Surfactants: sunset or dawn?

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Scientific advisory board of H&PC Today – Household and Personal Care Today (TKS Publisher)

Surfactants have been known and used since millennia, first in the form of fatty acid soaps. It is believed that soap was accidentally discovered in Mesopotamia around the 3000-2900 BC, perhaps when someone got interested in that funny substance formed when the grease of roasted animal got in contact and reacted with the fire ashes. The oldest reference to the production of soap by a purpose-specific chemical process is found on clay cylinders excavated at the site of the ancient Babylon and containing a soap-like material. These are dated at around 2800 BC. The inscriptions on the cylinders explain that fat was boiled with a slurry of ashes, but do not refer to the properties or the purpose of the composition.


The first report of the “detergent” properties of soap is engraved on a Sumerian clay tablet of around 2500 BC that gives instructions for washing wool with “soap”. It is perhaps surprising that soap appears to have been valued more for use with textiles than personal hygiene. In ancient times however colourful garments were particularly expensive and as such a symbol of wealth and status. W ...