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Carbolic Soap

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Carbolic Soap

Postby drmoss_ca » Sun May 04, 2014 2:37 pm

I'm sure many of the older members here have memories of carbolic soap - either pleasant or perhaps the opposite. My maternal grandmother saw fit to wash my mouth out with it in Crewe in 1963; I don't recall what I said to deserve it, and being only five at the time I doubt I knew any truly bad words. No doubt she was right as she seemed to be a generally decent sort. I next encountered the characteristic smell of carbolic in the national school built in the 1880's in my Wiltshire village, where there was a room for the administration of vaccines which absolutely reeked of the stuff before the public health doctor paid us a visit. Otherwise it smelled of boiled cabbage and potatoes from the school dinners that were served there. I distinctly recall a sugar lump with a pink drop of oral polio vaccine being given to me there, and my relief that it wasn't another needle.

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Yes, that was the actual school. Now demolished so that a trashy executive home might sit upon its hallowed ground.

Anyway, up to the present. It's an open secret that most hospital workers are carrying methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and rather hilarious that our masters decline to test us for it - how would they cope with most of the staff being placed on sick leave until they are clear of the bug? There doesn't seem to be any effective way of ridding oneself of the critter, despite regimes of antibiotic ointment up the nose and bactericidal baths. I'm sure I am a carrier, and I'm equally sure you don't want to know the gory details behind that. So I decided to try to, at least, reduce the number of staph on my skin with some good old carbolic soap. My bathroom currently reeks of the stuff and I don't mind it doing so. Carbolic acid isn't quite an acid in the usual sense in organic chemistry, where acids are generally a carbon chain joined to a -COOH or carboxylic acid group. Oddly, it looks like an alcohol, where the group on the end is an -OH. In this case it is a six carbon benzene ring with an -OH joined on to one carbon. It's better known as phenol and some of you might spray it onto your sore throats under the name of Chloraseptic. Anyway, the soap from this maker is strongly scented and not unpleasant to use.

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But why is carbolic soap always red? In my childhood it was a kind of puce colour, and it's still red. Why? In a few months I'll be able to say if it seems to work or not. I wouldn't recommend anyone to rush out and buy any of it unless there are Proustian reasons for doing so.

Chris
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby GA Russell » Sun May 04, 2014 4:19 pm

Apropos, on the eighth of last month I bought the Kindle edition of all seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time for $2.51 total.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00E5K ... s-os-doi_0
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby rsp1202 » Sun May 04, 2014 4:59 pm

drmoss_ca wrote:. . . I distinctly recall a sugar lump with a pink drop of oral polio vaccine being given to me there, and my relief that it wasn't another needle.

I sure do remember that tasty sugar cube. And like most of my generation, also carry the distinctive vaccine scar on upper left arm. So as much as I detest tattoos, I've got one of my own.

drmoss_ca wrote:. . . It's an open secret that most hospital workers are carrying . . . MRSA . . . I'm sure I am a carrier . . .

Doesn't scare me, Chris. You've still invited over for cocktails here at Green Acres.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby bernards66 » Sun May 04, 2014 9:28 pm

Umm...yes....interesting. Isn't one of the online sources for Michell's called the 'Carbolic Soap Company'? I'm not sure that I have ever had any contact with it. Probably, as I seem to be ten years older than you so I imagine somewhere in my childhood even if carbolic soaps seems to have been more widely used in England than in America during that time. Anyway, I'll be interested to hear how your experiment with it turns out...who knows?...might very well work.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby lanolite » Sun May 04, 2014 10:02 pm

Anyone who remembers Lysol in the brown bottle will recognize the carbolic - phenol smell, although I believe Lysol no longer has phenol.

