Important update: Feel free to read this post, but if you’d like to skip to the update on Charlie’s All-Purpose spray, please do. I’m very upset about their active ingredient and would no longer trust anything they sell. Phooey on that! Be sure to scroll down to read the update and the comments.
You would think that by my age I would have learned to follow directions. Charlie’s Soap for laundry instructed me to run an empty-ish load with two scoops of soap and a few rags. The purpose was to clean out residue from other detergents that remains in the washing machine and would interfere with the effectiveness of Charlie’s Soap.
I am lazy. I am frugal. I am green. All these traits allowed me to convince myself that I didn’t need to do the special load. I never thought of it until I was ready to start my laundry and didn’t want to put the regular load off. I didn’t want to waste the energy/water/money to run a load for no reason. I rationalized that I had already been using other natural laundry options for a while, so my machine was probably A-OK.
I really did get better results when I finally caved and ran the nearly empty load. Lesson one from Katie’s laundry experiments: follow directions, people, just like your first grade teacher taught you.
Charlie’s Soap Comes in a Close Second
I ran the same tests with Charlie’s Soap for laundry as I did with my Soap Nuts, namely the odor test. I always figure that all laundry soaps miss a stain here and there, and nothing was super evident with Charlie’s as far as not cleaning the laundry. I can still get a whiff of body odor every so often, so I wasn’t as impressed with Charlie’s as Soap Nuts in the natural laundry detergent race.
I am impressed with Charlie’s Soap, the company, however. I get emails right from the president of the company, which tells me:
1) It’s a small company, and one we ought to be supporting.
2) The company takes pride in its product. I love that!
Here is the pres’s response to my difficulty:
How many times have your test garments been washed in Charlie’s Soap? It can take upwards of 10 (that’s ten) full washes with a full dose of Charlie’s to remove old detergent residues from clothes that are buried in the fibers. Until they’re gone, you can have the Charlie’s Soap cleaning that instead of the BO, leaving, well, stinky clothes. That’s 10 washes to get it completely out, but usually the majority is gone after the 3rd or 4th. If you haven’t washed your test garment that many times by itself, the Charlie’s is fighting an uphill battle. Consider washing it a few more times, then go get it dirty and wash it once as normal to see if the daily smells go away quickly like they’re supposed to.
Do you have hard water? If you do, you might need an additive like washing soda, borax, oxygen bleach, or calgon to help clear the water of impurities so the soap can do its job. (~1/4 cup of no-frills Oxygen Bleach) Hard water + the transition period of removing old detergent residues can be a pain delaying all the good things you read about Charlie’s Soap.
With the soap nuts, in your calcium rich water, a soap will turn into calcium soaps which are insoluble and thus won’t rinse out of clothing. Charlie’s is not a soap but a highly rinseable detergent.
I’m a pretty good scientist/experimenter, but I just haven’t kept track of the number of washes on any given item. I bet none of my clothes have been washed 10 times since I started using Charlie’s Soap exclusively in November. I’m just that frugal (and green, and…oh, yeah…lazy too).
So my professional opinion? Charlie’s Soap is probably as good as the company claims. It’s all natural, does its job, and I admire their pluck as a company. My clothes are clean…and that’s what counts.
Charlie’s All-Purpose Cleaner
Charlie’s Soap also sells an All-Purpose Cleaner that comes in a spray bottle. I tested it on my kitchen counter grout/mildew, my bathtub, and my shower curtain. It also can be used on carpets, which is truly excellent to know. I struggle with cleaning carpets, especially naturally!
I usually just wipe down my tub with a microfiber cloth or use straight vinegar, so I was surprised that it wasn’t a pleasant experience cleaning my bathtub with a “natural” cleaner. I didn’t expect the fumes, they bothered my nasal passages, and they made me worry and second-guess the safety of the product. However, to be fair: I don’t always love the smell of pure vinegar when I clean with that. I’ve gotten more used to it, but my husband and son would both say it’s too strong and bothers them.
Before I would use it again around my kids, however, I emailed the company asking what the active ingredient was, after all.
It is called butylcelosolv. It can form vapors. In the dilution we use it is non toxic and biodegradable. It breaks stains loose. There is no ammonia in our products.
This will not hurt you at all to breathe or to touch. You may want to dilute the cleaner. You can even back it down to 1/4 strength if you wish to. It will do the job. And last longer.
And from the president of the company himself: The APC is natural, non-toxic, safe, effective… and stinky. 🙂 We tried taking the smell out and it wouldn’t clean ANYTHING. We tried covering it up and it didn’t work any more.
