Until the early 1900’s, much of the soap used was made at home. Fats from cooking and butchering were saved until there was enough to make a batch of soap. This all changed in 1916 when a shortage of fats (a main ingredient in soap) occurred during World War I. As an alternative was needed, enterprising companies developed the first synthetic soaps called detergents.
Cindy Brown, collections manager for the York County Heritage Trust, said in the 1800’s women would bathe weekly, generally on a Saturday night to prepare for church the next morning. “Most people had a tub and they’d heat water over a fire to warm it for bathing, using homemade soap made with harsh lye,”
Although germs were not yet known, doctors noticed during the Civil War that soldiers who were bathed regularly and kept in clean environments had a much higher survival rate and got fewer infections. The credit for this discovery goes to a nurse who worked at the front during the Crimean War. (Florence Nightingale).
Although fine domestic and imported soaps were then available, the Civil War created such economic hardship that many southern women made their own soap well into the 20th century.
From The Civil War Parlor on Tumblr