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The earliest recorded evidence of the production of soap-like materials dates back to around 2800 BC in ancient Babylon.6 A formula for soap consisting of water, alkali, and cassia oil was written on a Babylonian clay tablet around 2200 BC.
The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 BC) indicates the ancient Egyptians bathed regularly and combined animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to create a soap-like substance. Egyptian documents mention a soap-like substance was used in the preparation of wool for weaving.
In the reign of Nabonidus (556–539 BC), a recipe for soap consisted of uhulu [ashes], cypress [oil] and sesame [seed oil] “for washing the stones for the servant girls”.
In chemistry, soap is a salt of a fatty acid.1 Soaps are mainly used as surfactants for washing, bathing, and cleaning, but they are also used in textile spinning and are important components of lubricants. Soaps for cleansing are obtained by treating vegetable or animal oils and fats with a strongly alkaline solution. Fats and oils are composed of triglycerides; three molecules of fatty acids are attached to a single molecule of glycerol.2 The alkaline solution, which is often called lye, (although the term “lye soap” refers almost exclusively to soaps made with sodium hydroxide) brings about a chemical reaction known as saponification. In saponification, the fats are first hydrolyzed into free fatty acids, which then combine with the alkali to form crude soap. Glycerol (glycerine) is liberated and is either left in or washed out and recovered as a useful byproduct, depending on the process employed.2
Soaps are key components of most lubricating greases, which are usually emulsions of calcium soap or lithium soaps and mineral oil. These calcium- and lithium-based greases are widely used. Many other metallic soaps are also useful, including those of aluminium, sodium, and mixtures of them. Such soaps are also used as thickeners to increase the viscosity of oils. In ancient times, lubricating greases were made by the addition of lime to olive oil. Read more