Monday, February 21, 2005

Coal Tar soap

Ultraviolet wrote about her favourite scents, and about smells that make her feel sick, and it struck me that there is one smell that I greatly dislike but which makes me feel happy.

Have you ever smelt Wright's Coal Tar soap? My maternal grandparents always had it, for using after working in the garden. They really believed in the disinfecting power of Wright's Coal Tar soap. So do I, and so would you if you smelt it. It's truly horrible. I have never met anybody else who uses Wright's Coal Tar soap, and my grandparents died quite a while ago.

A couple of years ago I was in NZ, and on a whim I went into a chemist and asked if they had any Wright's Coal Tar soap. To my astonishment they did, and the saleswoman brought it to me. I stared at the familiar packet, then held it up to my nose and took a good whiff.

I was whisked efficiently back to being about five, and blissfully happy.

"GAWD! That' horrible!" I said, and from the depths of my childhood enquired, "Does anybody actually buy this stuff?"

"Not many do," replied the woman, and she sounded far, far away. "But occasionally someone asks for it. That's why we have it."

"My grandparents always had some," I mumbled. I sniffed the packet again and stood there, wrapped in memories.

After a while the saleswoman asked, "Um, are you going to buy it?"

"HELL, NO!" I said. "Er, I mean, no, thanks." I handed it back. "I just wanted to smell it. I didn't believe it could be as bad as I remembered. It is, though. Thanks."

"Anytime you want a sniff, just pop in," she said, grinning, and put it back on the shelf.

I wish I'd bought it, now. You can't get it here. But I know why I didn't. I knew how my suitcase would smell if I'd tried to bring a bar of Wright's Coal Tar soap back with me to Japan. And while it's lovely to remember my grandparents fondly now and again, I don't really want to be haunted by them.


Anonymous said...

People with eczema and psoriasis swear by the healing powers of coal tar. I guess anything that nasty has to be cured with something just as bad! ;^)

Badaunt said...

I didn't know that. I really should have brought some back - you can't get it here, and excema is practically epidemic in Japan. Maybe I should think about importing some. (Hi, Grandma!)

mrsmogul said...

Thanks for commenting. What town in NZ are you from? My nephew has eczema, maybe they have it in US?

Badaunt said...

MrsMogul: I'm from a small town in the North Island, in Hawkes Bay (between Auckland and Wellington).

I don't know if Wright's Coal Tar soap is available in shops in the US, but it looks like you can order it online from the link I found. There were other results from Google, too.

If you do get some, I'll be interested to hear if it works!

Badaunt said...

Hmm... I should add that Wright's Coal Tar soap doesn't actually contain coal tar, according to that site! However, this one does:

Anonymous said...

Pimme is right about the Coal Tar being good for Psoriasis. You can't find it except in a cream here in the South and it's very expensive.

Kyle said...

It's weird how it almost feels that sense is the one scent that evokes really vivid memories of childhood. At least that holds true to me. :D

She Weevil said...

I love the smell of Wright's coal tar soap and Jeyes fluid which My Gran used to clean her yard and sluice gher drains with. But then I love the smell of railway stations especially the diesel fumes from Black cabs (?!) all childhood memories. I do not like the taste of fairy liquid - having experienced the mouth being washed out with soap is not an experience I'm keen to repeat; I too big now anyway - she's just a pocket mum now.

Badaunt said...

A 'pocket mum'. Oh, yes. Funny how they shrink, eh? I noticed that the last time I saw my Mum. I'm SURE she used to be taller than me, but there I was, towering over her. It made me feel all sad and grown up.

CliffyK said...

I use it all the time, just came across you blog while seeking to replenish my store of it--I buy 24 bars at a time, $4.95 US for 4 bars from

Elizabeth said...

Coal tar products are amazing. Coal tar is bad stuff, and coal gasification is a dreadful thing, but products like Denorex (shampoo) are a godsend when certain skin eruptions occur. I have heard a number of stories of the healing powers of various coal tar products. It is too bad that the EU has banned the stuff.

diggerfriend said...

Why look for Wright's Coal Tar soap in Japan when there's plenty of Japanese coal soap? And without the nasty smell ;)
Products containing Japanese coal (shampoo, soap etc.) are traditional and have been used in Japan for a very long time.
But I'm sure you already found out by now.

Anonymous said...

You'll know if it is really coal tar soap or not, because coal tar is black. This "Coal Tar Soap" is black, so you know it is real:

Coal Tar Soap

Anonymous said...

You'll know if it is really coal tar soap or not, because coal tar is black. This "Coal Tar Soap" is black, so you know it is real:

Coal Tar Soap

Leslie said...

I've been using Wrights Soap as a facial soap and have found it to be very gentle and without an awful smell. It is now the only soap I will use on my face even though I do not have any facial problems. I just like the soft, creamy feel of the soap and it leaves my face clean and fresh. I recommend Wrights Soap to anyone, with or without facial issues. It's really great.

Anonymous said...

i don't when all these comments were published, possibly years ago, but in kiwiland now wright's has been discontinued, so you can't get it anymore. it was being manufactured in turkey, and they're probably too busy fighting some proxy war to make soap and ship it off to their beloved gallipoli brethren in NZ. or some such. anyway, it's only been a fake coaltar soap these past few years, some softish soap with a added coaltar gragrance, like the tomatoes that get sprayed with a fake tomato fragrance that washes off instantly when contact with water is established. i'm writing a story about a detective character who uses the soap, so if anyone has a few bars left and would care to part with them, please let me know at THANKXXX!!!!

Corieltauvus said...

Hey Badaunt!

Your post aboutWright's CTS made me so sad! How can the development of your scent-buds have been distorted so?

To me, the smell of coal tar is delightful . . . my favourite scent.

I used it every day for, I would guess, almost 30 tears until I came from the UK to live in MZ. Where it wasn't stocked by my local super-market.

I found your blog when looking for where I could find it here . . . at 84, I just have to start using it again!

Corieltauvus said...