Just Add Cloth
Nov 052013
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charlies soap review


More detergent. Yeah, yeah I know.
There are a few detergents I never tried since I heard they worked terribly with hard water, or just plain didn’t work anywhere. Well, our new place has slightly softer water than our last apartment, so I decided to give Charlie’s Soap a whirl even though I have *never heard good things.
I am sure Charlie’s is a fine company. I might even verify it if they ever respond to my emails. My friends who did get through to customer service were told to purchase some additional Charlie’s products to help the detergent work. Really?

Before I even tried using it on diapers and regular laundry, I studied the ingredients perplexed. After some searching on the internet I found several different ingredient lists for Charlie’s powder detergent and none of them matched the actual container. Not even the actual Charlie’s website.


  • Sodium carbonate
  • sodium metasilicate
  • C12-15 Pareth-2 Detergent
Sodium carbonate, sodium metasilicate
Sodium carbonate, sodium metasilicate
Sodium carbonate, sodium metasilicate

Detergent as an ingredient? How forthcoming. Apparently they mean surfactants. According to some sources it may be coconut oil based surfactants, but since the company website does not say as much, I am guessing it varies and often includes a few others. Fine. No Problem. However, it would be nice if they just said so.

Unfortunately for my children, Charlie’s left a whole heck of a lot of ammonia behind and even a little something else. Which caused a bloody, blistering reaction so awful, my kids’ bottoms looked like a terrible acid burn. A chemical burn covering everywhere the diaper touched. I tweaked the wash routine and amount of Charlie’s to no avail. It simply will not rinse clean. So of course I then did what every insane wife does, used it on our regular laundry. Luckily my husband’s armpits aren’t burning off every time he sweats, or at least he hasn’t mentioned it. However, our clothes are not clean. In fact, I cannot tell the difference between washed and unwashed with a sniff test. Our workout shirts and socks are the worst fail. Nothing like already reeking before you even get to the gym.

If I knew what the so called ingredients really were I could troubleshoot better, but I don’t like doing that. I shouldn’t have to troubleshoot my detergent for months on end. There are plenty of eco detergents that get the job done for me every time. My instincts tell me it might just need hydrogen peroxide powder added. However, with the large amount of detergent needed with our hard water, more additives would make an already pricey detergent less feasible for the budget. There is also the chance that the sodium metasilicate, a highly corrosive agent, is not rinsing properly and causing the skin burns. So go for that extra rinse!

Sorry Charlie’s. I suggest a reformulation with better testing. I also suggest responding to your disgruntled customers who are paying for your rather spendy white powder. I have not tried their booster, and maybe it works, but I don’t feel a worthy detergent should have a mandatory booster in order for it to work in the majority of areas.

I don’t want to close on such a negative note, so I want to mention that some people really like Charlie’s Soap and it works great for them.

Bri over at Eco Baby Mama Drama has been using Charlie’s on her laundry and diapers for four years without any issues, and she has hard water. It gets an alright score in the Padded Tush Stats Detergent Surveys, so it obviously works for enough people. My gals at The Anti June Cleaver and Simply Me Plus 3 have also used Charlie’s for many months in the past without issues. I hear about more problems with hard water, and of course hard water is not all the same. Different mineral concentrations will have different reactions. Not to mention there are often other factors affecting the mineral content. (If your diaper rash cream or sunscreen contains Balsam of Peru, DO NOT wash it in high iron water! Yikes!)

So there you have it. My experience was not great, but I am still glad I tried it. My kids’ skin has scabbed over and is healing just fine. And since I already indicated my personal insanity earlier, I am trying Tide next. Yup, finally going there. Gulp!

See my experiences with other detergents in the Detergent Reviews and Natural Laundry sections.

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  19 Responses to “An Almost Regretful Charlie’s Soap Experiment”

  1. I think sodium carbonate is washing soda. I felt like the second ingredient sounded familiar, too, but I couldn’t place it, so I did a Google search and founding something that says the MSDS calls it an irritant and says it’s “slightly corrosive.” So I would guess that perhaps it’s not rinsing completely out of the diapers/clothing and THAT’S the ingredient that’s bothering your kids. (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080101161652AANbGPt)

    Interesting to hear this, though. Most of the moms I know of in our local natural parenting group use Charlie’s. (And we have HORRENDOUSLY hard water around here.) They all love it.

