Marseille Soap, soap in bed

If you suffer from leg cramps that wake you up at night, you’ve no doubt sought some way to prevent them. Some people have been advised to take minerals such as magnesium or potassium to ward off leg cramps, and that may help. Others advocate stretching the calf muscles before retiring, and there is no harm in that. We also hear from many readers that a seemingly silly remedy works: a bar of soap in bed to keep leg cramps at bay.

How Do You Use Soap in Bed?

Q. I read your article about preventing leg cramps with a bar of soap under your bottom sheet. I am a cyclist and often suffer from leg cramps in bed.

I would like to know the specifics of the possible soap solution. Do you just slide a new bar of soap under your bottom sheet? Does it matter what type of soap?

A. What we hear from readers is that a wide range of soaps will work for this remedy. Apparently, French grandmothers have advocated this approach for decades if not longer.

To try it, unwrap a bar of soap. We think some sort of scent in the soap is essential for this remedy to work. Place the bar under your bottom sheet near where your legs will rest. When it stops working, either replace it or score the surface to help it continue to release scent.

Why Does Soap in Bed Help?

Limonene:

Limonene is a common component of some of the oils that are used to provide fragrance in soap. Studies show that it has “spasmolytic” activity–inhibiting muscle spasms–though this has been demonstrated mostly in smooth muscle like the airways and blood vessels of experimental animals (de Sousa et al, Natural Product Communications, Nov. 2015).  We suspect that people vary somewhat in their response, as many readers report benefit but some say soap in bed does not help them.

Glycerin:

Another reader experimented with glycerin, a common soap ingredient.

Q. I was troubled with severe leg cramps an hour or two after going to bed on the days when I’d exercised on the rowing machine. Then I read that people get relief by placing a bar of soap under the under the bed sheet near the legs. It worked, but the effectiveness of the soap seemed to diminish over time.

I wondered what might disappear from an ordinary soap bar. The one ingredient I could think of was glycerin. So I bought a bottle of it at the drugstore and tried rubbing some on the skin over my leg muscles, much like applying a moisturizing lotion. I found this eliminated cramping.

I even experimented by leaving one leg untreated; ouch, it cramped! Glycerin has been working for me about a year now. Perhaps others might find it as effective and more convenient than positioning soap bars in bed.

A. We appreciate home experimenters but we doubt glycerin would evaporate from your soap. Fragrance does dissipate and might explain why soap loses its cramp-relieving effects over time.

We have no idea how or why your approach would work, but glycerin is often used in skin care products and should not be harmful. Perhaps other readers will repeat your experiment and let us know how well glycerin works to prevent post-exercise muscle cramps.

Many other readers have described their experience with soap in bed.

Joy reported:

“I am an RN who travels from city to city by car. For years I suffered horrible leg and feet cramps after lengthy drives. I heard about the soap regimen and I tried it. To my surprise, it has been over two weeks and I have not had one nocturnal cramp! My cramps were very frequent and it was not uncommon to get 3 or 4 at the same time — feet, toes, and calves — but as mentioned, I have not had one since my first night! And, my cramps were so severe that my toes would actually fan out and would not bend! I don’t know what ingredient is in the soap that causes this success, but personally, I don’t care because it works!”

Brian M. weighed in:

“As a university professor of life science, and a chemist, I have followed this soap discussion for some time with interest. I also suffer from restless legs, and find soap under the bottom sheet helps, but it needs to be a fairly fresh piece.

“A couple of points:

“-Commercial soaps are pretty complex in composition. some of the ingredients are from biological sources, and though purified, still are quite complex and varying from lot to lot. So it is going to hard to point o one ingredient or another and say “that’s it!” Also, it may very well be a combination of ingredients.

“-Possible effects of interest included fragrance (see below), but also perhaps some capacity to reduce static charge on fabrics.

“-If it is a fragrance which works, why wouldn’t soap on the night stand work best? Or does the odor (or other volatile substance) need to be concentrated beneath the sheets? does the “active ingredient” have to be smelled, or come into contact with the skin or the legs? Maybe someone should put a bar of soap in a heavy-duty zip lock bag and try inhaling the fumes given off after a few hours. Or put it in the bedside drawer and open it at bed time?

