Week of June 6, 2021

Clean Up Your Act


The fanciful story behind soap’s name is that it came from fictional Mount Sapo in Rome. Here, the oils and ashes from sacrificed animals washed down the mountain in the rain, where locals noticed clothes got cleaner when washed in that part of the river. While it is true that wood ash and oils from plants or animals are the traditional main ingredients of soap, the origin of the word soap is more likely from “sapo” or “saipa,” meaning tallow or fat.


Soap operas are called that because soap manufacturers were among the first companies to sponsor the female-targeted serial radio shows which played during the daytime in the 1930’s, and this term eventually got extended to television shows.


By coincidence, the term “squeaky clean” came into use in about the same decades as soap operas, and was intended to describe things so clean they squeak when rubbed. The term later got a boost by Ajax cleaning product advertisements in the 1970’s, though the term now also applies to people without blemished histories or past practices.


Keeping your nose clean doesn’t just mean wiping it thoroughly, but avoiding corruption and shadiness in general. This term seems to be an American variant of the British term to “keep your hands clean,” which arose in the 19th century, and with the same general meaning.


The soap molecule gives it cleaning power. One end of the long molecule bonds with water, the other with oils and fats. The result is that soap can pry into the fatty outer membrane of germs, rupturing them, and also encapsulate dirt, oil, and germs so that they can be washed away in water.


Soap scum only forms in hard water, since calcium and magnesium, both components of hard water, are needed to from this precipitate.


Though they have similar uses, detergent is often synthetically created, and true soaps are of naturally-occurring ingredients. There are chemical differences between them, too.