The Mishna on today’s daf mentions in passing that when one of the Temple vessels develops a hole, it is not fixed, rather it is replaced. A baraita brought by the Gemara expands on this theme, teaching that when a knife that was used for slaughtering sacrifices became nicked it was replaced, rather than sharpened, and if it became loose from its handle, that also would not be repaired.
What about priestly clothing that became dirty? A second baraita is brought that teaches that the uniforms worn by the priests in the Temple were woven rather than sewn and that when they became dirty they were not washed with cleansing agents like netter or ahal. This statement is clarified by Abaye who explains that if the uniform became lightly stained so that water would clean it, then netter or ahal could be used; if, however, cleansing agents were needed, then it could not be washed at all. Others rule that these uniforms were never washed, they were always replaced since ein aniyut bimkom ashirut – because there is no poverty in a place of wealth, i.e. in the Temple, a place of wealth, activities appropriate for the poor were not practiced.
It appears that netter (natron) is Sodium Carbonate (Co2Na2). Sodium is found naturally in desert areas, but in the ancient world it was often extracted from the ash of algae. It dissolves easily in water, and the mixture creates a strong base reaction due to hydrolysis, causing fat to break up. For this reason it was commonly used as a cleansing agent beginning in biblical times.
There are several plants in Israel that are called ahal (soap). One of them – ahal ha-gevishim (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum L.) – is an annual plant that grows among rocks and on walls that face the sea. This plant contains large amounts of soda, which was used for bathing and washing clothing.