“-Fragrance can have powerful effects on people (obviously!). I think it was a study at the Monell Institute in PA which showed that prompt exposure to certain smells could abort panic attacks. The most effect substance? Baby powder.

“-Finally, why not dump part of a bar of fragrant soap in the rinse water when washing sheets? Changing to detergents years ago changed clothes washing, because soaps have a natural softening effect on cloth. Maybe wash the sheets (and pajamas) in a soap and see how it works?

“Lots to ponder and experiment with here!”

We haven’t seen any such experiments published, but hope some readers will try one or more.

One reader was quite skeptical until trying soap in bed:

“I don’t believe in hocus pocus but I was desperate. I had horrible leg cramps so I tried a bar of Irish Spring under the covers by my calves. To my disbelief, it works. No more cramps. When cramps start to threaten again, I replace soap with a new bar.”

Learn More:

You can learn more about natural remedies for muscle cramps in our Guide to Leg Pain. Anyone who would like a printed copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (71 cents), self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. RLS-5, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

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  1. gary
    Costa Rica
    Reply

    Soap does work for restless leg syndrome. IMO it is not as effective for cramps. What does help cramps is magnesium and potassium. What works amazingly well for severe cramps is a topical treatment with lidocaine or equivalent in it. Got mine at big-name pharmacies.

    I pulled my hamstring, running, at age 20. Since then it has returned as a balled up muscle at many times, triggered by simply bending my knee back and BAM@!! Serious pain. After golf I was at a friend’s enjoying a drink with others when my hamstring cramped again. It looked like a ball of muscle sticking out the back of my thigh. I had been sitting and rose to stand to try and work out the pain. My friend got some topical medicine, and sprayed it on my muscle cramp. Amazingly, within 5 -9 seconds, it was completely gone! I highly recommend this application.

  2. Mike
    Maple Valley, WA
    Reply

    I have had great success with magnesium oil. It comes in a spray bottle and a few sprays on the areas that tend to cramp. Magnesium is a muscle relaxer in addition to the other multitude of things it does for our bodies. Try searching “magnesium oil” on amazon.com. Hundreds of reviews.

  3. Mary Ellen
    Garner NC
    Reply

    I am rather tall and found that I would end up kicking the bar of soap to the foot of the and over the edge, so it was against the height of the mattress. It didn’t seem to do much good from that position. I have found that keeping it under the pillow and just holding it in my hand during a cramp works just as well! I don’t head it off at the pass, so to speak, but it dissipates almost immediately.

  4. Sjdcc
    Reply

    Yes, the soap works for me too. When the soap stops working, I use a potato peeler to refresh the surface.

  5. Hey Jude
    Orlando, FL
    Reply

    I’ve used soap under my sheets for a long time and it works to eliminate my leg cramps.

    But, I don’t use a bar of soap. Instead, I save all of the slivers of soap bars after showering instead of throwing them out. I place a dozen or more under my sheet, spread out so both my legs are on top of soap.

    This is a whole lot more comfortable than a one inch bar of soap; no lumpy, chunky bar, but smooth, thin slivers!!!

  6. Lilian
    ENGLAND
    Reply

    I’m immensely interested in “zany” possible remedies and not for one moment did I think that soap under the bottom bed sheet would work. Still, I could not wait to try it – although I tried 4 bars not 1 – just for luck! To my utter amazement it has worked for me. How on earth people discover these remedies would be just as interesting as trying them out. Bless them for their help.

  7. Mary
    Chattanooga
    Reply

    I tried it one time with Ivory soap. That didn’t work for me. Now I use Dove soap and put 2 bars under the bottom sheet and cramps are pretty much gone.

  8. Robin
    Reply

    I too use a bar of soap for leg cramps. But putting it under the sheet drove me crazy. I kept hitting it with my legs during the night and waking myself up. So then I started putting the bar of soap in my pj pockets and it worked. But for it to work the best I put it in my sports bra in the front. Where it touches my skin. Sometimes if the cramps are really bad I put in a second bar also. And I find it works just as well if it’s still wrapped up in paper, like ivory soap.

