If you’re scouring the internet for information about cloth diapers and cloth diaper soap to use, you’ll definitely run into Charlie’s Soap. It’s a product that’s been written about extensively in the cloth diaper community in both a positive and negative light.
So, what’s the truth? Is Charlie’s Soap safe for cloth diapers? No. Charlie’s Soap is not safe for cloth diapers, but it’s actually not the “will ruin your diapers” part that makes me warn parents away from it; the real problem is that it’s not just not safe for your baby’s skin!
We’re talking about skin irritation, rashes, or even ammonia/chemical burns in some cases. Charlie’s Soap is just not safe for most babies’ delicate skin.
Charlie’s Soap, Cloth Diapers, and Chemical Burns
Now, I must preface this by stating clearly that not ALL babies with cloth diapers washed in Charlie’s Soap have experienced skin discomfort or chemical burns. You will easily find a handful of parents in any given cloth diaper Facebook group, even the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook group, who have been using Charlies for some time and it’s ok.
But for every person you find who will happily sing its praises (and as you’ll see below it’s most likely those folks are using the liquid and not the powder), you’ll find many more who have experienced rashes. And this is why ZERO of the cloth diaper group administrators/experts recommend Charlie’s Soap.
This is nothing new, even back when I began my own cloth diapering journey back in 2015, when every cloth diaper blog and the community demanded you use special diaper-safe laundry soap (a stance no one now takes) the stories of chemical burns and other skin irritations from those using Charlie’s Soap were out there.
What is a Chemical Burn from Charlie’s Soap Like?
In case you’re thinking these reactions are likely mild and can be solved with some diaper cream, let me assure you they are not.
Here’s how one blogger, at Lake River Studio (formerly JustAddCloth.com) described it:
“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. “lakeandriverstudio.com
Ammonia and chemical burn rashes are very intense and look incredibly painful. They are not something I would wish on my worst enemy, so I try to keep my recommendations on the side of caution and help families avoid them at all costs.
The Problem is Right In the Ingredients
So, why do Charlie’s Soap cause chemical burn rashes? The problem is right in the ingredients.
In this post, I’ll cover the ingredients in both Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder and Laundry Liquid, but I will cover the powder first for two reasons:
- It’s actually worse, and
- Thanks to some very misguided cloth diaper “wash & care” Facebook groups that recommend powder over liquid detergent for cloth diapers (which actually isn’t a thing) it’s most often what people purchase for their cloth diapers.
Here’s a quick screenshot of the ingredients in Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder from the Charlie’s Soap Website:
So the first ingredient on that list is sodium carbonate, or washing soda, is simply a white, odourless, water-soluble salt that is most often used as a water softener for laundry. Ignoring for a moment how water softeners in that concentration can be disasterous for your laundry (info here), the problem is mixing it with the fourth ingredient on that list, Sodium Metasilicate.
As you’ll see from this exerpt from a review of toxicological literature on sodium metasilicate, sodium metasilicate pentahydrate, and sodium metasilicate nonahydrate by the Natuional Institude of Environmental Health Sciences, mixing these two compounds in a detergent (i.e. laundry compound with surfacants added, which Charlie’s Soap is) created a severe irritant to the skin.
In other words, the Charlie’s Soap mixture has been scientifically proven to irritate skin. Now imagine it on the most sensitive areas of a baby’s sensitive skin, and it’s no wonder why it does this.
Now let’s switch gears and talk about the liquid detergent.
Here are the list of ingredients:
You’ll notice we’ve gotten rid of the troublesome sodium metasilicate in the liquid version, which in my mind makes this product a lot less likely to cause rashes.
You’ll notice it’s replaced by Alcohol Ethoxylates, which are non-ionic surfactants. This is generally a good thing, though non-ionic surfacants are much weaker than ionic surfacants and a good cloth diaper detergent will have both types of surfacants.
So why don’t I recommend Charlie’s soap liquid? Well, not only am I kinda put off by their powder forumaltion still being sold, but the only other surfacant on the list is Pareth-9, which is synthetic mixture of fatty alcohols and polyethylene glycols that is an emulsifier and surfactant, but also a weak one.
Given how much water softener is in there, coupled by just weak surfacants and not much else… it’s not that much better than a homemade soap.
Conclusion: Just Don’t Use Charlie’s Soap
At the end of the day, if you’re dead-set on trying Charlie’s Soap, don’t under any circumstances use the powder, opt instead for the liquid. But I don’t recommend bother with either as neither of them will get your diapers very clean anyway.
There are many other real detergents out there that are more “natural” or plant-based but will actually get things clean and keep your baby diaper rash free.
Here are a few options: