Do It Often, With What?

Hand Washing
Washing Your Hands | Photo by

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic has brought about many rules that are meant  to keep us as safe as possible so that we don’t get infected with this insidious virus. One on the most contentious rules is wearing a facial covering, a mask. Doctors and nurses have worn masks for centuries to protect the public from infection. I wore them when I worked in hospitals in the 1960s. It is hard for me to understand how wearing a mask has become a political issue and one that has struck a chord with people who feel too many of their freedoms are being take away.

Hand Washing
Washing Your Hands Correctly| Photo by

One rule that I haven’t heard any big protests over is washing your hands. Washing your hands with soap and warm water should keep your hands free from the virus. How long should you wash? The experts say 20 seconds is about the right amount of time, but I don’t know anyone who will use a stopwatch to do it right. They have suggested a very simple way to mark the time. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song two times and that will take twenty seconds.

Just using the warm water without the soap will not clean your hands properly. Have you ever wondered who came up with the idea of  using soap for cleansing? I have and here is what I discovered.

Babylonian Soap | Image by

According to Soap “An excavation of ancient Babylon revealed evidence that Babylonians were making soap around 2800 B.C. Babylonians were the first ones to master the art of soap making. They made soap from fats boiled with ashes. Soap was used in cleaning wool and cotton used in textile manufacturing and was used medicinally for at least 5,000 years.”

They also explain that the Egyptians as far back as 1550 B.C. made a “soap-like substance” from animal and vegetable oils mixed with alkaline salts. Around 600 B.C. the Phoenicians made soap out of goat tallow and wood ashes. Even the Celts made soap. They used plant ashes and animal fat and called it “saipo” from Mt. Sapo, from which the name soap is derived. That’s according to “Today, soap is produced from fats and an alkali. The cold process method is the most popular soap making process today, while some soap makers use the historical hot process.”

Nicholas LeBlanc | Image by

Early soap was expensive and only the wealthy could afford it. A French chemist, Nicolas LeBlanc, developed a chemical process to produce soap in a more economical way so it could be sold at a cheaper price. That meant more people would be able to afford soap. Another Frenchman, in the early 1800s, used glycerin, acid, and fats to make an even less expensive soap. That seems to be the way today’s modern soap is made.

Palmolive Soap
Palmolive Soap By B.J. Johnson Soap Company | Image by

What about bar soap as we know it today? Here is another interesting bit of history. A man named Benedict Johnson started a company he called B.J. Johnson & Company. In 1898 he produced a bar of soap made with palm oil and olive oils and cocoa butter. The bars of soap had a distinctive green color. You should recognize what he named the product because it still exists today. He called it “Palmolive.”

Softsoap Liquid Soap | Photo by D’orazio Cleaning Supply

Liquid soaps history began in 1865 when William Shepphard patented a liquid soap. Soap attributes the actual popularity and use of liquid soap to the already mentioned Benedict Johnson’s Palmolive soap which also was produced as a liquid. Liquid hand soaps weren’t really developed until the 1970s. Today there are many types of liquid hand soaps including the popular antibacterial soaps.

There you have the story of hand soap. So remember and appreciate all of the effort it took to develop what we take so much for granted today.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].




Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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