2017 was the year slime took over Instagram. Gooey videos dominated the Explore page, slime-specific accounts racked up millions of followers, and enterprising teens who began mixing their own slime concoctions began raking in big bucks.
But every viral trend must eventually fade and, as slime becomes ubiquitous, a new contender has emerged: soap.
“I definitely think that soap is the new slime,” said Amanda, a 15-year-old in North Carolina who runs a popular “soapstagram” account called @Soap.Repost. “People have seen a lot of slime and they want something new, something different. You probably wouldn’t think of soap but that’s what people are liking more and more now.”
Soap videos are similar to slime. They’re both incredibly soothing and satisfying to watch. Many produce ASMR-type sensations.
The vast majority of soap videos consist of soap carving, but some feature soap being melted, dissolved, soapy sponges bring wrung out, or iridescent soapy water being cut with a knife.
Like slime, the videos are all bright, minimalistic, and silent except for the sounds of the product.
Most videos focus on a single bar of soap. Only a person’s hands are shown as they slowly dissect each bar with a knife or razor blade. The camera focuses on the soap and holds tight, never wavering from the repetitive action on screen.
I first came across soap carving videos, like many users, via Instagram’s Explore page. I soon discovered that soap was mentioned in the comment section of several popular slime accounts.
Like any bizarre Instagram trend, clicking into or following one account often sends you down a rabbit hole of similar content. Before I knew it, videos from @asmr_soap_princess, a soapstagram account with nearly 400,000 followers, dominated my feed.
Kaelin Brady, a 27-year-old in Maryland, experienced a similar phenomenon.
She stumbled onto soap carving late last year, when the soap community was still nascent.
“I saw a lot of slime accounts on my personal Instagram and I went to search one day and instead saw a soap video as a suggested video. It just grasped me,” Brady said. “Once I saw one, I couldn’t stop watching them.”
After consuming a few soap videos, Brady ran to her medicine cabinet to see if she had any old soap bars of her own lying around. She did, and made a few videos. The videos performed better than she expected, and her soapstagram account @SoapyDopey416 was born.
“I just kept going,” Brady said. “I kept buying more soap. Got a better knife. Fixed my bathroom.”
Brady estimates that she’s spent at least a couple hundred dollars on her habit so far. But it’s easy to spend triple that amount, she said, depending on what type of rare and colorful soaps soapstagrammers are looking to slice and dice.
One thing many soap-focused Instagrammers stress is that they are not wasting the soap they’re destroying. Almost all use the soap shavings to reconstitute new bars or create body wash.
Brady said she believes the soap movement is closely tied with the trend toward more self care. Buying rare and fancy soap, even to just cut it up and reform it, can feel like a healthy indulgence.
“There’s a meta aestheticization of the means of self care,” a friend recently said about the trend, “which is very The Internet, to start focusing on the method rather than the outcome, then sidelining the latter and turning into pure surface.”
Amanda said that for her and other teens, soap videos are a helpful and healthy way to deal with the everyday stress of teenage life.
“I think people watch soap carving to de-stress from homework or exams,” she said. “It helps you get your mind off things. Thinking about school, everything you have to do and deal with, it’s overwhelming. Having something new that’s soothing to look at on Instagram helps that.”
Milly, an 18-year-old in Russia who started her account @drysoapasmr last year said that producing soap videos is as relaxing as consuming them.
“I usually cut soap on Instagram before exams,” she said. “Cutting soap or crunching dry pieces of soap actually helps me to relieve stress and reduce anxiety before an important event. Many of my followers say that they watch my videos right before going to bed. It helps them sleep. So people who suffer from insomnia can try listening to pleasant sounds to fall asleep.”
Taylor Cohen, a digital strategist in New York, believes calming soap videos can serve as a counterbalance to social media, which she said “can be super negative these days.”
“Our feeds are filled with everything from pressure to look the coolest, be in the best relationship, and even have an opinion on politics,” said Cohen. “We know that millennials are one of the first generations to be open about anxiety and depression, specifically on social media, and I see these soap videos are a way to escape—in an aesthetically pleasing way.”
Fans of soap accounts on Instagram say what appeals to them most is the combination of repetitive sounds and video. For many, this combo produces a type of sensation known as ASMR.
ASMR or autonomous sensory meridian response describes the tingling-like sensation that runs down a viewer’s neck and upper spine when they hear certain sounds such as slurping, crunching, or shaving. They’re the same kind of feelings slime play or soap carving can produce.
Michelle, who runs an account called @asmrjunky that posts a variety of ASMR-stimulating videos, said that she thinks soap’s biggest draw, like slime, is that it’s soothing to both those who do and don’t experience ASMR.
“There’s a fine line between ASMR and just satisfying videos. Soap carving does both, it can be satisfying and ASMR,” said Michelle, who makes soap videos of her own.
Michelle said that she started her Instagram account to raise awareness of how therapeutic ASMR videos can be for people who are experiencing stress or trauma even related to everyday life.
“I want people to know that if you have anxiety, depression, et cetera, there is a thing you can do to help yourself,” she said. “I have a stressful job. I’m a single mom and I go home at night and squeeze sponges and soapy water and put them on Instagram.”
As soap begins to catch on, many Instagrammers are placing their bets on the emerging medium, hoping to capitalize on what they see as a growing trend.
“The slime community started small at first, too, but I think soap will go places,” said Brady. “I feel like it’s just in the beginning phase, like where slime was a year and a half ago. I’m sure people will come up with new ideas. I think we’ll see a whole lot more of it. I’ve gotten 3,000 followers in three months. I thought when I started, maybe I’ll get 30 followers.”
One big advantage soap has over slime is that it’s easy to acquire.
Producing unique slime requires several frequently toxic cleaning products or glues. It can take hours to get the right mix and, if things go wrong, your hands and bowls will be covered with sticky glue.
“Soap [Instagramming] definitely requires a lot less effort,” Brady said.
But Michelle said the supplies required for a successful soap video could still hinder the trend. She said the most soothing and smooth soap carving videos require using sharp knives or a razor blade, things that most teenagers don’t readily keep in their rooms.
“As a parent, if I walked into a kid’s room and they had a bunch of razor blades, I’d probably be like, ‘What are you doing?’” she said.
Acquiring rare and colorful soap is also important if you want your videos to resonate. Many of the most popular soapstagram accounts are based in Russia, where unique and exotic bar and glycerin-based soap is more readily available.
“Fancy bar soap is really popular in Europe,” said Michelle. “Here in the U.S., we’re very into body washes. In Russia all the colors and styles they have of bars of soap are unbelievable. Here in America we have like, Dial.”
“Soap bars are more popular here. We have a big variety of them,” said Milly. “Many people here use bar soap to wash their clothes. Some even use it to do the dishes or clean their houses. Liquid soap is not as popular as soap bars here.”
Unlike some of the biggest slime accounts, soapstagrammers have yet to monetize. Cohen said that perhaps the lack of call to action or branding on any posts has been helping to fuel the trend’s rise.
“On Instagram as users are bombarded with ads up and down and pressure to like their friends or significant others’ posts,” she said. “Soap might be the newest form of escapist content, but with all that is going on in the world, I don’t expect this genre to go away anytime soon.”
As soap rises, though, it’s not without competition. Some Instagrammers said when it comes to ASMR and aesthetic-focused accounts, floral foam is hot on soap’s tail.
“People cut it and do things to it. It produces amazing sounds,” Michelle said of floral foam.
Still, she added, “Soap is having a moment.”