    It sounds like just plain old soap, washing soda, and peroxide powder tossed together at home is a better option!

    • I do have ok luck with just washing soda and peroxide with our hard water. Unless the clothing is greasy. we still have to use a conventional detergent on a few things that get super gross. I swear diaper laundry is easier than some other laundry. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I had the exact same experience with this soap. Its awful. My diapers look worse than they did before I washed them. My son also ended up with a blistery chemical burn/rash! In fact at 21 months old, he had never even had a diaper rash until I used this awful soap! I was shocked (horrified actually) to see that he had a rash so bad that there were blisters & broken skin after wearing the diaper for less than an hour! I also tried it on regular laundry and I too could not tell if it was clean or dirty. I do have hard water but still, for something that is supposed to be hypoallergenic and better than regular detergent, my son should not have a bloody blistered bum!

  3. C12-15 Pareth-2 is a detergent, not a soap. Google “Farmers Market Laundry Soap” for a real soap with washing soda, borax and oxy clean all in one. NOT a detergent. Rinses out completely and works n hard water.

  4. Sorry, I know this is an old post. Why can’t you use Peruvian balsam in hard water?

    • Well, you can, but it can cause staining. It won’t actually harm anything. the same staining can happen if it is in your sunscreen and you get it on clothes, then wash in water with a lot of iron.

  5. Wow, I’m sorry it works so poorly for you! It’s amazing for us. It’s honestly a *treat* because after using it for a week or two my exczema gets soooo much better and our clothes are a LOT cleaner compared to all free n clear.

  6. I first tried Charlie’s in our hard water about 5 years ago, and our diapers just never got clean (nothing as bad as what you went through, but just lingering barnyard stink). About a year ago I decided to try it again but this time with the Charlie’s hard water booster. That product made all the difference! It still didn’t work QUITE as well as something like Tide (occasionally there was a faint smell, but some oxy helped that). You have to search the Charlie’s website quite a bit, but somewhere there is a chart that gets really specific with how much of each product you need to use depending on the specific hardness of your water (so for my home we use 2 scoops of the detergent and 1 scoop of the water softener, even though the directions on the jar say to use far less). Even with Tide a lot of times I need to add additional washing soda or oxy, so I don’t mind having a separate additive. Obviously Charlie’s won’t work for everyone but it CAN work for people without causing burns (that sounds like it must have been SO awful!) 🙁

    • Yeah, I have no doubt with the right amount of booster it can work in hard water. Our last house was in a neighborhood where the water was so funky it was hard to get our other laundry clean as well. We had a lot of trouble with most detergents. it just would not have been economical to keep tweaking. We have since moved and I think our new neighborhood has more normal water.

  7. Left bleeding and oozing blisters on my significant other’s back after a few hours wearing a shirt washed in this….I always do an extra rinse, and never had this issue with any other detergent, washing soda, borax or oxy. The odd ingredient is the C12-15 Pareth. The clothes stink after using Charlie’s.

  8. I hate to post to such an old topic, but here goes:

    First, pay close attention to the wording. It’s not just what a label says, but how it says it. In this case, the container says “Contains” vs “Ingredients.” That’s like saying cereal contains wheat and sugar, but what about everything else it contains, i.e. the ingredients list. And when they do use the word “ingredients,” it’s cleverly qualified by prefacing it with “natural mineral” or “biodegradable,” so they can simply state the ingredients in those categories without having to say the other ingredients. Obviously, I don’t know their motivation for doing these things, but to me it seems intended to mislead consumers.

    Furthermore, they state they can’t release their ingredients because it would reveal their formula and the mysterious, wonderful process they’ve developed that has somehow eluded all the big companies with their vast financial resources for years and years. Is that possible? Sure, but it’s more likely they just don’t want consumers knowing what’s really in there. After all, even with a list of ingredients, other companies still wouldn’t know the proportions or the process. And if it truly is so unique, why can’t they just patent it?

