I do not like when the wool is pulled over my eyes.
I really don’t like being lied to or feeling like someone kind of sort of told a lie, but tried to make it look honorable.
And when I share that untruth or half-truth with the world before finding out that I’m wrong, too? Then I start smoking from the top of my head.
I was feeling that way last week when an astute reader did what I should have when I reviewed Charlie’s Soap in 2010. I was even questioned at the time because instead of doing thorough research into butylcelosolv, the active ingredient the company told me was in their all-purpose cleaner, I accepted their explanation of its safety. I still didn’t look into it further. Big mistake.
Luckily, a reader named Michelle popped in with a new comment and some much better Google searches. She shared the following:
I found this when I googled “charlies soap ingredients”: The document is the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that the federal government requires for all chemicals. It lists one of two active ingredients as “2-BUTOXYETHANOL”.
I have yet to find any blog or letter from the president stating anything about that ingredient.
I love their soap, but after reading this I no longer trust Charlie Soap.
Is 2-Butoxyethanol Acetate Safe?
A year too late, here are my findings on this new name, since the one given me by the company was very difficult to Google search for:
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.1
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.”2 It may not be a major environmental contaminant, but it certainly doesn’t sound safe!
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.3
The Australian Government warns about butoxyethanol, recommending:
Avoid touching 2-BE and touching or breathing its spray or vapour.4
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.5
Is Charlie’s Soap Natural and Can We Trust Them?
I’m very upset that I feel like the company was not straightforward in their claims, and the company tagline “safe, non-toxic, biodegradable soap” seems like an awful stretch after reading all this.
I am not yet sure what is in their laundry soap, which so many people trust and love for cloth diapers in particular.
UPDATE: Readers in the comments inquired, “What do we use for laundry then?” My personal recommendation, which I tested at the same time as Charlie’s and liked it better then, too, is soap nuts. They are truly natural, hands down. Here’s my soap nuts review and where I purchase mine.
My thinking? If a company fibs their way through one product and uses Czech so it’s harder to research the active ingredient, I simply can’t trust anything they make. What do you think?
A Response from Charlie’s Soap
Without any contact from me to him, I received an email from the president of the company a week or so after I publicized the update to the original post:
“I’m really sorry you had the issue with the biodegradable solvent. You might like our new Kitchen & Bath cleaner, though. That’s coming out tomorrow. We cut the amount of solvent in half and made it ready for spray-on/wipe-off application for daily use. With less of the solvent, it’s even that much safer and biodegradable, and better still, it doesn’t smell as much like a cleaner.”
Did he miss the point entirely? I’m pretty sure I’m pointedly upset about the ingredient itself, period, being used, not the quantity in which it’s measured out.
SafER is not what I’m looking for. Give me SAFE.
Here’s my original review on Charlie’s soap.
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 remain 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 a 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 Review
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.
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.
Here’s my review of how it cleaned.
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.
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 anymore.
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.
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![/purplebox]
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.
Charlie’s Soap Review: Final Thoughts
After digging more into the active ingredient in Charlie’s Soap products, I’d rather use these natural alternatives to bleach when I need some heavy-duty cleaning power.
I’m so glad Charlie’s Soap never ended up advertising with me; I’d feel even worse about all this! I’m very upset about their active ingredient and would no longer trust anything they sell. Phooey on that!
- EWG Skin Deep®: What is BUTOXYETHANOL. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/700842-BUTOXYETHANOL/
- 2-Butoxyethanol. (2020, April 11). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2-Butoxyethanol
- Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Project 2-Butoxy Ethanol. (2011, March 10). Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20110310050236/http://www.westp2net.org:80/janitorial/tools/butoxy.htm
- National Industrial Chemicals Notification. (2013, May 1). Butoxyethanol (2-Butoxyethanol) in cleaning products. Retrieved from https://www.nicnas.gov.au/chemical-information/factsheets/chemical-name/butoxyethanol-2-butoxyethanol-in-cleaning-products
- Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet 2-Butoxy Ethanol. (2008, August). Retrieved from https://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/0275.pdf
If you appreciated the balance and depth of the review you just read, you will love my resources page, with REAL products that have passed my rigorous testing enough to be “regulars” in the Kimball household, plus some other comprehensive reviews. Updated at least once a year to boot the losers and add new gems!