The People's Perspective on Medicine

Are You Crazy to Keep Soap Under the Sheets?

Tucking a bar of soap under the sheets can help prevent leg cramps and possibly even restless legs syndrome (RLS). How does this work?
One bar white hygiene toilet soap isolated on white background

If you found a bar of soap under the sheets on your bed, you might be startled. Of course, if you’ve been reading The People’s Pharmacy, you’ll know immediately what that soap is doing there. Many people use soap in bed to prevent leg cramps. Others insist that this eases restless legs syndrome (RLS). Here is what readers have told us.

Soap Under the Bottom Sheet Prevents Leg Cramps:

Q. I have been suffering from leg and foot cramps at night for more than a year. This has gradually been getting worse and more frequent, and it was really disturbing my sleep.

About a week ago, I cut up some Ivory soap and scattered it under the bottom sheet. Since I did that, I have not had one cramp. This works!

A. Over the last 15 years we have heard from many readers that placing soap in the bed can reduce the likelihood of leg cramps. There is even some research supporting this concept (see the discussion below). 

Why Put Soap Under the Sheets?

Another reader also found that Ivory soap under the sheet was helpful for both restless legs and leg cramps.

Q. People look at me as if I am crazy when I tell them that I keep a bar of soap under the sheets. I have not had restless leg syndrome nor leg cramps during sleep for more than three years. I use Ivory, since that is what sits next to my bathroom sink.

I tell the skeptics that they are losing out by not trying it. One man, a dentist, still suffers from RLS but refuses to try it.

Soap Against Pain and Cramps:

A. Soap under the bottom sheet may not work for all cases of restless leg syndrome (RLS), but we have heard from many people who find it helpful. Although it has not been studied for RLS, the scent of Ivory soap is effective against the pain of menstrual cramps (Ough et al, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July 2008) and fibromyalgia (Ough, Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Sep. 1, 2008).

Soap and TRP Channels:

We suspect that soap fragrance works by calming hyperexcitable nerves (Behringer et al, European Journal of Applied Physiology, Aug. 2017). We have written about TRP channels and muscle cramps previously. In that case, we were describing how mustard and pickle juice activate TRP channels to release leg cramps quickly.

Various compounds used to scent soap may also trigger transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, especially TRPV1 and TRPA1. Limonene, for example, stimulates TRPA1 (Kaimoto et al, European Journal of Pain, Aug. 2016).

So far, we are only offering this explanation as an hypothesis. We haven’t seen any research to test it. But ever since the beginning of the 21st century, scientists have uncovered increasing roles for TRP channels. In fact, a group of researchers wrote about a father/son duo with an unusual syndrome including restless legs among other symptoms. Both these individuals had a variant genes coding for TRPA1 (Clinical Genetics, Jan. 2018). Of course, this rare variant is not the usual cause of RLS, but the finding does suggest that TRPA1 may be involved.

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    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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    Citations
    • Ough YD et al, "Soap-scented skin patch for menstrual cramps: a case series." Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July 2008. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2007.0819
    • Ough YD, "Soap-scented oil skin patch in the treatment of fibromyalgia: A case series." Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Sep. 1, 2008.
    • Behringer M et al, "Effects of TRPV1 and TRPA1 activators on the cramp threshold frequency: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial." European Journal of Applied Physiology, Aug. 2017. DOI: 10.1007/s00421-017-3653-6
    • Kaimoto T et al, "Involvement of transient receptor potential A1 channel in algesic and analgesic actions of the organic compound limonene." European Journal of Pain, Aug. 2016. DOI: 10.1002/ejp.840
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    I have been using a bar of soap between the mattress cover and bottom sheet for many years. It does help my RLS and muscle spasms (cramps), which were literally making me to want to kill myself when they happened. I had heard that lavender soap is the way to go, which has really helped me these past 4-5 years. When traveling, I pack a small bar of soap to put in my hotel bed, but I remove it in the morning so the housekeeping people won’t remove it from the bed. Thank you for all the comments and suggestions. I think I’ve tried every one of them. I don’t think I will ever be free of nighttime muscle spasms in my legs and feet, but they are certainly happening less frequently.

    I used the remedy at home and it worked, but the soap kept slipping off the end of the bed. While traveling, I put a small hotel soap into each of my socks (in the top of my foot), and it worked! Now I keep my “soap socks’ beside the bed in case I need them. And won’t leave home without them!

    Soap under the sheets didn’t help my husband’s leg cramps, but I have recently been reminded of this remedy, and have successfully used it to soothe my restless legs. It works most nights. If I’m having too many or severe hot flashes causing me to kick off the sheets, then of course it doesn’t work. I don’t use any name brand soap, just one I happened to have on hand.

    It works for me.

    It doesn’t work just for preventing leg cramps. For the first time in my life I had a horrible leg cramp while in my bed one morning. The pain was severe. I couldn’t even stand on it, as my foot was curled upward, and I couldn’t move it at all. I hobbled to the bathroom and got a bar of soap. I held the soap against the cramped area, and within two minutes the cramp was gone. I had remembered the previous articles on this subject.

    A few days later I had another painful cramp in my foot. I slid a bar of soap into my sock, and again got relief within a couple of minutes. On the third instance, I just held the soap against the cramp area, with similar results. Just any soap seems to work.

