By Dr. H. BRACKEBUSCH.
The importance of soap as an indispensable article in the household has not restrained the adulterators from making it a favorite object of their operations, and at the present day soap is only very rarely what it should be, the alkaline salt of a fatty acid with about 15 per cent. of water, which may be increased in case of soft soaps to 30 per cent. at most. The amount of moisture is an immediate signal for adulteration. Of all substances that can be used to adulterate soap, water is of course the cheapest, and as it is also harmless, this was the first point where manufacturers made use of their knowledge. The percentage of water was raised to 26 or 28 per cent., and now nearly all the ordinary soaps contain that amount when they leave the factory. At first the retailers objected to this method, because they had to suffer the loss so far as it dried out and lost weight in the store.
The next point was to find some substance that would prevent this rapid drying, and it was very soon discovered that those soaps that contained an excess of lye retained moisture longer. Henceforth it was only necessary to use lyes of extra strength so as to obtain a large yield of soap containing an excess of water. The results of this ingenious method are before us; in the shops of the soap dealers the bars of soap become coated with a crust of white crystals, which is nothing but soda. If a few drops of corrosive sublimate be dropped on these crystals, a red spot will at once be produced by the formation of mercuric oxide. In addition to the deception of the public who buy such soaps, this alkali destroys clothes washed with it, as the fiber of the tissues is directly attacked by it, while the proper action of the soap depends on its enveloping the particles of dirt and carrying them off.
Soap is subject to another kind of adulteration called filling, or weighting. Soapstone and similar mineral substances are added to the finished soap to increase its weight. But it may be added that this fraudulent weighting is rare. Large establishments cannot take the risk of being detected in such avaricious practices, and small ones scarcely have the apparatus at their disposal for making a uniform mixture which will not arouse suspicion.
Now soaps are frequently found in the market that scarcely deserve this name. Mineral soap, cold water soap, etc., are the names inscribed on the placards behind which is buried a preparation consisting for the greater part of water-glass. The well-known water-glass is a silicate of soda or potash dissolved in free or caustic soda, or potash. There was a time when it excited great hopes, and its introduction into the household for washing was dreamed of, but it was soon found that its caustic properties made their appearance at a relatively low temperature. Hence we often find the notice, "TO BE USED COLD," printed in bold letters on the wrappers. This product is obtained by thickening water-glass with stearine, oleine, or any other easily saponifiable fat. As it takes but very little of the substances named to make an article closely resembling soap, of course the product is very cheap. There does not seem to be any limit to the amount of water in it; at least the author found in one kind of mineral soap from Berlin 58 per cent. of water. Water-glass soaps do not dissolve readily in water, they make but little suds, and render the skin hard and unpliable.
Admitting that they are suitable for many purposes, nothing can be said against their sale so long as they appear under names which preclude their being confounded with other soaps. Nevertheless, there is always this danger--that water-glass may come into general use in making soap, and this is to be deplored. Water-glass soaps are easily recognized by their insolubility in moderately strong alcohol, the water-glass remaining behind in a gelatinous form.
Great deception has been practiced under such names as "almond soap," etc. Fortunately the difference between various kinds of fat are not very great from a chemical point of view, although it is always an unpleasant thought that the fat from animals that have died may return to the house in the form of soap. A white or yellow soap having a good smell is not made from bad fat, and hence is more appetizing.
A method formerly much in use consisted in mixing green soap with starch paste, a mixture that could not be detected by the naked eye, especially if colored with caramel. On attempting to dissolve it in ordinary burning alcohol, a white coagulum forms.
From the foregoing it is sufficiently evident that those who buy soap to sell again have every reason to keep a sharp lookout on those who furnish them with soap.--Polyt. Notiz.