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Chronicles Of Cleaning: BC

Roman Colosseum

2800 BC - Where It All Started

Archaeologists discovered evidence that ancient Babylonians began producing soap during this time period, as they found soap-like materials and inscribed cylinders containing the phrase "fat boiled with ash." Recognizing that similar soap-making practices emerged in other civilizations shortly afterward, archaeologists concluded that this marked the earliest instance of humans creating cleaning products.

1500 BC - Hygiene Practices in Ancient Egypt

According to Egypt Today, “Based on the writings of Herodotus, Ancient Egyptians used many healthy hygiene habits, such as washing, and laundry. They also knew to use mint to make their breath fresh. According to Ancient History Online Encyclopedia, Ancient Egyptians always tried to make their bodies clean. They were the first to invent deodorant in history, which they did by mixing various spices, such as citrus and cinnamon.”

Additionally, they employed alkaline soaps, alcohol, and similar mixtures for cleaning their homes and clothing, which bear resemblance to modern detergents and cleaning agents.

"Ancient Egyptians used many healthy hygiene habits" Egypt Today

1200 BC - Greek Techniques with Oils and "Stewhouses"

While not on par with modern cleaning standards, the cleaning methods employed by the ancient Greeks are intriguing to explore. Here are a few notable aspects from this era:

  • The Greeks cleansed their bodies by using blocks of clay, sand, pumice, and ashes, followed by anointing themselves with oil and scraping off the oil and dirt with a metal instrument called a strigil.

  • Dusting was the primary cleaning activity in Greek homes, with no documented methods for disinfection or deep cleaning.

  • Steam baths were highly popular among the Greeks, but due to the humid atmosphere, these baths came to be referred to as "stewhouses" because of their musty, sweaty odor.

Roman Innovations and Advancements

When the Roman Empire came into existence, cleaning methods had progressed considerably, and their ideas regarding hygiene and health further propelled advancements. Firstly, they revolutionized sewage cleanup by constructing the first underground sewers in the city of Rome around 500 BC, which laid the groundwork for proper bathroom hygiene for centuries to come.

Romans were among the first to utilize ammonia for cleaning clothes, furniture, and even teeth. However, the process of obtaining ammonia was far from pleasant. According to GreenPee, "Prior to the invention of soap, a mixture of water and urine was used as a detergent for clothing. The ammonia present in urine effectively removed even the toughest stains. Laundries eagerly purchased barrels of urine for this purpose. Urine was not only used for laundry but also as a teeth-cleaning agent."

Moreover, Romans expected their servants to thoroughly clean their homes using soaps made from animal fats and ashes, along with ammonia-based concoctions. Their homes were portrayed as clean, shiny, and well-maintained, which likely contributed to the remarkable preservation of many Roman artifacts.

Emergence of New Cultures

Following the decline of the Roman Empire. Various barbarian cultures took control, and concepts of cleanliness and modern cleaning methods were temporarily sidelined as Europe settled into a new order. Meanwhile, numerous non-European cultures continued to advance these cleaning practices. Chinese culture introduced rice water detergents, soap made from ground jade, and herbal disinfectants. African cultures utilized oils and astringents for disinfection and exfoliation.

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