Charlie’s Soap Indoor/Outdoor Cleaner and Safety
Back in April 2011, we posted on our Facebook page how much we like Charlie’s Soap All Purpose Cleaner (now known as Indoor/Outdoor cleaner) as a household cleaner. Very quickly, a fan commented with the following link:
This blogger makes some pretty inflammatory claims about Charlie’s Soap I/O. We take customer safety seriously, so we undertook a long process of investigating the claims presented in this blog. The issue revolves around the active ingredient in Charlie’s Soap I/O: 2-butoxyethanol.
First, we approached Charlie’s Soap. Taylor Sutherland, Charlie’s son, sent us the following email. Another retailer had recently asked this question:
I’m seeing some recent blogs about a Czech cleaning agent in your products
that is toxic? would you address this… might even be helpful to do so
on your website as the word is getting around.
This is Taylor’s answer to her:
Yep. I saw the blog. I’m still scratching my head on the Czech comment. I think I have an idea where that came from, but it’s a stretch. Another product, buytl cellosolve acetate, is spelled, “butyl cellosolve acetat” in Czech. That is the only connection I can find.
Our solvent, which is not regulated by OSHA, not recognized by EPA as needing regulation, rated non-toxic and not worth special labeling by Duke University, is not recognized as a harmful in the EU, and is recognized specifically to not persist in the human body (i.e. no prolonged exposure risk) is produced here in the US. The name, confused with another product and Czech name, is actually a trade name from “Union Carbide”, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical. It must be rated as safe to use in Czechoslovakia and some may actually be manufactured there as well as in the USA.
There are many solvents used by various cleaners around the world. Butyl is rated the best. We chose it because it combines strength and safety beyond industry standards. We also wanted to make a cleaner that gets the job done quickly and effectively while knowing full well that it was going to be around inquisitive small children who would pop the top and drink it. I’ve given you a few attachments. (Note to reader: Green Bambino will gladly provide you these documents upon request.)
MSDS – This is a material safety data sheet on the All Purpose Cleaner, but the new name is Indoor/Outdoor Surface Cleaner concentrate. It has first aid, storage, and safety information that is required for all products…even water.
USDA Approval – Just that. Our products were rated for use around food preparation surfaces.
Canadian DA – similar approval was given to us by the Canadian division of agriculture.
Duke 2069 – 2069 was our internal name. Now we use CS13 instead of 2069 and Indoor/Outdoor instead of All Purpose. Duke is the only entity outside of ourselves that know the formula.
On a personal note, I have used this product for all my life. I’m 39 and the product is almost 35 years old (granted, it’s gone through a few changes here and there). They even used it as my bubble bath. We’d wash the dogs, our hands, clothes (although mom did all the washing), cars, etc… The only problem anyone has ever encountered was if you got it in your eyes, it would smart for a short time and then you’d be fine. I once got a letter from a gentleman who mixed up our All Purpose Cleaner and his contact lens solutions. He wrote to thank us for not blinding him for his silly mistake. It smarted to be sure, but he’s still perfectly fine.
Others have suggested citric acids or other acids from orange peels and the like instead of this and those have their own series of drawbacks. The same goes with all the other solvents we tried. When we chose the solvent we use, we chose it because it is the best and safest.
On a philosophical note, we believe that in order to make money for our family business and keep it around for our next of kin (yes, the current babies are washed with Charlie’s Soap (their bubble bath), we have to make sure that our customers are alive and well when they are old enough to make their own soap buying decisions. We can’t do that by harming people and lying to them.
I hope that clears up some of the confusion. If you have any questions at all for us, don’t hesitate to call.
C. Taylor Sutherland, III
Pres. Charlie’s Soap, Inc.
But while we trust Charlie’s Soap to be a transparent company, we went further and asked a local researcher to look into the claim that Charlie’s I/O cleaner isn’t as safe as the company indicates. Here is her response:
After looking into 2-butoxyethanol, it is my opinion that it is safe. I started my search by looking at the blog site where this conversation originated. I can understand having concern about foreign chemicals when there are truly toxic things out there that should be avoided, especially for our children, however, the internet has made it too easy for negative opinions to be spread by individuals in areas outside of their expertise.
