Contact dermatitis arising from soaps, detergents, and cleansers in the workplace was discussed. The historical development of soaps, the cleansing process, and the composition of soaps and detergents were reviewed. Contact dermatitis and soaps were discussed. The physical properties of the components of soaps and detergents may have guaranteed their potential for causing contact dermatitis. Occupational contact dermatitis due to soaps, detergents, and miscellaneous industrial cleaners almost always resulted from direct skin irritation rather than allergy. Factors that influence the irritancy of detergents have been studied in laboratory animals and included mechanical friction, cutaneous trauma, and temperature of the wash solution. Contact dermatitis from soaps and detergents was usually attributable to the detergent moiety of the responsible product. Skin irritation may occasionally be caused by using a solvent in place of a detergent solution for general cleansing purposes. Allergic contact dermatitis from soap and detergents was relatively rare. With the exception of sensitization to contaminant sulfones in lauryl ether sulfate detergents, true contact allergy to the detergent component almost never occurred. Use and misuse of soaps and detergents were discussed. Contact dermatitis usually resulted from excessive skin washing with skin cleaning products, inappropriate skin contact with products intended for industrial cleaning, or using industrial cleaners as skin cleansers. The author provides recommendations for using skin cleansers and improper practices to avoid.