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The world order went down and humanity was pushed back into an post apocalyptic society (no nuclear fallout). Most of humanty vanished. Only the old ones can remember how it was to have electricity. (6-7 generations)

Right after the collapse, most things were gathered such as food cans, drinking water etc. Over the time, people got independent from this gathering in terms of food, metal works, construction etc. The biggest cities have about 50.000 habitants.

A mid aged man, which never saw humanity at its peak, remarked that the supplies found went to a minimum. In his childhood, food was plenty compared to now, but people found a way to work around that. The only thing he misses is hygienics. People forgot how to handle waste, disease and filth.

He knows he can't change the world, but wants to start somewhere. So he decided to reinvent "soap". (It's not like he knows how to and the name, but it's about something so people are (easier) able to clean them self and their surroundings)

The question is, how to produce Soap in such a setting? What could happen, so he gets the first clue, how to do it?

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Mruf! Don't worry about your language, it's fine. However, while your question about soap production is well fitted and intrestingfor this site, your second part of the question "What could happen to get the first clue" is very broad. How would you determine the quality of the answers? Try and find some more criteria to enclose on this a bit. $\endgroup$ – T3 H40 Apr 9 '16 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ Six or seven generations? How many great-great-great-great-great-grandparents have you met? $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 9 '16 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ Why not look up hobby soapmaking? (346K hits on Google :-)) Though honestly, it's not really something that could be forgotten. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 9 '16 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ There are only fifty people? Why so few? Also, if soap could still be found, couldn't they find encyclopedias or other old books that explained how to make soap? Had they never heard of lye? Making soap is actually quite simple. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Apr 10 '16 at 1:30
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon: Interestingly, our increasing reliance on digital media means that, if we keep on how we're going, and somehow lose all our old physical books, after a societal collapse we wouldn't be able to access any of our information any more. Future generations would not even have heard of soap! $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 10 '16 at 14:55
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There is a Roman legend that soap got it's name from Mount Sapo, where the fat and ashes from animal sacrificed there were washed into the river by rain. People washing clothes in the river found their clothes were easier to clean. Maybe your inventor washes his clothes downstream from a place that butchers and smokes meat.

Fat or oil mixed with alkali from ashes is one of the earliest formulas for soap. The things your inventor needs to make soap are ashes from a wood fire and tallow (fat) from an animal.

Water poured through potash (hardwood ash) produces water with lye (alkali). When mixed with fat and boiled, they combine and produce soap mixed with glycerine. The complete process is described at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soap and http://www.humantouchofchemistry.com/how-was-soap-invented.htm.

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  • $\begingroup$ An example of serendipity! The character could find out how to make soap purely by chance/accident :) $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 9 '16 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ @ASH-Aisyah: Most discoveries are made by accident. It's hard to deliberately invent something you've never heard of. :) $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 9 '16 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Lightness, yeahp, I was just strengthening Mark's answer $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 10 '16 at 13:38
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Don't get too wrapped around the axle about soap. Proper hygiene also consists of getting filth and waste products away from your dwellings and more importantly away from your water supply. The practice of using human and animal waste in the fields as fertilizer will have to be carefully controlled as well. Depending on the local climate, leaving it to "bake" in the hot sun will go a way to sterilizing it, or plowing it under and then planting a cover crop like clover to prevent it from washing into the river during the rainy season, and leaving the field fallow for a year before planting a crop will make it harder to spread diseases through consuming contaminated plants.

The ancient Greeks and Romans did not have soap at all, and generally washed with clean water, and then had their skin oiled and the layer of oil "scraped" off using a device similar in effect to a spatula. Many other ancient civilizations were generally hygienic without the use of soap either.

So if your guy is interested in better living, inventing or enforcing garbage collection, ensuring human and animal waste is safely disposed of away from water sources and even just rinsing off in clean water (hot is nice but not absolutely essential) will go a long way to dropping disease rates and making life that much better.

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  • $\begingroup$ This can't be stressed enough. A city of 50K people generates a lot of feces, urine and garbage, and without public sanitation, it turns into a horrible Medieval city. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 15 '18 at 12:50

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