The Birth of The Modern Sanitizer

Young woman showering
Blog by James Jonathan | Photo by Armin Rimoldi | Pexels

Did you know that there are one trillion species of microbes in the world that we live in? And do you know that 99.999 percent of them have yet to be discovered? A glass of clean drinking water contains ten million bacteria. Ah...don’t be scared. They are good bacteria. There are good and bad microbes. Some of which are beneficial to us and there are several of them that are harmful to our existence. There are several types of microbes: bacteria, archaea, protozoa, algae, fungi, viruses, and multicellular animal parasites. And microbes have their homes in different places: soils, rivers, lakes, oceans, on the surface of living and dead things, inside other organisms, on man-made structures etc.

How our Ancestors Purified Themselves

The ancient people used things readily available to them to cure infections: tree barks, herbs and leaves. Honey, turmeric and alcohol were used to treat wounds and to ward off infections. The Egyptians and the Greeks used alcohol as a cure for infections and to prevent future infections. The Bubonic plague hit and people ran off into the bath houses. The bath house was their sanitizer. People attributed the outbreak of epidemics to natural causes. They were seen as bad omens according to their worldview.


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Ground-Breaking Discovery

In 1861, the French biologist Louis Pasteur proved to the world that many diseases are caused by microorganisms not visible to the naked eye. He showed the world that infectious illnesses such as common cold, pneumonia, tuberculosis etc. are caused by certain microscopic organisms. His contributions to medicine changed the way we approach medicine, our understanding of it, and it resulted in the growth of biotechnology.


The Primitive Sanitizer

Humans have used soaps for a long time. The Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans used soaps to sanitise themselves. The earliest reference we have about soap is from 3000 B.C.  The Sumerians made soaps from a mixture of ashes and water. In ancient Sumer, the priests and those who attended them purified themselves before performing their sacred rites. They were cautious about not defiling their temple. The Babylonians found out that by mixing animal fats and wood ash with water, they could make a substance with which to purify themselves. We have evidence that the Babylonians used soaps to sanitise themselves as far as 2800 B.C. 


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The Ebers papyrus (1500 B.C) shows that the Egyptians made soaps for themselves by mixing animal fats or vegetable oils with alkaline salts. They used soaps to treat skin diseases and threatening sores. They also used soaps for body washing. They recognised the medicinal value of soap and used it as their sanitizer. The ancient Greeks and Romans used public baths to cleanse their bodies. The leaves and branches of various trees such as Bay Laurel, Fir, Pine, and Juniper were added into the water for their medicinal value. An ancient Roman legend says that soap, called Sapon, was invented accidentally on Mount Sapo, their sacred mountain. The fat or tallow from the animals that were slaughtered as part of their sacrifices and the ashes from the sacrificial fires, mixed with the water that flowed freely in Mount Sapo to create the soap. The Romans considered the soap as sacred which they got as a gift from their sacred mountain. The process whereby alkaline salts mix with vegetable oils or animal fats to form a detergent or soap is called saponification. Thus for the ancient world, the soap was their sanitizer.


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Alcohol as a Sanitizer

Since the dawn of history, many cultures have used alcohol to treat and disinfect wounds. The Sumerians used beer to treat wounds. They brewed at least 19 different types of beer! A prescription for wound healing from ancient Mesopotamia reads, “Pound together fur-turpentine, pine-turpentine, tamarisk, daisy, flour of inninnu strain; mix in milk and beer in a small copper pan; spread on skin; bind on him, and he shall recover.” Wine was used in ancient Israel to treat open wounds. In one of Jesus’ parables, the Good Samaritan uses wine and oil to treat the wounds of a man who was almost dead. Doctors in ancient Greece recommended alcohol to treat wounds. They recommended washing the wound with clean water first and then with vinegar and wine. When Hippocrates writes about wound healing, he writes, “For an obstinate ulcer, sweet wine and a lot of patience should be enough.” By the 1880s, alcohol was used by surgeons to disinfect skin before performing operations. A survey from 1948 says that 64 percent of hospitals in the United States used ethanol for skin disinfection.


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The Modern Hand-Sanitizer

During World War 2, Goldie Lippman worked as a supervisor in a rubber factory in Akron, Ohio. She noticed that the workers there had a hard time cleaning graphite and carbon black off their hands. The workers complained of irritating hands at the end of their shifts. They had to dip their fingers into harsh chemicals in order to disinfect their hands. She and her husband Jerry Lippman tried to work out a solution. The couple developed an alcoholic mixture that was gentler on skin, and sold them in pickle jars in 1946. Thus came to be GOJO Hand Sanitizer. This was the first modern hand sanitizer. In 1988, the GOJO company came out with  Purell  Hand Sanitizer. It was originally sold to hospitals, schools and public places. The hand-sanitizer was made up of a gelled mixture containing between 60 and 70 percent ethyl alcohol and isopropanol. The hand-sanitizer in the form of a gel was easy to apply to hands and served as a moisturizer. Thus was the birth of the modern hand-sanitizer.

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The Multifaceted Sanitizer

This sanitizer evolved into different forms and sizes. Sarah needs a small and compact bottle that can fit into her fancy bag. Peter doesn’t want to make an addition to his already overstuffed suitcase. Travel sanitizers come to their rescue.

Hotels, schools, workspaces, and all public places are breeding grounds of contagious diseases. A sanitizer is essential in those places to keep people from harmful diseases. But we don’t need people to touch the sanitizer with unclean hands that could carry harmful pathogens. Thanks to technology, we humans have invented automatic sanitizer dispensers. With the help of powerful sensors, you can purify your hands just by placing your hands before the machine. By this way, contamination by touch is avoided and healthy and clean spaces are guaranteed.

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The FluShields team hopes this article will enrich your minds and help you in your walk of life. Feel free to send us an email or leave us a positive and constructive comment here or in the original blog post. Peace and blessings.

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