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A Brief History of Natural Soaps and the Rise of Synthetic Detergents

Oct 12, 2020

A Brief History of Natural Soaps and the Rise of Synthetic Detergents
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Do you know the history of soap?

We like to say natural soap is the original household cleaner, and we're not just talking about the bars that could be found in our grandparents' broom closet. The history of soap as a whole-house cleaner goes wayyyy farther back than a few generations! (Spoiler alert: the history of detergents doesn't.) In fact, soap was used to clean cooking utensils, clothing, and household surfaces before it was used on the hair and body. 

Here's the lowdown on why soap was replaced by petroleum!

Soap has been an important part of human history dating at least back to the Sumerian and Babylonian Empires (over 4800 years ago) and was used by the ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and peoples throughout the Middle East—including the legendary soap makers of Aleppo who, generations later, are still making the famed soap pictured above—and soap enjoyed an uncontested reigned as the go-to cleaner for millennia until the middle of the 21st century.

Just as industrial food processing boomed after World War II, industrial detergents (made using petroleum and its byproducts) came onto the scene midcentury, and America was swept up in the "Better Living Through Chemistry" promise of convenience, lower prices, and shiny advertising of the detergent industry. By 1953, detergent sales overtook the cleaning crown from soap.

Since then, the cleaning market has been dominated by a series of synthetic detergents that promised to clean better than ever—but at quite a high cost.

Early synthetic detergents were pulled from production when they were revealed to be carcinogenic, hormone disruptive, and downright terrible for human health and the health of the planet, only to be quickly replaced by the new chemical panacea in a cycle of big promises and disappointing health and environmental consequences.

With the birth of the natural food movement in the late 20th century, the industrial detergent manufacturers saw the chance to capitalize on people in search of "natural" cleaning solutions, but these cleaners were (and are) still filled with synthetic detergents made with petroleum and petrochemicals. That's not honest, and we believe people deserve better.

Why soap is dope, and it's time to ditch detergents!

Of course, natural soap is still used by many around the world, but mostly for personal care and not in place of harsh synthetic detergents in cleaning supplies. We saw a need for truly natural, soap-based cleaners that are less processed and have thousands of years of proof as gentle, effective cleaning solutions. We combine modern cleaning science with the age-old art of soapmaking to create natural laundry soap, hand soap, all-purpose cleaners, and dish soap that clean as well as synthetic detergents without the petrochemical dirty secrets. 

With Ingredients Matter, soap is back! 

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