Ever since Adam and Eve ate that sinful apple in the Garden of Eden, humans have been wearing clothes to keep themselves covered. And with the wearing of clothes comes the inevitable soiling of clothes. Stain removers were certainly not invented by Adam and Eve, but the innovation of soap is much older than some may realize. Ancient civilizations were just as cleanly as modern ones when it came to keeping their latest fashions spotless.
Before there was such thing as soap or detergent, water was the stain remover of choice. A river or stream was readily available to those who washed their clothes. However, soap dates back thousands of years starting with the ancient Babylonians from about 5,000 years ago. Other cultures used natural products from trees and other plants as stain removers.
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Soap wasn't prepared until the seventh century when it began as a family business. European soap makers would combine animal and fats with plant oils, and then they would add perfume for fragrance. The leading European countries in making soap were Italy, Spain and France. Soap was used for shampoo, bathing, laundry and shaving. Soap making was picked up by the English in the 12th century and was very popular by the 1600s.
Important names in the soap industry are Nicolas LeBlanc, Michel Eugene Chevreul and Ernest Solvay. In 1791, French chemist LeBlanc came up with a quality process to make soda ash from common salt. Soda ash combines with fat to make soap. Chevreul, a French chemist, studied the chemical relationship of fats, glycerine and fatty acids to advance the production of soap. Finally, Solvay, a Belgian chemist, invented to ammonia process to make production of soda ash even more efficient and cost-effective.
World War I Reaction
Stain removers took a bit of a turn in the early 1900s during World War I when synthetic detergents were invented. Detergents were a response to the limited supply of fats and oils to make soap. Germans turned to non-soap methods of cleaning and came up with detergent. Detergent was also an answer for the troops being able to wash their clothes in cold sea water. The first detergents were used mainly for dishwashing (by hand) and laundering.
Growth in America
The manufacturing of detergent stain removers didn't really take off in the United States until the 1940s. It combined a surfactant (cleaning agent) with a phosphate compound-based builder (designed to make the surfactant work better). Within a few years, detergent became more and more popular in the United States. Today, manufacturers of stain removers are trying to come up with safer detergents for humans and the environment. Soaps and detergents now come in many forms, including liquids, powders, releases, machine washers, sheets and travel sticks.