However, the main thing to remember about the APC is that it really is a concentrate (new labeling to that effect is coming out soon). If you’re spraying it and you can smell it, chances are you’re using WAY too much. For everyday cleaning and wiping off, like you would imagine using 409 or any multi-surface cleaner, you really should dilute Charlie’s Soap APC to about 1/4 strength. By that time, it has only a faint odor to it. And once you wipe it off, wet or dry absorbent cloth, it shouldn’t smell like anything at all.
Aha. I feel much better. I would like to see the All-Purpose Cleaner come in a bottle with a spray bottle alongside, then. It’s a pain to pour the concentrate from the spray bottle, which is high quality and sprays very nicely, into something else in order to dilute it and get it back into the spray bottle. Just my two cents!
UPDATE: I don’t feel much better. Please see the comments below, but I no longer would use or recommend Charlie’s Soap as a “natural” cleaner. Their active ingredient that they called butylcelosolv is Czech for 2-Butoxyethanol acetate, also known as Butyl Cellosolve. According to the Skin Deep Database, which rates it a 6 (moderate hazard), butoxyethanol has ties to cancer, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, and more. (source) It’s used in hundreds of cleaning products, even as an oil spill dispersant, and “provides cleaning power and the characteristic odor of Windex and other glass cleaners. It is the main ingredient of many home, commercial and industrial cleaning solutions.” (source) It may not be a major environmental contaminant, but it certainly doesn’t sound safe! Charlie’s Soap lists 2-butoxyethanol on its MSDS here if there’s any question.
Here’s a must-read from the Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Project:
2-Butoxy Ethanol is one of the most toxic of the glycol ethers.
You should use products containing butoxyethanol with extreme care. It is a poison that can easily absorb through your skin to harm you. When working with it, always wear gloves and goggles and be sure the you have enough ventilation.
Check out that site for more scary stuff. The Australian Government also seems skeptical about butoxyethanol, recommending quite a number of labeling requirements for it.
The New Jersey Department of Health prepared this helpful hazardous substance fact sheet, including:
2-Butoxy Ethanol may be a CARCINOGEN in humans.
There may be no safe level of exposure to a carcinogen, so
all contact should be reduced to the lowest possible level.
Sigh. Oh, dear. I’m glad I didn’t use this stuff often or for long. It should be labeled as toxic AND disclose the active ingredient on the packaging, as well as make it very, very clear that the spray bottle is a concentrate!
Kitchen Counter Grout: Mildew
Charlie’s soap All-Purpose Cleaner made a dent in my kitchen counter grout mildew issue where nothing else (even bleach! Yes, I tried some in desperation..) ever does. I sprayed it on full strength and left it overnight, then wiped it off in the morning. The dark color wasn’t gone, but it was diminished. I wondered if the APC is meant to kill mildew or if I just lucked out. The company says: “It will simply remove [mildew stains] from the surface. The mildew is still alive, but alive somewhere else!” Hey, I’m cool with that. As long as it’s not on my kitchen counter anymore!
Shower Curtain: Hard Water Stains
I was most impressed when I tried cleaning the inside of my shower curtain. It’s a “mildew-free” curtain (which is probably off-gassing some terrible chemical that I don’t even want to know about! I love the ease of cleaning, i.e. “none”.) so I don’t clean it very often other than to wipe down the water sometimes with my micro-fiber cloth. When I do attempt to clean it, I use straight vinegar and don’t see any results on the terrible hard water stains, so I don’t bother very often!
Charlie’s Soap APC and a few minutes of wait time knocked the stains right off! I couldn’t believe how clear my curtain was after the All-Purpose Cleaner and a little rubbing with my cloth. Truly night and day.
Although I love using vinegar, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, there are some instances that I’d like a more heavy duty cleaner. For my marbles, Charlie’s Soap has become my go-to for the tough jobs that nothing else will touch. Not anymore (see above update) – I’d rather use bleach, I think. If you’ve got nasty hard water stains, outdoor cleaning issues, or other areas just too tough for the vinegar, I’d highly recommend checking out Charlie’s Soap All-Purpose Cleaner. It’s not cheap, but as a concentrate you need to remember that it will stretch and last a long time. Here are more extensive directions and applications, if you’re interested.
Want to Try Some?
Charlie’s Soap will give one reader the same package that I tested: an 80-load bag of laundry detergent, a bottle of the All-Purpose Cleaner, and a nifty cloth bag for your groceries or laundry. Check out the giveaway post to enter (comments on this post do not count).
Disclosure: Charlie’s Soap did provide products for my review, but I was not compensated in any other way, nor was I expected to write a positive review.