    I’ve had leg pain (right only) for 10 yrs. I’ve been using Ivory soap for 2 wks. & my pain is 90% GONE !!! My question is: How long to use the same bar of soap under the sheets…When is a fresh bar advisable?

    Soap under the sheets works for me. No more leg cramps. I use a potato peeler and get fresh edges once a month. I use ivory.

    I used to laugh at my mother for using soap under her sheets. But when I started to have leg cramps as well, I sheepishly placed a bar of soap under my sheets, near my lower legs. Sure enough, it works.

    After reading all these testimonies from people that have had good luck with their restless legs with a bar of soap, I’m about to try it out tonight. I can’t wait to see if it helps me. My legs nearly drive me crazy some nights.

    I’m definitely going to try this.

    The other night in a hotel I got a severe foot cramp, and after rubbing and walking around, I grabbed the bar of soap from the soap dish and rubbed in on the sole of my foot. The cramp disappeared. Perhaps a coincidence, but I think it was the soap.

    I have a bar of soap under my sheet at home, and it has all but eliminated my leg cramps.

    Olfactory receptors exists in many parts of the body other than the nose. One of these is the skin. This may play a part in the phenomenon discussed here. http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/46833/title/Odor–Taste–and-Light-Receptors-in-Unusual-Locations/

    Where do you place the soap? Touching your legs or just near them?

    So why not just use these soaps in the wash and skip the bar of soap under the sheets, which my dog might be happy to eat?

    Bob K Tampa Fl

    My wife suggested to me (SS=Soap in the sheets) and I didn’t believe. It works on my aching legs
    legs like MAGIC!

    I have been using soaps under sheets for 15+ years. The only time it stopped working was when the soaps slid off the end of the bed.
    I use Ivory, still in the wrapper, but my favorite is original green Irish Spring.
    I still think that restless leg syndrome may have something to do with nerve electrical impulses building up and then discharging onto the soap, which carries a positive charge, with magnesium and calcium being positive.

    I’ve been “sleeping with soap” for about 8 months and it really works to calm my restless legs!

    My son had “severe” leg, foot, & hand cramps : related to his liver disease, which is a common ailment for liver disease. He started using IRISH SPRING soap in each long sock so it was by his calf. Immediatly he had complete relief. He replaces the soap about once a month as the power of the soap begins to fade by then. Very cheap and very effective. BELIEVE IT.

    I always like your column. I have read you for many years. You give good advice. Thank you. I take cod liver oil each morning. I had foot and leg cramps at night. I finally narrowed it down to my shoes with an arch that was too high. I got rid of the shoes and the cramps went.

    Did It For 4-5 Months And No Charlie Horse. Forgot To Put It Back In And Cramps Came Back. Amazing How It Works

    I have terrible leg cramps now. It started about a year ago. I tried Yardley English lavender soap under the sheet. it did absolutely nothing for me.

    I tried the soap, not sure it worked as I was reading up on magnesium and have lost the
    restless leg symptom since I added that over the counter vitamin.

    I have a terrible time with restless legs while flying long distances. I recently had an overnight flight from the west coast (US) to London, and it was awful. I makes me be hesitant to travel, and I’d like to travel!! Has anyone had this problem and used any of the above to solve your RLS? TIA!!

    Linda,

    An acquaintance told us several years ago that she suffered exactly the same problem. Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is horrific, especially on long airplane flights. She remembered the soap stories and decided to try putting soap chips in her socks during her next long flight. The soap trick worked like a charm.

    After hearing this story we developed “Leg Soap.” Our soap manufacturer came up with a way to create small chips of soap especially for socks. They can be used during the day, on trips, or at night while lying in bed. Here is a link to Leg Soap:

    https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/store/body-care/peoples-pharmacy-leg-soap/

    I have been plagued by leg and foot cramps for my whole life. Recently I found that drinking two large glasses of water totally resolves the pain. Dehydration has caused my cramps for all these years. Try water!

    After reading this article a few weeks ago, I decided to try it for my intense restless leg syndrome. Well, I can honestly say my legs have calmed down quite a bit! Definitely worth trying. Any relief is major. Thanks for posting!

    I had terrible leg cramps and tried your soap on my bed. I have experienced a marked decrease from n the frequency and severity of my legs cramping.

    Absolutely soap between the sheets close to your legs at night works to stop leg cramps and twitches that often keep us up. I heard about it from a friend and have passed this info along to dozens of others who are all happily sleeping with a bar of soap. The brand does not seem to matter. And amazingly, I used it for a year and after that, now, I have no more cramps and don’t even need it.

    I must say it does work for me. I have zero need to delve into why. It just does and who cares why.

    It just takes the cramps away. Now there are no more midnight cramps that in some cases would take 1/2 hour to an hour to go away. Plus the lingering soreness for days walking around with a baseball under your skin. That is all gone. I just sleep now. It’s been a life changer .

    I’ve used various kinds of bar soap under my sheets and it most definitely stopped my morning leg cramps. I change the soap about 3-4 x a year. I felt silly doing it the first time, but with nothing to lose but pain, I went ahead and placed a used bar of soap in a sock near the foot of my bed and forgot about it. One day I realized: No more muscles seizing up in the morning!

    I USE IT AND I DON’T HAVE PROBLEMS WITH MY RLS ANYMORE. ALL I CAN SAY IS (IT WORKS).

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