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In Search of One-Stop Laundry

By Amalah

Oh All Knowing One of Everything Awesome:

I have a question regarding laundry detergent, sensitive skin, and cloth diapers.

We currently use Tide for our laundry. However, my 7 year-old stepdaughter has eczema and sensitive skin, and I’m looking for ways to try to reduce irritation to her skin. I’m thinking that whatever they use to turn our current detergent blue isn’t the best for her skin-or anyone’s, for that matter. I’m not really buying into the Tide Free thing either — you’re going to charge me more for you to OMIT an ingredient in your product, and you’re still not really that natural or sensitive?

I’m also 17 weeks pregnant (yay babies!), and hoping to cloth diaper the newest addition to our family. I’ve seen a few mentions by you and some of your commenters on recommended detergents in which to wash cloth diapers.

I’m hoping you are able to recommend a detergent that will work for both sensitive skin AND cloth diapering. I don’t especially want to fill my already crowded laundry room with more bottles, so if I could find an all-in-one, it would be awesome.

Thanks for all your awesome advice!

Charlie’s Soap.
Done! And done. And I’m gonna go get some Halloween candy now, okay?
Haaa. Just kidding. But not really.

Noah has really, really sensitive skin. It’s gotten better as he’s gotten older (it’s more “dry” now as opposed to Eczema OMG Chunks Of His Arm Skin Are Falling Off), but it’s something we have a ton of frustrating experience with, particularly finding a detergent that doesn’t irritate things further. We did All Free & Clear for awhile, then Seventh Generation, then Method, and while they were all serviceable (but pricey!) detergents and didn’t seem to bother Noah’s skin (provided we went with Fragrance Free versions), once we added cloth diapers into the mix, things got tricky.

Even the “free & clear” detergents (and a lot of brands being marketed as “green” and “natural”) still have brightening agents in them, which are designed to leave residue on your clothing. Brightening residue! To make your clothes look brighter! Or something. You know what? No thanks. How about this: I wash my clothes and rinse them, and during this magical “rinsing” process, all remnants and residue of my detergent are similarly rinsed away.

Apparently, this is asking a LOT from the average detergent on the shelves of your grocery store and Target and Wal-Mart. I tried. I printed out lists of the top recommended detergents from various cloth diaper sites, hoping to find something that I could just BUY instead of special-ordering. Because I really didn’t want detergent to be a Thing, like you. I didn’t want extra bottles, each for a specific person or type of laundry. But I also was resistant to the idea of having to order something online and pay for shipping and we’re out of detergent and it can’t get her for five to seven business days OH CRAP.

So for awhile I used not-super-great detergents on my diapers. Several different kinds of free & clear stuff, Sun & Earth, brands that generally got a “good” to “OK” rating on the cloth diaper sites. And sure enough, six months in, the diapers started to STINK. I’d open the dryer and get hit with a bad, stale urine smell. Then! They started to repel. Which is a nice way of saying “leak.” Basically, everything that I’d been warned about in regards to detergents came true. Clearly, I am VERY SMART.

So I went online and ordered a bag of Charlie’s Soap Powder, as it’s one of the most universally recommended brands for cloth diapers. $15 for an 80-load bag at Amazon (buying two bags qualifies you for free shipping) comes to about 18 cents a load, compared to 26 cents a load for a comparable truly “green” detergent like Seventh Generation. PLUS, you actually don’t use a full scoop or load’s worth for diapers. You use maybe about half, if that, if you’re doing a biiiiig stinky load. Thus an 80-load bag will actually wash about 160 loads of diapers. (We have an ancient top-loaders, but Charlie’s is He-compatible as well.)

ANYWAY, long story short, we now use Charlie’s Soap Powder exclusively, for all of our laundry. It is The Awesome. No fragrance, no residue, no build-up, no skin irritation. Our clothes just smell CLEAN. Like, CLEAN FABRIC. It’s crazy that I’d actually forgotten what that smelled like, after years of Spring Meadow Blossom Breeze or whatever the hell. My husband (who also has severe problems with winter dry skin and fragrance irritation) is absolutely in love with it, and definitely thinks it’s worth the little extra hassle of ordering vs. buying at Target.

Luckily, since one bag lasts so long, even with full-time use, we’re actually not buying detergent nearly as often as we used to, so remembering to re-order is not the Big Thing I feared it would be.

So, while Charlie’s Soap has worked terrifically for us, you DO probably want to just start off slowly, with one bag, just in case. The instructions recommend sending a scoop through an empty wash cycle or two just to thoroughly rinse away any remnants of your old detergent. Then try it out on some of your stepdaughter’s clothes — Charlie’s is recommended specifically for sensitive/eczema-prone skin AND infants’ laundry, but of course that’s no guarantee that NO ONE out there will have a reaction to it.

(I must also add how thoroughly charmed I am by the packaging of Charlie’s — it comes in a plain fabric sack, like something you pick up at a old timey general store, and on the topic of fragrance, the bag simply says: You want flowers, go pick some. HA!

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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