What is soap?

Updated: Sep 22

In lieu of recent events, hand hygiene is a hot topic. Germs and microbes are everywhere, in air, soil, water as well as in our bodies. Some of the bacteria is essential for us but many other can be quite harmful. For centuries, soap have been one of the main defenses against these harmful germs. So what is soap exactly?


Soap is a combination of oil, water and alkali (salt). When oils and liquid combined in the proper proportions, they go through a chemical process called saponification, which results in soap. Soap doesn't kill germs, it removes them. Germs stick to the oils and grease on our hands . Water by itself won't remove much of the germs on our hands because water and oil don't like each other, so they won't mix. But soap likes both water and oil. That's because soap molecules are a type of surfactant, which means they have one end that's water loving and one end that's oil loving. When you wash your hands with soap, the soap molecules act as a friend between the water and oil molecules, and connects with both of them at the same time. Then when you rinse everything off, the soap carries away the germs with the water.


For the most effective hand washing, you must use soap and you must be thorough. Work up a lather because the friction helps lift dirt and oils from your skin. The period you should scrub depends on how dirty your hands are, as a general rule wash for at least 20 seconds. And don't forget to scrape underneath your fingernails. That area is prime real estate for germs.


Some of interesting historic facts about soap:


"The ancient Babylonians are credited with being the first people to make soap. Their recipe for animal fats, wood ash and water has been found carved into clay containers dating back to 2800 B.C., according to soaphistory.net. They likely used the concoction for washing wool and cotton so the materials could be woven into cloth and not so much for cleaning their bodies.


The ancient Egyptians developed a similar recipe for soap, which they used for treating sores, skin diseases and personal washing. The Romans also made soap, but it wasn't until the later centuries of the Roman era that soap was used for personal hygiene; prior to that, soap was a physician's tool for treating diseases. "


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Reference: Why do we use soap? | Live Science



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