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Will Soap Under Sheets Help Your Leg Cramps?

Many readers find that a bar of fragrant soap under the bottom sheet can prevent or stop painful nighttime cramps. Will this remedy banish your leg cramps?
Will Soap Under Sheets Help Your Leg Cramps?
Pain in the foot. Massage of female feet. Sore on woman legs. Pain in the human body on a gray background. Collage of body parts of several photos. Black and white photo with red dot

Have you ever leapt out of bed in the middle of the night with a terrible pain in your calf or your hamstring? Nocturnal leg cramps can really wreck a night’s sleep. Some people are quite susceptible to them at nearly any time, while others may experience them only after vigorous or unusual exercise. There are no medications that will help most leg cramps, but home remedies can be useful. Could a silly-sounding remedy prevent your leg cramps? One reader reports it also eases insomnia.

Lavender Soap Helps Sleep:

Q. I have been reading for years about putting soap under the bottom sheet for nighttime leg cramps. Only recently I started having insomnia several nights a week and also foot and leg cramps.

A month ago I got a bar of lavender soap and put in in bed near my feet. It made my sheets smell heavenly. I have not had even one little foot or leg cramp since putting the soap there. And my insomnia is now non-existent! I wake up well- rested. I don’t know why it works, but it really does!

Why Lavender Works:

A. There is a surprising amount of research on “aroma inhalation therapy” for insomnia. A systematic literature review in the journal Medicine (March 5, 2021) reviewed 34 studies.

The authors conclude that

“Inhalation aromatherapy is effective in improving sleep problems such as insomnia.”

They note that

“Among the single inhalation methods, the lavender inhalation effect was the greatest.”

You can learn much more about the benefits and risks of lavender in our book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.

As for the effect on leg and foot cramps, keep reading!

Soap in Bed to Ease Your Leg Cramps:

Q. I am so grateful to have discovered a leg cramp cure on your website. I was very skeptical about putting soap under my sheets. But when I tried this trick, it helped!

The first time I used it, the soap worked for two or three months, and then it stopped. I decided to take a fork and score the surface. That did it! Now I do that as soon as my leg cramps come back.

Scoring the Soap:

A. We have heard from many readers that some brands of soap can prevent or stop leg and hand cramps. An anesthesiologist actually did some preliminary studies using soap and soap-scented oil on the skin (Ough, Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Sept. 1, 2008). He found that the scent itself could relieve muscular pain, even though it is not a topical analgesic.

We speculate that the soap scent is working through olfactory receptors in the skin that activate specialized nerve channels. By doing so, it may dampen the inappropriate nerve activity causing muscle cramps.

The fragrance dissipates over time. By scoring your soap, you are exposing a new layer that can release scent.

Lavender Soap Under the Sheets Relieve Your Leg Cramps:

Q. I’ve heard of soap for leg cramps before but this sounded more like an urban myth.  Lately I have been having  cramps at least several times a night. This has been going on for months. I tried potassium and calcium supplements, but they had no effect. I then tried an over-the-counter cramp medicine that didn’t work. I read that cold feet can cause cramps, so I put on socks. No good. Really hot baths and several other remedies were equally unhelpful.

I was taking Advil at night which helped a little, cutting the cramps to 2 to 3 cramps instead of 3 to 4 a night. So what the heck, I figured, I will try the soap. I opened a brand new bar of Jergens that smelled great but didn’t work. In fact I had more cramps, none of them major. I often have to get out of bed and walk and the cramp goes away pretty quickly. I then tried two bars of Jergens with no result. I then tried a bar of Olay since the scent was a lot stronger, again no result. So thought the effect people were getting was pure placebo.

The next night my wife said she bought some more soap. She bought Ivory since I had mentioned that some people use Ivory. She also had one bar that said lavender and I remembered a post that recommended it. So I tried the lavender soap. I was pretty surprised to wake up the next morning having not experienced a single cramp, and the same the next night. So for me it was not any bar of soap but one with lavender.

Lovely Lavender Soap for Your Leg Cramps:

A. We are pleased to hear that the lavender soap worked. The scent of lavender has a reputation for soothing folks into sleep, so it’s great that it also soothed your muscles.

Soap tucked under the bottom sheet, near the legs, does not work for everyone but we have heard from many readers who find this is very helpful in preventing nighttime leg cramps.

We would like to mention that our People’s Pharmacy Bed Soap was designed to be used for this home remedy, although other brands also work. It is perfectly nice soap to use in the shower, but the bar is broad and thin, so it creates less of an obstacle for the legs. It also has a  lavender aroma. That said, we trust that you will continue to get relief with lavender-scented soap from any source. If the effect starts to fade, scoring the soap should revive it.

Other Readers Share Their Experience:

Many other readers have tried this remedy, some with considerable skepticism. Here are a few of their stories. Some of them might inspire you to try a way to help your leg cramps.

Judy related:

“I, too, have leg and foot cramps when I retire for the night. I now have two bars of soap in bed with me at all times. When my foot goes into a cramp I put the bar against the bottom of my foot and within seconds the cramp is gone. I have leg pain almost nightly and put the soap bar directly on my leg for relief. No doubts here.”

Tony said:

“I found that putting a small bar inside my sock around the ankle area helps a great deal when on a long hike.”

SR wrote:

“I have used Dial soap between our sheets for years. I don’t know how it works nor why, but it does.”

Another reader noted:

“A herbalist in our neighborhood usually uses a leaf called Tuba-tuba; it’s the native name for that leaf here in the Philippines. It’s very effective for leg cramps.”

Joy is enthusiastic:

“The soap theory really does work. With severe night cramps 2 or 3 times a week, I just had to try something. A bar of lavender soap did it for me. I placed lavender soap as recommended in my bed 3 months ago and have had no cramp since, so until I find a better remedy, I’m sticking with this scented companion and ignoring the skeptics.”

Ron recommends:

“I read about lavender soap reducing the incidence of nighttime leg cramps. I used lavender oil, and out a dab of it on my upper lip when I retire for the night. I was sceptical, but qualitatively, I believe the cramps are reduced.”

Have you found that soap prevents your leg cramps at night? Or have you discovered a different remedy that helps? Tell us about it in the comment section.

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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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