Ordinary bar soap can be extremely difficult to control when wet, and picking up a dropped soap bar could have dire consequences. A bather could also slip and fall after stepping on a loose bar of soap, or the soap could become contaminated with other materials. One popular solution to this problem is known as soap on a rope.
Soap on a rope consists of a bar of molded glycerin soap attached securely to a loop of rope through a preformed hole. The user is supposed to place the rope loop over his or her wrist to prevent the soap bar itself from falling to the floor. The soap may still slip out of the bather's hand, but at least it's not going anywhere else.
This type of soap does serve a legitimate purpose for bathers who tend to lose ordinary bars or lack the physical ability to bend over in the shower to retrieve a lost bar. However, many people buy the product as more of a novelty item than an actual bath aid. Soap on a rope is a popular gift for men because of its association with a prison cautionary tale more than anything else.
This dubious warning to men concerns the communal showers found in prisons and the sadistic behavior of certain inmates who use them. New arrivals to the prison are said to be prime targets for sexual assaults, especially if they should happen to bend over in the shower to retrieve a dropped bar of soap. The best way to thwart this sort of assault, according to the urban legend, was to always use soap on a rope while showering in prison.
Because of this apocryphal tale, many men and women treat the novelty soap on a rope available in gift stores as the ultimate gag gift for other men. While some may actually use the soap for bathing, many recipients keep the soap on display as a joke or conversation piece. Some novelty companies enhance the joke through graphics and copy on the packaging which plays up the "prison shower" angle.
Not all soap on a rope products are sold as novelties, however. Several cosmetics and beauty aid companies do offer it for customers who want the convenience and safety of a more secure soap bar. The soap itself may be formed into different novelty shapes such as dog bones, flowers or hearts, but the intended use is for personal hygiene, not a novelty gift. It may be difficult to retrofit a standard bar of soap to accept a rope, so the manufacturers design their products with an appropriate opening.
Soap on a rope may seem to be more of a novelty item than an actual bathing aid, but it does hold some appeal for elderly bathers and those with physical limitations that make bending difficult.