  9. gus
    TX
    Reply

    I am an older man.Ii have slept with my socks on for many years. Also years ago I discovered that if I put thin old bars of shower soap down the sides of my ankles/socks it almost entirely eliminates cramps. On those few occassions when it doesn’t I limp out to the kitchen and get a tablespoon of dill pickle relish.

  10. Robert
    Texas
    Reply

    I put a bar of soap in an old sock with a hole worn in the heel. I put it in the bed by my legs. I have to find it every now and then and put it back low in the bed but it works great.

  11. Beverly
    St. James
    Reply

    Mint leaves on a napkin keeps spiders away. Do not wash the leaves. Even if they turn brown. Break the stems in half. You can keep them on the stove or on a counter top.

  12. NovBoy
    Massachusets
    Reply

    Is there experience to report on soap bar in bed providing relief for PLMD, periodic limb motion disorder? This is related to RLS but only is bothersome while asleep.

  13. Sharon
    Texas
    Reply

    Interesting….I am a Licensed Massage Therapist (21 years) and have used pure grade therapeutic essential oils in my massages from the beginning. They are NATURAL scents and exert a calming effect on body, mind and spirit. They have been proven to work for many years.

    So to me, there is no mystery about this with the scented soaps, but not totally sure WHY the unscented ones would work. And they would not even be as high quality as what I use to relax people’s muscles. My thoughts are that the SCENT alone might relax people’s muscles and brain….again, I have no real answer for the WHY of the plain soap stopping leg cramps.

    But BOTTOM LINE, if anything as simple as a bar of soap can stop ANY kind of cramps or pain, then don’t worry about the WHY, and just be thankful that something safer than prescription drugs can help alleviate pain!

  14. Pat
    Teas
    Reply

    I wear soft socks to bed to keep my feet warm. I’ve been having leg cramps, and dill pickle juice & mustard give quick relief; but we were traveling, and I developed terrible leg cramps and had no juice or mustard so I took a small bar of soap in motel & placed in my sock and no more cramps. It doesn’t make sense to me but it continues to work – no more leg/foot cramps.

  15. Zulema
    Beaverton, OR
    Reply

    Over the years I’ve tried many different brands of soap under my bedsheet and have found all of the ones I’ve tried (common commercial brands, with or without fragrance) have worked. I’ve also found that whenever the soap becomes less effective, all I have to do is scratch it with my fingernail, which seems to “refresh” the anti-spasm effects. An even better positive result I’ve noticed is that soap works on different types of spasms.

    For example, I often experience “laryngospasm”, in which my larynx seizes up, preventing me from breathing. The spasm will, on its own, release in about 2 minutes; but soap releases a larynx spasm in 2 seconds! Because of this, I ALWAYS wear a small piece of soap, which I’ve sewed into a pouch I made from netting (tulle) and stitched onto an 18” silver chain, so the soap hangs inside my clothing — whenever I feel a laryngospasm starting, I simply pull up the chain and rest the piece of soap on the base of my throat. It works every single time.

  16. Gwen R.
    Oceanside, Ca. 92058
    Reply

    I was told by a Physical Therapist about the soap remedy for leg cramps about 4 years ago. I have been using it since and rarely have leg cramps. I do have restless legs from time to time especially when I have been exercising. My family Dr. told me to drink 4-6 ounces of Tonic water every day, and it works wonders. No more restless legs or leg cramps.

  17. diane d.
    Door County, Wi.
    Reply

    I thought the soap info was mumbo jumbo until, due to severe calf cramps at night, I thought “Why not try the soap.” Well, let me tell you, it is a remarkable way to end the problem of leg cramps! I use any soap that has a strong fragrance but I put it under my pillow. When a cramp starts I immediately inhale the soap and within (I’ve timed it many times) one minute the pain subsides! Have no idea why it works and really don’t care how, just that for me it does work wonderfully. Hope this helps someone else.

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