A brief history of cleaning products

cleaning products

The cleaning industry today has developed some incredible cleaning tools. The magic sponge, microfibre cloths, varying detergents that use enzymes to break down molecules are just a few examples of how we have advanced research and technology to supply the best cleaning products possible. Who knew in the 1900s that we would have self-guided vacuums? But what were cleaning products like before our time? Let’s go on a trip to the past and see…

Early days:

The original cleaning products were of course as simple and as natural as you can imagine. Water was mainly used for cleaning, with no soap-like substances until around 2800 BC. This of course was very different to the soap we use today, with the ancient Babylonians using ash and fat. This was later developed by ancient Egyptians around 1500 BC as fats and salt became popular ingredients in soap.

Clothing was hand washed in rivers and streams for a long time! Romans created public laundry areas where fermented urine was the most common ‘detergent’ used to bleach clothing. Birch cinders were used by the Gauls around 2800 B.C to improve cleaning of fabrics. Unfortunately, the waters were not often clean and increased spread of disease such as cholera. Bucking was a common practice which used an alkaline ‘lye’ solution to treat clothes. You can read more about this here.

The 18th century

Joseph Glass invented chimney cleaning equipment, causing the great increase of chimney sweeps associated with the 18th century. This was due to the greater use of coal instead of wood, meaning more soot would collect and block chimneys, leading to potential pollution of the home if not cleaned. Home baths were still quite uncommon due to lack of access to large amounts of warm water and disposal in the home. As well as this, many people believed warm baths were harmful as we were ‘exposing pores to entry by disease’ , therefore, many people used washcloths and smaller quantities of water and bathed less regularly or in public baths. Soaps were created and fragranced using mixtures of herbs and spices to improve one’s own fragrance. 

A huge step in the clothes- washing department came with the invention of the mechanical washing machine by Jacob Christian Schäffer in 1767.

Establishment of the NSSA

Now known as the ISSA, the NSSA (National Sanitary Supply Association) was founded in 1923 by Alfred Richter. The aim was to unite and support cleaning communities around the nation. This grew increasingly popular globally, so much so, that the organization changed its name in 1966 to the International Sanitary Supply Association. It is still growing and generally aims to support, teach and develop cleaning communities around the world in order for them to provide the best standard of cleaning possible wherever they go.