    As for C12-15 Pareth-2, it is an ethoxylated compound, meaning that without a guarantee from the manufacturer (and there isn’t one in this case) that all the ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, both carcinogens, have been removed, you just don’t know. They claim it has been, but as has been shown over and over again, companies can claim just about anything. Where’s the proof, i.e. lab results or at the very least a statement on the container?

    Finally, as has been pointed out elsewhere, terms like “vegetable-based” and “derived from coconuts” means nothing and is all too often used as a way of making toxic ingredients sound natural and healthy. In fact, from my experience, attempts at “green-washing” a product with the use of such terms is more often than not an indication they’re hiding something. If a company is truly confident in their product, they’re typically all too eager to share what’s in it.

    I’m not saying Charlie’s soap is bad, and I have no personal experience with it, but I’m sick of all the deception in the food and personal care / cosmetics industries. We need more transparency, and companies claiming they have a great, safe product who refuse to be transparent are ones I tend to stay away from. They’re not much better, and possibly worse, than companies like Poofy Organics, Organic Excellence, Babyganics, Branch Basics, and Honest, to name a few, that claim to be better than the rest and are found to be lying or just plain ignorant about what’s in their products.

    I’d suggest checking out the Chemical of the Day and Bubble and Bee blogs (I’m not affiliated in any way). Her information is mostly spot on as well as being easy to understand for most people, she actually has good references and doesn’t rely much on EWG (I could go on for another couple paragraphs about why they’re not a reliable source), and she’s very helpful. Unfortunately, she doesn’t sell laundry soap.

    And finally, as has been pointed out elsewhere,

    • steven, thank you for your thorough comment. It seems you got cut off at the end there. I agree, it is hard to judge what is legit anymore. There is so much green washing what with green being trendy these days. It often seems to be the same ingredients with some buzzwords and a giant price hike.

      • I didn’t get cut off, just tend to jump around when writing and didn’t realize I left that until I posted.

        • Steven,

          I have been trying for months now to figure out a safe laundry soap/detergent/whatever you want to call it. I too have been so frustrated with green washing that I have almost completely given up. I tried to make my own concoction of laundry soap using Dr. Bronner’s but honestly don’t feel like it’s cleaning the clothing. Everything looks dingy. So, my question is, have you found anything SAFE that WORKS? Please help! Thank you!

          • Dr Bronners will build up, which is why things seem dingy. It is why those homemade laundry soaps that use a grated soap bar also end up with grimy fabrics. Some people have OK luck with just washing soda and borax, with a bit of citric acid added from the grocery store. If you are used to detergent with optical brighteners, anything without will seem like it is leaving fabric kind of ‘meh’.

            If you want to get serious, there is the baking soda, vinegar, and wash board method. But being an old time laundress was a physically taxing job for a reason. lol.

          • Bio-Kleen is the laundry detergent I swear by, for sensitive skin. As a bit of disclosure, I use three compete cycles, with fresh detergent each time, to wash my clothes.

  9. We also had a very bad experience using Charlie’s Soap on our toddler son’s cloth diapers. He got chemical burns and blisters everywhere the diaper had contact, as well. When I wrote to Charlie’s and explained what happened, they insisted it must have been from other detergents we had used, that Charlie’s brought these to the surface because it brings the other detergent buildup to the surface before, after mutliple washings, removing the buildup, and it must have been these other detergents that caused the irritation. This is absolutely not true, because we had used only Charlie’s Soap on these particular cloth diapers. I switched to biodegradable disposables so my son’s burns could clear up, which they did after awhile. I am scared to use the cloth diapers again unless I can figure out a way to compltely strip them of the awful Charlie’s residue. I tried washing them repeatedly with vinegar and then Seventh Generation laundry soap, but my son once again got the chemical burns. If anyone knows how to remedy this, please help!!

    • I am so sorry to hear about your experience!
      I admit we just use Tide powder now. I was so tired of struggling with boutique detergents that didn’t work.

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