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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

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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  • Diane

    November 6, 2009 at 10:17 am

    I definitely recommend buying directly from Charlie’s. Their customer service is SUPERB, and they usually have specials where buying two packages of the detergent will get you free shipping or a discount or something along those lines.

  • Mouse

    November 6, 2009 at 11:11 am

    We bought Charlie’s off of one of your earlier recommendations and are very happy with it. The one problem we’ve had are a handful of shirts (far from all) that continue to stink at the armpits. My wife’s are very old t-shirts, and this convinced her it was time to replace some of them; some of mine are newer, although I’m pregnant, so I’m thinking this might be the cause of stronger-than-usual stink.

  • Margot

    November 6, 2009 at 11:24 am

    We just switched to Charlie’s Soap at my house. No babies or diapers, but a husband who is allergic to sulphates. I actually did a TON of research and found the same information Amy did to be true about the “free and clear” detergents.
    Sulphates aren’t listed on ingredient lists usually, so I emailed Charlie’s Soap and got a response the same day that their detergent is sulphate free and the ONLY things in it are for a specific cleaning purpose in the wash cycle.
    We’re only a week in with Charlie’s Soap, but so far, no skin irritation and our clothes feel much less slimey from the detergent and fabric softener build up. Long story short-AGREED!

  • Anyabeth

    November 6, 2009 at 11:30 am

    I love Charlie’s Soap too but with an HE machine I prefer the liquid. My HE clumps with powders and the liquid is just as good and similarly priced.

  • Eliza

    November 6, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I came here directly from when I saw that the discussion was about laundry soap. I had to make sure that SOMEONE recommended Charlie’s Soap. So yeah…I’m obviously also on the Charlie’s soapbox (ha!) and I don’t even have babies. I buy my Charlie’s in the 5 gallon bucket now.

  • MommiePie

    November 6, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Perfect timing, as usual! My son has just developed some patchy eczema and I’m afraid it may have to do with the laundry – even though we’re using All Free & Clear. I’m willing to try something new (and sans residue!)

  • LauraL

    November 6, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Totally on board with the Charlie’s Soap LoveFest. TOTALLY. We use it for all our laundry and have had no problems with, well, anything. Stains come out, stuff smells good, fabrics are soft … Magic in a sack! Also, we’re lucky in that I can buy it at Whole Foods or Fresh Market for $10/bag. There is a tool on the Charlie’s website that tells you what stores nearby sell it (if any).
    Go with Charlie’s. You won’t regret it.

  • Ruth

    November 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I also use Charlie’s soap for our diapers and all our laundry, and I love it. We buy the Gigantic Bucket o’ Laundry Soap, and we keep some old yogurt tubs in the basement that we use to scoop from for our day-to-day laundry needs. The first bucket we bought lasted 11 months for our household of three, including a load of diapers every other day or so.

  • miriam

    November 6, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I like nellie’s all natural laundry soda. Finally my socks are clean; it works great for diapers too. HE washer.

  • eva

    November 6, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    We use “Country Save” which is the biodegradeable and phosphate free powder that was recommended by the cloth diaper site where we got our diapers ( and I swear to having no affiliation with them). It’s awesome! They sell it at London Drugs for all you Canadians and it’s only about $7 a box which lasts for seemingly ages, especially if you live in a soft water area like I do.

  • Diana

    November 6, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I’d love to hear from someone who has used Charlie’s in an HE washer…

  • laurellee

    November 6, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    I have no kids in diapers but I just ordered two bags of this stuff. My mom has the stinkiest towels at her house since she uses softened water and regular detergent (scent free), so if this can get her towels smelling fresh then I am a total convert. We’ll see!!

  • Olivia

    November 6, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I’ve been using All Free & Clear for diapers and clothes for 6 months and everything seems fine. However, my daughter had a bad bout of diaper rash a couple weeks ago and it seems like the skin is taking forever to heal. It’s mostly around where the elastic on the diper touches. I’m wondering if it could be the detergent?
    I’ve been reluctant to buy Charlie’s because it’s so expensive.

  • Mouse

    November 6, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    My experience is with an HE washer. We haven’t had trouble with the powder clumping, which has been an issue with other powders in our washer. We still haven’t figured out what’s going on with the few shirts that still smell, but they’re very specific ones and everything else comes out just great!