Lifebuoy advertised it would prevent "BO" and it smelled strongly of carbolic, too. Apparently it is still made in some countries; at least the Vermont Country Store was selling it for a time.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby jww » Mon May 05, 2014 6:27 am

Got threatened with it once as a child to have to use in the bath or shower if I didn't keep myself "clean" to my grandmother's standard. I learned to scrub myself clean daily to avoid the peril of the carbolic.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby malocchio » Mon May 05, 2014 10:23 am

If I remember my old school lessons from half a century ago,Lister was the first to disinfect hospital rooms,and he used a hand pump to spray carbolic acid throughout the entire room.I think maybe we should go back to that system.Two years ago I was close to dead with blood poisoning,but I got lucky and a top notch Doctor saved me.After 6 days in the hospital I had 5 different staph infections in different places,including the inner ear.One of those staphs was resistant to almost everything,it was a close call.I noticed the nurses would wash and change gloves every time they entered my room.I believe the staph is airborn due to the lack of an all inclusive room disinfecting,including air/heat vents,the carbolic spray would solve the problem.....In my travels throughout the Caribbean and Africa ,carbolic soaps are still plentiful and the most popular....As you can see at the bottom of the Lifebuoy photo it looks like EU countries are now banned from it's inclusion into the formula...
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby Squire » Tue May 06, 2014 3:47 pm

I can't read this thread without thinking about that famous old case familiar to every first year law student studying Contracts, Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Bomb Company.

It's worth looking up.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby malocchio » Tue May 06, 2014 4:36 pm

Squire...I really enjoyed this !!...Thanks for the great trivia ,I'm still laughing !
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby Rufus » Thu May 08, 2014 2:45 pm

At boarding school in Southern Rhodesia (1961-1966) the only soap we were given, or allowed to use, was the red Lifebouy carbolic soap. As weird as this may sound, I grew quite fond of its smell; probably a case of if you can't beat them, join them.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby Ouchmychin » Wed May 14, 2014 12:17 am

For old timers who remember before WWII, the US soap that reeked of carbolic was Lifeboy. Most hospitals did too. Users of Lifeboy did too. I remember my cousin in the navy during the war came for a visit and I could sure tell what govt. issued soap was. No one uses carbolic acid now because during my college days in the 50's it was found to be a severe carcinogen, primarily liver cancer It affected nurses in hospitals at a rate that led to that discovery. It was one of the classic tales we were told in chemistry class. Also there was a cancer epidemic that was found in bootblacks because almost all shoe polish contained nitrobenzene. Those cases led to the current testing programs for carcinogenicity and MSDS sheets.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby brothers » Wed May 14, 2014 5:00 am

Pete, that's very interesting information. Seems as though most of the substances and items we tend to use or that we remember fondly have a sometimes checkered past. And time makes us lose our sense of context, and as a society some important things just seem to be forgotten.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby Ouchmychin » Wed May 14, 2014 12:01 pm

Yes, we tend to recall the past fondly. Everything my mom cooked tasted better than I can experience now. Likewise, I grew up in San Francisco when every market or bakery was run by an immigrant from a particular country: Italians were fish mongers; Germans were butchers; Japanese sold produce; and Jews ran delicatessens. Every one of them was superior to the supermarkets of today. Nothing was plastic wrapped. Bakery bread was in waxed paper and the good bread was just in a paper sack. No baker today can really make the old San Francisco sour dough French bread.
But still there were many products that worked but had bad side effects. I recall reading an early Consumer Report (different name then) expose about a women's douche that was really chlorine bleach diluted 1/100. It really must have been effective.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby Janus » Thu Jun 26, 2014 1:11 pm

I used to own a bunch of old finnish 'Suomen Kuvalehti' magazines from 1918 to 1938 and I recall (lost the box they were stored in in a housemove long ago) there being ads for radioactive bandages or dressings which were supposedly good for aching joints and muscles, rheumatism in general.
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Re: Carbolic Soap

Postby bernards66 » Sat Jun 28, 2014 4:12 pm

Pete jogged my memory. When I was little my father showered with Lifebuoy and so, apparently, I did have some contact with a carbolic soap. It certainly did have an...a....distinctive fragrance as I remember it. This was in the first half of the 1950s.
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