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June 18, 2019

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The industrial production of soap involves continuous processes, involving continuous addition of fat and removal of product. Smaller-scale production involve the traditional batch processes. There are three variations: the cold-process, wherein the reaction takes place substantially at room temperature, the semi-boiled or hot-process, wherein the reaction takes place at near-boiling point, and the fully boiled process, wherein the reactants are boiled at least once and the glycerol recovered. The cold-process and hot-process (semi-boiled) are the simplest and typically used by small artisans and hobbyists producing handmade decorative soaps and similar. The glycerine remains in the soap and the reaction continues for many days after the soap is poured into moulds. The glycerine is left during the hot-process method, but at the high temperature employed the reaction is practically completed in the kettle, before the soap is poured into moulds. This process is simple and quick and is the one employed in small factories all over the world.

Handmade soap from the cold process also differs from industrially made soap in that an excess of fat is used, beyond that which is used to consume the alkali (in a cold-pour process this excess fat called “superfatting”), and the glycerine left in acts as a moisturizing agent. However, the glycerine also makes the soap softer and less resistant to becoming “mushy” if left wet.

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The earliest recorded evidence of the production of soap-like materials dates back to around 2800 BC in Ancient Babylon. In the reign of Nabonidus (556–539 BCE) a recipe for soap consisted of uhulu [ashes], cypress [oil] and sesame [seed oil] “for washing the stones for the servant girls”. A formula for soap consisting of water, alkali, and cassia oil was written on a Babylonian clay tablet around 2200 BC.
The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 BC) indicates that ancient Egyptians bathed regularly and combined animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to create a soap-like substance. Egyptian documents mention that a soap-like substance was used in the preparation of wool for weaving (need references).
The word sapo, Latin for soap, first appears in Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis, which discusses the manufacture of soap fromtallow and ashes, but the only use he mentions for it is as a pomade for hair; he mentions rather disapprovingly that the men of the Gauls and Germans were more likely to use it than their female counterparts. Aretaeus of Cappadocia, writing in the first century AD, observes among “Celts, which are men called Gauls, those alkaline substances that are made into balls, calledsoap”.
A popular belief encountered in some places claims that soap takes its name from a supposed Mount Sapo, where animal sacrifices were supposed to take place—tallow from these sacrifices would then have mixed with ashes from fires associated with these sacrifices and with water to produce soap. But there is no evidence of a Mount Sapo within the Roman world and no evidence for the apocryphal story.

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In chemistry, soap is a salt of a fatty acid. Soaps are mainly used as surfactants for washing, bathing, and cleaning, but they are also used in textile spinning and are important components of lubricants. Soaps for cleansing are obtained by treating vegetable or animal oils and fats with a strongly alkaline solution. Fats and oils are composed of triglycerides: three molecules of fatty acids attached to a single molecule of glycerol. The alkaline solution, often called lye, brings about a chemical reaction known as saponification. In saponification, the fats are first hydrolyzed into free fatty acids, which then combine with the alkali to form crude soap. Glycerol, often called glycerine, is liberated and is either left in or washed out and recovered as a useful by-product according to the process employed.
Soaps are key components of most lubricating greases, which are usually emulsions of calcium soap or lithium soaps and mineral oil. These calcium- and lithium-based greases are widely used. Many other metallic soaps are also useful, including those of aluminium, sodium, and mixtures of them. Such soaps are also used as thickeners to increase the viscosity of oils. In ancient times, lubricating greases were made by the addition of lime to olive oil.
When used for cleaning, soap serves as a surfactant in conjunction with water. The cleaning action of this mixture is attributed to the action of micelles, tiny spheres coated on the outside with polar hydrophilic (water loving) groups, encasing a lipophilic (fat loving) pocket that can surround the grease particles, causing them to disperse in water.

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