The blog had a very negative review of Charlie’s Soap, mostly because they felt that something unsafe was being covered up, when in reality, scientists frequently use multiple names for products and chemicals and this chemical is used broadly among cleaning supplies, and product labeling is not efficient when labeled for the “least common denominator.” I followed the blog to their linked source, which turned out to be a .com website. One thing I have been taught in my education is that you cannot automatically trust a .com as a reliable source.
This website, SkinDeep, is a cosmetics database that ranks the safety of products and chemicals, but it is obviously set up in a biased manner to alarm users. Upon first viewing the page for 2-butoxyethanol, there is a checklist presented which has numerous “danger” boxes checked, including one next to cancer, however, as you scroll down, the website actually did their research and have relevant sources listed.
Most people would probably have stopped reading at this point, but if you scroll down just a little bit and click the ‘show more’ button under cancer, all relevant sources are presented. It is my determination from reviewing this material that the cancer box was checked at the top of the page because no extensive research has been done to test if 2-butoxyethanol is a carcinogen. One of the major reasons that no research has been done is because he chemical has passed both the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System and International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) analysis for carcinogens and both determined this chemical to be “not classifiable/not likely to be human carcinogen” – in other words, these agencies have seen no such need to conduct the research.
There were a couple of additional studies cited that performed a cell mutation test on non-mammal cells that were positive for mutation, and the LD50 (or lethal dose of 50% of rats tested) was determined to be the equivalent of 1.5 Tbsp of pure chemical for a 3 yr old child. This may seem alarming, but if I told you that a large dose of hydroxyethane would be lethal, that sounds scary too, unless you are a chemist and know that hydroxyethane is the same thing as ethanol, which a lot of people enjoy drinking daily! Drinking too much alcohol can kill you in the short term, or with long term exposure, but that doesn’t make it unsafe. In fact, there are many studies that show the health benefits of drinking a glass of alcohol each day.
So, next I looked into any research articles I could find using this chemical, and in the ones we found that used this chemical to make rats sick, the animals were ingesting the equivalent of 1 tsp for your average 3-4 year old for 4 consecutive days. Now, since 2-butoxyethanol comprises less than 4% of Charlie’s Soap, that would be the equivalent of a child ingesting approximately 2/3 cup of concentrated cleaner, for four consecutive days. That would be bad parenting, not Charlie’s fault. Now, Charlie’s recommends 1/4 dilution for spray-on/wipe-off cleaning, so at that dilution a child would have to ingest 2 1/2 cups for four consecutive days to match the studies; all to avoid a chemical that has the cancer box checked next to it simply because both the EPA and the IARC deemed it as not likely a carcinogen.
I want to protect my child as much as anyone else, but we are surrounded by chemicals every day, and there are chemicals created by nature (lead, cadmium, zinc) that are regularly found in even healthy organic foods (like spinach) that have been shown to be thousands of times more toxic than synthetic chemicals, such as the one of concern here. And we don’t even need to get into all of the plant/bacteria-made poisons in nature.
As a further consideration, this chemical has the same evaporation rate as water, so if the surface is dry, the chemical should have already evaporated, thus further diluting it exponentially.
I think the message here is perspective. Sure, there are unsafe chemicals that we want to avoid exposure to, that’s why we keep cleaning products out of reach of children and definitely avoid things that have been consistently shown to cause problems, (eg. red dye #40) but you just do the best you can to do what’s right – that just may be different for each of us. If you need to add an extra rinse cycle to your laundry or further dilute the cleaner to feel safer, then go for it. Otherwise, consider using vinegar and water if you don’t mind the smell.
MS, PhD & LPC
This investigation really highlights the need to do your own research. You can’t believe everything on the blogosphere – in fact, we should all read blogs with a healthy dose of skepticism until we dig deeper.
Every parent’s job is to love and protect their children, and I applaud the original blogger for wanting to look out for her family. However, after inquiring further into the safety of Charlie’s Soap Indoor/Outdoor cleaner, I’m more convinced than ever that it is one of the safest products I can use in my home.
I extend my thanks to the Facebook commenter who brought her concerns to my attention. Her comments challenged me as a consumer and a retailer – a challenge I was glad to accept.