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Natural Soap

Steps to commercial cleaning

Before commercial soap production began, many country people made their own soap by mixing clarified meat drippings with an alkaline solution made from water and wood ashes. The resultant product was crude and usually caustic, so perhaps it was fortunate that personal cleanliness was a fairly low priority at the time! In the 17th and early 18th centuries, water was seen as a magical solution and people only took a bath if told to do so by a doctor. It was feared that if a bath was used in the wrong way, disaster would strike!

The commercial production of soap began in the early 1600s, but only the rich could afford to buy it. Large-scale soap production came to the UK in the late 18th century, with the discovery of new ways to produce alkalis cheaply. The first big soap company was Pears, which is still trading today. Its transparent soap was made using tallow (animal fat). In the 1880s, the Lever Brothers made a major breakthrough with their free-lathering Sunlight Soap made using vegetable oils. By 1888 output of Sunlight had increased to 450 tons a week. It was soon joined by Lifebuoy, Lux and Vim - all of which are still on sale today.

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

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