There is little doubt that the women, with more sensitive and discriminating olfactory senses, discovered the need to wash out the animal skins in a nearby river or lake. As time progressed and textiles and weaving developed, clothing became more delicate and refined, and the women washing the clothes became increasingly discriminating. (There is little doubt that the more affluent, in addition to washing their clothes, also fragranced their bodies, hair and clothes with natural oils and plant extracts or natural fragrances.) The story of soap supposedly begins at the base of Mount Sapo, where, according to Roman lore, the water foamed and washed the clothes better than in other spots. Why was this?
It so happens that at the top of the fictional mountain was an altar where animals were routinely sacrificed. The animal fat mixed with ash as rain washed the fat down the mountainside to the river at its base. Along the way the fat reacted with the ash (saponification) to create the first soap. The Italian name sapone (soap) is derived from Mount Sapo.
Using animal fat (or any fats for that matter) in the soap making process to produce surfactants often results in a fatty rancid animal fat odor. While all the grime and dirt and perspiration odors can be removed, there remains an unpleasant fatty odor, hence the need for fragrance. Over time, soap manufacturers have improved the base odor but have never been able to make the end product fresh and clean smelling without the use of fragrance. This situation holds true today; although the levels of malodor (odor perceived as unpleasant) have been reduced, they are not completely eliminated … so far.
Detergent technology continues to advance, along with more efficient and cost-effective chemical reactions and improved antioxidants, whiteners and brighteners. These and other phases of refinement have brought continuous change barely noticed by the consumer—excepting negative aspects that can lead to formulation changes and legislation. One glaring case is phosphates, which may be harmful to the environment. Today, it is difficult to find a detergent that still uses phosphates. Some may be used in dishwashing detergents, but likely will be replaced in the future.
Other topics discussed: Understanding the Product and Process for Detergents, Liquid and Powder Considerations, Achieving the “Fresh and Clean” Effect, Troubleshooting, What Will the Future Bring?