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Natural Soap

The context

How would you feel about washing yourself in pork fat? Did you know that this used to be one of the main ingredients of soap?

People have been using soap to clean their skin and get rid of unwanted body odours for centuries - the first mention of soap dates back to 2500 BC. Soap is a surfactant, which means that it helps water to wet things more evenly. When you use soap, dirt is attracted away from your skin to the soap, is suspended in a lather, then washed away by water.

Soap as we know it today was first used in World War I, when wartime injuries made cleanliness particularly important. The ingredients traditionally used to make soap were scarce and, as a result, detergents came into use. Detergents are synthetic cleaning agents, made with by-products of petroleum. Many of the soaps on sale in supermarkets today are actually detergents - take a look at a packet of soap at home and you'll probably find that it is full of synthetic chemicals.

However, with people becoming increasingly worried about potentially harmful chemicals, more and more companies are now making 'natural' soap with 'natural' ingredients. This case study tells the story of Simply Soaps, one of the leading natural soap manufacturers in the UK.

Cleaning in ancient times

Steps to commercial cleaning

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Practical Action - Technology challenging povertyEuropean Commission - Department for International Development

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