April 21, 2020 3 min read 1 Comment

Washing your hands is something you do everyday, usually without even thinking about it. But soap and handwashing were not always a thing, and they actually changed the course of human history through keeping us healthy. Good old fashioned soap — made from oils, lye and water — changed the world. And we’re going to tell you about the history of soap and what makes it so effective. Curious about how soap works? Here’s some more reading on why soap works.

The history of soap, a timeline

3rd Millenium B.C. (2001 - 3000)

“With water I bathed myself, with soda I cleansed myself, with oil from the basin I beautified myself.” That’s an inscription discovered on a Sumerian clay tablet in the ancient city of Babylon.

2800 B.C.

A barrel with soap like substances from Ancient Babylon was found by archaeologists in what is now present-day Iraq, dating back to 2800 B.C. Ancient Babylonians made basic soap from fats boiled with ashes and water. They were on to something. Lye, a critical ingredient in soap making, can actually be made from wood ashes!

Image of ancient egyptian pyramids.

1550 B.C.

The Ebers Papyrus is an ancient medical scroll from ancient Egypt that contained herbal medical knowledge. In it, the scroll describes combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to form a soap-like material that was used for washing and treating skin diseases. Wash like an Egyptian, am I right?

200 A.D.

Ancient Greeks use a mixture of ash and lye to clean their pots and statues, while the Gauls and Romans also used animal fats to make a soap-like mixture.


The soap making centres of the world are Marseilles, France and Savona, Italy. In Italy and Spain, soap was being made from goat fat and the ashes of Beech trees, while in France people started using Olive Oil (yum!) to produce soap.


In the Middle Ages, the Bubonic Plague, a.k.a. The Black Death, caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, spread across the world. Some at the time feared bathing, thinking that disease spread through the air and water would help transmit it.

Many natural bar soaps stacked together.


Nicolas Leblanc, a French chemist, discovers how to make soda ash (that’s mixed with fat to create soap) from common salt. His method makes it less expensive to create soap.


Game changer! Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis is known as the “father of hand hygiene” because he noticed more women giving birth in the medical ward were dying than those who gave birth in the midwife’s ward. He realised that the doctors were going from the autopsy ward to the delivery ward, carrying icky particles with them and making people sick. Dr. Semmelweis mandated handwashing (with chlorine!), lowering the number of deaths dramatically.


Florence Nightingale, who’s known as the founder of modern nursing, instituted handwashing and hygienic practices in the war hospital during the Crimean War. Even though the reasoning behind the practice was a bit off — the belief at the time was that foul odours called miasmas caused infection — the rate of infections in the hospital dropped nonetheless.

Image of Florence Nightingale

1850s - 1880s

Research from French microbiologist and chemist Louis Pastuer, carried on by German physician and microbiologist, Robert Koch helps to solidify germ theory, the scientific theory of disease that we still use today.


Liquid soap is patented by a man named William Shepperd.

Multiple 1 litre natural liquid soap bottles.


The first synthetic detergents are invented in Germany in World War 1 in response to a shortage of fats.


Synthetic detergent sales are on the rise in the U.S.

Did you know? 

Synthetic detergents are often produced  with a neutral pH. Natural soap, like that we make at Rocky, tends toward the alkaline with a pH of 8-10. You know who hates alkalinity? Viruses. That’s why — with proper handwashing — the alkalinity of natural soap will help to deactivate viruses on your skin.


The Centers for Disease controls publishes its first hand hygiene guidelines. The first nationally endorsed guidelines of that kind in the world.


Rocky Mountain Soap Company opens! Woohoo!

Three all natural Rocky Mountain Soap bars.

Present day

We find ourselves being told over and over that the most effective way to stay healthy in this pandemic is to wash your hands well, and often. That means:

  • Wet your hands.
  • Apply soap and work into a lather. Make sure to get in between your fingers, on the backs of your hands and under your nails.
  • Scrub scrub scrub! For at least 20 seconds, but if you make it 20, may as well go for 30! (hint: that’s singing “Happy Birthday” in your head, twice).
  • Rinse well under running water.
  • Dry your hands (with a towel or air dry).

From all of us at Rocky, stay healthy!

1 Response

John Locken
John Locken

April 23, 2020

Whoo, who would have known you work working at make soap in BC, (now is that British Columbia or Before Canada) hee hee!!!!!

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