  • Kate

    November 6, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    My husband has super sensitive skin and after a lot of research on this same topic I finally decided to go with soap nuts (I got mine from but they’re available in a lot of places). I was a little skeptical at first but we’re about 8 months into using it on all of our clothes and the cloth diapers and I’m still really happy with them. I got the biggest size bag which was about $50. It looks like it’s going to last me at least a year and a half, maybe two or more (that’s at about 10 loads a week in an HE machine).
    Even with the HE machine I’ve never had an issue with detergent buildup (although I do strip my diapers every 8 weeks or so just in case). Anything I think might stain (like baby poo on clothes) gets soaked in an eco-friendly off brand of oxygen bleach that doesn’t have any perfumes or other additives) and I toss some in with the diapers hot wash.
    It is a little more work because in order to use them in a cold water wash you either need to pre-soak them in hot water or make a liquid detergent by boiling them (I make a batch about every 10 days). I haven’t found it particularly bothersome but it does mean that if I want my husband to do laundry I have to make sure there’s plenty already made.

  • TwinMamaTeb

    November 6, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    I bought Charlies when Amalah first mentioned it (an earlier post). I don’t cloth diaper, but do have 11 mo twins, and darnit if it cleans poopy diapers it will clean their regular clothes!
    I also have an HE washer. And use the powder. And have no problems. I am a HUGE fan. Much cheaper than Tide/etc too. Just make sure you keep the powder dry- it tends to clump.

  • bethany actually

    November 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Amalah (or someone else who knows about this) I know fabric softener is verboten on cloth diapers, but do you use any kind of fabric softener on your other clothes? I can’t stand static-y clothes, and I know fabric softener leaves a coating on my clothes, reducing their lifespan, yada yada, but…I can’t stand static-y clothes! Any tips?

  • Margie S.

    November 6, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    I have been using Ecover with cloth diapers and everything else in my HE machine and haven’t had any complaints, but have had some stink-over-time, so I think the next time I buy detergent I’ll try Charlie’s, which I’m happy that a local boutique carries!
    To Olivia with the rash problem: I recently stripped my diapers with Dawn dish detergent, as was recommended so many places, and my seven month old daughter had an immediate and definite skin rash reaction. It was definitely the Dawn and as soon as we re-washed everything (multiple times to be sure we got it all out), she was fine again. I haven’t heard of this happening with anyone else, but I didn’t realize it right away, so I thought I’d share this in case you’ve done anything like that recently with your dipes.

  • Joceline

    November 6, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    I could have written this question–eczema, various other skin issues, cloth diapers, etc.
    I’ve never tried Charlie’s Soap, but we’ve had a lot of success with Country Save. It is a good price, especially if you can find it locally. We’ve had no stink problems with diapers since we started using it, and no skin issues either.

  • Ashley

    November 7, 2009 at 2:42 am

    Bethany, try adding white vinegar to the rinse cycle (or in your fabric softener dispenser if your washer has one). That’s what I use to cut static on our clothes.

  • TJ

    November 7, 2009 at 3:16 am

    I do not have babies, but I do have a fiance with ridiculously sensitive skin. He has so far refused to change detergents and washes all of his clothes in either All free & clear or Woolite. And he wears the same BDUs all week and Woolite SO DOES NOT CUT IT.
    But we can’t change detergents, he says, because of the optical brighteners, like you mentioned. Did you know you can’t wash military uniforms in detergents that contain optical brighteners? Because apparently that’s common knowledge to the whole world except for me. Also apparently, if I buy any other detergent at all, and war breaks out in Arizona, he will be spotted from the sky by Arizona’s enemies, because I don’t love him enough to do his laundry correctly.
    Which is a long, rambling, 1am way of saying that this post just totally made my day, because IN HIS FACE.

  • Stephanie

    November 7, 2009 at 11:15 am

    You might want to try white vinegar on the shirts with the underarm smell. That stuff works wonders. I’d just pour it on full strength right on the problem areas just before you wash them.
    bethany actually:
    I’ve heard that hose dyer balls work well. I haven’t used them, but they’re supposed to be good.

  • Sonja

    November 8, 2009 at 1:57 am

    Some babies have terrible skin reactions from Charlie’s Soap!
    I’m using Country Save powder in an HE washer with really hard water, and it works well.
    I thought this guide was helpful (they have an HE guide too, scroll down for link):

  • Elizabeth

    November 8, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Does anyone have any experience with using Charlie’s Soap in apartment building laundry rooms? I wonder if it’s a wothwhile purchase, since there’s no way I can control what detergent the person before me used in the machine (or what they washed, which is so YUCK I just avoid the thought entirely). Thanks!

  • kakaty

    November 9, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Way back when I cloth diapered my baby (a whopping 3 years ago) Allens Naturally Liquid Detergent was the big reccomendation. At first I used it just on diapers then started using in on all our wash. The gallon-sized lasts well over a year for me and we love it. I was lucky to live near where it’s made so I could get it at a local co-op, but now that I’ve moved I have it shippped. I really only have to think about it once a year. (looks like they now have a anti-static softner now, too).

  • Melissa

    November 9, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    As I was reading the question I was thinking “Charlies Soap!” Glad it has so many followers, it’s hte best!!!

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