The "New Tub Syndrome" Theory

New Tub Syndrome

The "New Tub Syndrome" Theory

I have a theory on why the first impressions of a new #soap, both in terms of scent and performance aren't necessarily what would be typical... I call it "New Tub Syndrome." What?

Time and again I see people both online and in brick and mortar shops giving a tub of soap a good huff - and declaring "eew." Or trying out a new soap and saying that the performance was lackluster, not what they expected or different than what others have reported. I've done this myself, and when you've acquired, tested and used as much soap as I have - you get a little wiser. So I've developed this theory on why these first uses aren't quite up to expectations. Of course, it depends highly on the actual soap, artisan, even time of year, etc. How can that be, you might ask. Consider the following conditions of a new tub of soap:

  • Curing - When artisans pour their soaps, they are generally cured for a certain amount of time. This varies between artisans and even their own soaps. In the process, water evaporates from the soap and the outer surfaces that are directly exposed to the air are dryer, harder.

  • Age & Storage - Somewhat related to curing, but on a more general level. How old is the soap and how was it stored? Those external surfaces will continue to experience dehydration (to a point) and oxidation.

  • Surface Texture - Newly poured soaps will generally have a surface texture that varies from fairly smooth to quite rough and lumpy. When new, there's more surface area - but the brush generally only contacts the outermost surfaces, in effect giving you less surface area than a broken in (smooth) soap surface.

  • Scent Compounds - The oils and other compounds that provide the scent notes for a soap can range from fairly stable to volatile. An example of volatile compounds would be citrus. You might have noticed they don't stick around long. Though generally, this only happens when exposed to moisture and agitation. Scents don't really "leave" an idle soap.

  • Scent in General - Few soaps, when sniffed in the tub, accurately represent how it will smell when actually lathered and applied to your face. Especially a new tub sitting on the shelf or one you just got in the mail. Smelling the matching aftershave would be a better indication, though even that will smell at least slightly different.

After a particular amount of time, a new tub of soap will dehydrate/cure to a certain point, after which it won't change much anymore. With regular use, hydration levels, consistency and surface area stabilize. You also "dial in" a soap, essentially know just how much loading and water to use to create a lather consistency that you prefer.

The opposite and most extreme example might be getting a new tub of soap secondhand from an artisan you have no experience with. It might not be fully cured, you have no idea the conditions under which it was stored, the outer surface is probably as dry as it'll get and likely quite lumpy. You haven't "dialed it in" yet so you're kind of winging it there.

It's just a theory, but a lot of these points do affect soaps. I don't know that it really adds up to anything quantifiable enough to be named "New Tub Syndrome" but all these variables will affect your experience to varying degrees. The moral of the story and the point I'm trying to make is don't judge a book by its cover - or more accurately, don't judge a soap by first impressions alone.

The "Soap Sample Corollary"

There's another theory, which is a bit of a corollary. Essentially that the experience you get with a soap sample - will be different than you'd get with a regular sized tub.

There's actually a good reason why this happens. Consider that you're not loading the sample like you would normally from a full-sized tub, that is, swirling your brush on a large surface area. It's either (much) smaller or you've pinched a sample into your hand or bowl.

This relates to "dialing in" a soap; it's not how you normally do things and the quantity of soap is highly variable/inconsistent. As such, the amount of water added may also be a large variable. Any time you break from your routine, such as when trying a sample, you might not get the experience you're expecting. This in turn, will affect how you judge the soap. Some vendors do not offer samples for this reason.

Another case of don't judge a soap by first impressions (samples) alone.