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Why do we wash our clothes? It is probable that the first clothing consisted of animal skins, an auxiliary spoil of the hunt. This additional layer of protection allowed early man’s fragile bodies to survive in climates and seasonal changes that were previously not possible or uncomfortable at best. 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.
This is only an excerpt of the full article that appeared in P&F Magazine. The full content is not currently available online.