If you listen what the internet has to say about improvised pest control, you might have run across this gem. Purportedly, common, Ivory brand soap will reliably repel flies.
Supposedly it has something to do with the fragrance, or other ingredients depending on who you listen to, but the assertion is that flies won’t come anywhere near the stuff, including on your body or in a room or tent that the soap is hung up in.
Is it true? Does Ivory soap repel flies?
Unfortunately, no, Ivory soap does not repel flies or any other insects. No component of ivory soap, including the fragrance, has been scientifically tested and proven to have any effect on repelling insects or preventing insect bites.
The internet? Telling lies? I don’t believe it! All the horse play aside, this is one phenomenon that I am sorry to report is not true.
I am all for having better and safer ways of repelling harmful insects for my immediate vicinity, but Ivory isn’t one of them.
That being said, there is more to this story than meets the eye, so keep reading to learn what you need to know.
What’s the Story? How is Ivory Soap Supposed to Repel Flies?
Though accounts differ somewhat, yes: Ivory soap is being praised all around the internet as an effective fly repellant. That’s it. You can simply hang up a bar of Ivory soap in a room or in your tent to keep flies well away from it.
Now, as you might imagine most of the people asserting this are a little short on info as to why this works, even if some have gone as far as to say that it’s because of the fragrance.
There are a couple different ways that this rumor could have started.
Maybe someone actually did have success repelling flies with Ivory soap (or just thought they did) and then word just got around without anyone bothering to ask why it works or if it really does. That’s certainly possible.
After all, if you’ve got a bar of soap that’s keeping the bugs away, who cares why? You’re just happy that it’s working, right?
It’s also possible that this is one of those “old wives’ tales” that gets passed down from generation to generation without anyone ever stopping to truly question it, much less test it.
It just so happens that perhaps this is one that “caught” and went viral on the internet, spreading far and wide in no time. We’ve all heard stories like this before.
But here is all that matters for our purposes. Is there any truth to this story whatsoever? Sadly, it does not look like it.
The Fragrance of Ivory Does not Repel Flies
One of the more common explanations for why Ivory soap is supposed to work as a fly repellent has to do with the fragrance.
The thinking goes that flies are put off by the scent of Ivory soap and will avoid it at all costs.
This, however, does not appear to be true. In fact, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the claim that any particular fragrance will effectively repel flies or any other insects for that matter.
However, some fragrances, particularly those with floral or fruit scents, might actually do the opposite and attract bugs instead. Bummer!
Thankfully, Ivory has a mild soapy fragrance and not much else, so it does not seem to attract the bugs, but neither will it repel them.
Neither Do the Other Ingredients
Looking into the matter a bit further, one might ask if any other ingredient in Ivory has a repellent effect on insects, sort of accidental protection. Good thinking, but they don’t.
All of the ingredients in Ivory soap are ones that you would expect to find in any other bar of soap. There is nothing out of the ordinary or magical about them.
For example, Ivory soap contains sodium tallowate and sodium cocoate, which are both fatty acids derived from animal fats (tallow) or coconut oil.
Then there is sodium palm kernelate, which is another fatty acid but this one comes from palm kernels. All of this help to create that nice soapy lather that we all know and love.
Then there are other ingredients like water, glycerin, and sodium chloride (salt), which are pretty much par for the course when it comes to soap-making.
So, you can see that there’s really nothing unusual here that would explain why Ivory soap would suddenly be effective at repelling flies.
So if you’re looking for a natural way to keep flies away from your home or campsite, it looks like you’ll have to keep searching.
There are certainly other ways to achieve this (and we’ll talk about some of them later on), but Ivory soap just doesn’t seem to be the answer.
Some Special Soaps are Insect Repellent, but Not Ivory
The idea of using soap to repel flies might sound patently dumb to some, but don’t be too hasty.
There are several widely available soaps on the market that are made with actual insect repellant and marketed as another layer of defense against flies and mosquitoes.
One such product is called FaceDoctorX Mosquito Repellent Soap. This soap contains citronella, and other ingredients that are plant-based oils long used as an insect repellent.
This product and others seem to have good reviews according to the internet, though they are used to wash the body as normal for protection instead of being placed or hanged as a sort of area denial system.
So, perhaps some overenthusiastic Ivory lovers or simple pranksters conflated the idea of mosquito repellent soap with the far more mundane Ivory soap and thus the legend was born. Or perhaps it is all just a straight-up hoax.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of bogus stories on the internet, and this might just be one of them. It’s hard to say for sure where this story came from or why.
You Can Use Ivory to Repel Some Garden Pests, However
But wouldn’t you know it, most outright lies, tall tales and fish stories do indeed have a grain of truth to them.
It turns out you really can use Ivory to repel pests, just not in the way that most of these intrepid internet commenters are claiming.
Ivory dish soap has long been used, thinned down with water, to make a gentle but effective surface repellent for insects that might prey on plants in and around your home.
This solution can be sprayed on the leaves of plants to discourage aphids, whiteflies, and other little buggers from munching on your foliage.
It is important to note that this will not generally kill the insects, only repel them.
However, it is a non-toxic way to keep pests at bay and is much safer to use long-term than some of the stronger pesticides on the market.
Another use is as a way to keep mammals out of your garden entirely. Sound too good to be true? It isn’t: this is an old farmer’s hack that works.
Turns out that many animals that are usual garden thieves, among them deer and rabbits, might get spooked by the smell of soap.
All you need to do is take a couple of bars of Ivory soap, grate them into flakes, and sprinkle them around the perimeter of your garden.
The scent will be strong enough to deter these animals from entering.
Ivory is, though, a pretty mild soap, and most folks recommend using a soap with a stronger fragrance for the purpose.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.