Charlie’s Soap and Cloth Diapers (the Truth!)

By April Duffy •  Updated: 05/30/24 •  6 min read

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 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. “

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:

Here’s a quick screenshot of the ingredients in Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder from the Charlie’s Soap Website:

Screen Shot of Charlies Soap Laundry Powder Ingredients
Screenshot of Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder Ingredients from:

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.

Exerpt from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Review of Toxicological Literature: 

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:

Screenshot of Charlie’s Soap Laundry Liquid Ingredients from:

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:

Best Plant-Based Clean for Diapers
Tide Purclean Plant-Based Laundry Detergent, Honey Lavender Scent

Tide PurClean is plant-based and free of optical brighteners and other additives, but still powerful like Tide to get diapers clean. It does tend to sud heavily in soft water, so do make sure you're adjusting amounts down as needed (as per your CDfB personalized routine).

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03/08/2024 03:11 am GMT
Best Free & Clear Detergent for Diapers
Seventh Generation Concentrated Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear Unscented, (Pack of 2)
$27.98 ($0.26 / load)

Seventh Generation is great for those that are very conscious about what's in their detergent. Their free & clear detergent is not only free of fragrances, dyes, and artificial brighteners, but it's also still very strong and suitable for folks with even hard water. A great option for those with sensitivities.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.
03/07/2024 11:46 pm GMT
Best Value Detergent for Diapers
ARM & HAMMER Sensitive Skin Free and Clear Detergent
$19.87 ($0.19 / Load)

Arm & Hammer Detergent is both powerful and reasonably priced. The smell is not too overwhelming either. I used this detergent for years on my diapers and clothes, and still love it to this day.

Even better, it now comes in a sensitive skin-friendly formula (linked here), although their regular and oxi formulas are also great.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.
03/08/2024 11:03 am GMT

April Duffy

April is the founder of Cloth Diapers for Beginners and author of The Cloth Diaper Wash & Care Handbook. Since 2015, April has helped well over 75,000 parents and caregivers cloth diaper their children through this website, her book, her YouTube Channel, and the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook Group.