgian Ernest Solvay developed the Solvay Process for the making of sodium carbonate, that it was finally possible to mass produce soap. Soap then became an affordable product for everyone.