Soap was used for laundry and medicinal purposes in the ancient world, but it was not normally used for bathing until the late 200s A.D. Until then the Romans, like the Greeks before them, cleaned themselves by rubbing the body with oil and an abrasive, like fine sand or ground pumice. They then used a strigil, usually made of bronze, to scrape off the oil and dirt. The curved blade of the strigil fit the shape of the body and its concave form channeled away the oily sludge.
Although both men and women used strigils in the baths, they are most strongly connected with athletes. A strigil, a vase of oil, and a sponge were part of the equipment every athlete took to the gymnasium. Before working out, ancient athletes coated themselves in oil and a light dusting of powder. Because athletes exercised in the nude, this coating helped prevent sunburn and the clogging of pores with dirt. When they were done, this coating, now blended with sweat and perhaps blood, was scraped off with the strigil.