The Saratoga Sun -

All lathered up and on my soap box


The holiday Season is upon us and soon a large portion of us will be traveling.

That means driving, airplanes, busses and the like.

It also means hotels.

Mini Bars

(not the kind you

are thinking of)

Hotels are usually a checkpoint in your vacation. You have traveled a bit, then you get to stop, shower and shave before you continue your journey.

Anyway, a fixture at most any hotel or motel is tiny soap.

There are tiny shampoos and tiny conditioners too.

The tiny soaps I find fun. The tiny hair products not as much so.

The “fun size” bars seem to disappear so quickly that they cannot end up looking like short-and-curly-haired sweaters (disgusting imagery—sorry). Even if they do, you magically get another one the next day!

The little bottles of shampoo and conditioner though … they are just “trouble sized.”

You can only get one wash worth out of the things before you have to get out the clamps to get another portion out.

The real question though is: Do you take the things?

When I run out of regular-sized bars, the purloined pieces serve to remind me to buy more soap and keep me clean until I can refill my soapy supplies.

Oh, and the little bottles of hair stuff? They end up in my suitcases because you can’t take a full-size bottle into the airport.

Also some of the soaps and bottles are interesting. I got a couple of sets of tiny hair products from the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas that are shaped like the tower itself.

So … They Don’t

Completely Wash Away

Another interesting fact I came across about hotel soaps is that the unused portions are, at least in many places and many hotel chains, recycled.

A company named Clean the World receives the soapy remainders (including shampoos and conditioners) and recooks and sterilizes the soap into new bars.

The company then distributes the formerly used cleaning products to organizations around the world like the Red Cross, Children International, Rise Against Hunger and the like.

The motivation is to help prevent diseases and death that are preventable through simple sanitary measures.

Huh. The things you find out when you go to write a column.

A Sudsy Conundrum

I try not to use the same word over and over. Varying verbiage keeps your writing more interesting.

Oddly enough though, after checking several thesauri (yes, that is the plural for thesaurus), I found there is no other actual word for “soap.”

They came up with words like: cleanser, lather, suds, wash and Castile.

You would think for as long as soap has been around, and as nearly universal it is, that there would be another name for it.

But no.

A History of Lyes

The first evidence we have of soap being manufactured and used would have been Mediterranean cultures around 2,800 BC.

Apparently the Babylonians, Mesopotamians, Egyptians along with ancient Greeks and Romans were all around making soaps by mixing different combinations of animal fats, wood ash, oils and salts.

This soap was not made for personal hygiene but was used for cleaning cooking utensils and goods (like cotton for textiles) along with medicinal purposes.

Common bath bars didn’t come along until the 19th century though I found that the Ebers papyrus (Egypt 1,550 BC) mentions the ancient Egyptians bathed regularly and combined vegetable and animal oils with alkaline salts to create a soap-like substance.

As far as getting a name, soap supposedly was named after Mount Sapo in Rome and the latin word for soap, sapo, was referenced in Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis though more as a pomade than a body wash.

Soap making has a varied past across the globe. During the Islamic Golden Age in the Middle East soap got its pleasant smell. Vegetable oils were used widely in 16th century France with many of these soaps still produced today. Around that same time, Italy brought us another example of a vegetable-only soap in the form of Castile soap. I have seen this in markets recently.

In England during the Restoration Era (1665-1714), a soap tax was introduced. Among the regulations imposed was one that stated soap boilers must produce a minimum of an imperial ton at each boiling. This meant that soap during this period was only for the well-to-do.

I can’t find a lot on it, but I would guess that soap making was fairly common in the early American West where an alkali named Lye was a common ingredient. Lye is made by mixing rainwater and ashes, so the ingredients were common. Being formed from an alkali mixture and with quality control not a factor, I get that burning your skin was a hazard of the time. I have heard my father complain about having this soap used on him as a child.

There is even a 1952 song called “Grandma’s Lye Soap” written by Johnny Stanley and Art Thorsen.

I have very thoughtfully included the lyrics so you can draw your own conclusions:

Do you remember

Grandma’s Lye Soap,

Good for everything in the home,

And the secret was

in the scrubbing,

It wouldn’t suds,

and wouldn’t foam,

Oh, let us sing right out

For Grandma’s Lye Soap,

Sing it out, all over the place!

For pots and pans,

and dirty dishes,

And for your hands,

And for your face!

Little Therman,

and Brother Herman,

Had an aversion to

washing their ears...

Grandma scrubbed them

with her lye soap,

And they haven’t heard

a word in years!

Oh, let us sing right out

For Grandma’s Lye Soap,

Sing it out, all over the place!

For pots and pans,

and dirty dishes,

And for your hands,

And for your face!

Mrs. O’Malley, out in the valley,

Suffered from ulcers,

I understand,

She swallowed a cake of

Grandma’s Lye Soap,

Has the cleanest ulcers

in the land!

Oh, let us sing right out

For Grandma’s Lye Soap,

Sing it out, all over the place!

For pots and pans,

and dirty dishes,

And for your hands,

And for your face!

Bath Bars and Beyond

Today we have “bath bars” and the like.

Heck, I thought a bath bar was where you could soak and someone would bring you a drink.

Shows you what I know.

Today’s bath bars, luxury soaps, body washes, etcetera have all kinds of fancy ingredients. There are moisturizers, deodorants, skin conditioners, vitamins, exotic oils and more (lots more).

Pick your favorite. But when you do make your selection and suds up, maybe you will have a different view of the cleaning solution you have.

It’s all a wash to me.


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