Charlie's Corner

January 26, 2021

The Evolution of Charlie’s Soap Natural Laundry Detergent Packaging

When Charlie’s Soap first started back in 1976, it was almost by accident. Charlie Sr.’s original customers — textile manufacturing companies — started asking Charlie about a cleaner for the textile machines. Charlie’s son, Charlie Jr., who had a background in chemistry, invented a cleaner that worked so well on textile machines that employees at the textile companies started sneaking it home for personal use. 

Soon enough, word spread, and people started asking where they could get their hands on some of “Charlie’s soap”. Charlie’s Soap seemed like a perfectly fine name, and here we are nearly 5 decades later, creating naturally derived, gentle, and environmentally friendly products for customers worldwide. 

While our products have evolved throughout the years, we’ve always stood by our commitment to our customers and our planet. As part of that commitment, we are consistently researching better, more sustainable ways of packaging our products to minimize our carbon footprint.

Charlie’s Soap Natural Laundry Powder is Born 

Though Charlie’s Soap started in 1976, it wasn’t until 2001 that our flagship product, Charlie’s Soap Natural Laundry Powder, entered the market. Our Laundry Powder was born out of the technology we used for textile companies many years prior, and in those early days was packaged in what could best be described as a lunch bag lined with plastic. The bag had a Charlie’s Soap label on the front and it was all tied together with a rubber band. This was simple and effective packaging, but it was far from the professional look our founders really wanted.

From there, our packaging (and business) grew a bit.  Because our Natural Laundry Detergent was only available in powder form at this time, we were able to use a “coffee bag” style package, which you can see below. 

The coffee bag style package was one of our favorites. They were lined with recyclable plastic, and they didn’t take up much space in a landfill. Plus, our customers loved that they were easy to reclose. Unfortunately, the manufacturer of these bags started using different processes and products. Over time, the bags became thinner and thinner, to the point that they started constantly breaking. Eventually, the bags were shipped flat, and the Charlie’s Soap staff had to glue them into shape by hand. This took a lot of time, which isn’t exactly the most feasible packaging option for a growing business!

From paper to cloth packaging

Flash forward five(ish) years, when we started packaging our Laundry Powder in cloth bags.  While the cloth idea was great in theory, it quickly became an issue for storage and shipping. The first iteration didn’t have a plastic liner, which was great for the environment. However, the environment is VERY humid in North Carolina – all that moisture seeped through the cloth bags, turning the Laundry Powder into bags of brick. We actually started including tiny hammers in the packaging so people customers could break the bricks apart! 

After that first cloth packaging attempt, we added a recyclable plastic liner to the cloth bags. 

This wasn’t ideal because, for one, it was still plastic, and two, because we couldn’t make them fast enough to sell. By this time, it was 2010, and we were making 4 pallets a day but selling 5.  We had to abandon the cloth packaging option, even if it did gain recognition overseas.

The decision to use plastic packaging

After we moved away from cloth, our biggest question was: How do we ship more of our laundry detergent, store it easily in our warehouse, and create packaging that our buyers could use in their homes? This is how our jar was born.

The jars were very popular with customers and were easy to ship, stock, use, recycle, and reuse. However, the jars used a bit more plastic than we were comfortable with. Because of this, we made the switch to the plastic bags that we use to this day.

Each time we update our package, we try to reduce our use of plastic. Unfortunately, due to the fact that our laundry powder is indeed, a powder, it’s very hard to find packaging that completely eliminates the need for plastic that protects our laundry powder from moisture, and is strong enough to withstand shipping. Our newest packaging version is easy to use, store, and ship, takes minimal space in a landfill, and is even recyclable in select locations.

Why can’t we use other, more recyclable materials for our packaging?

One of the biggest questions we get from customers is, “Do you have recyclable packaging options?” While our bigger liquid detergent containers are recyclable, the reality is that it’s been difficult to find materials that are both 100% recyclable and affordable for our customers.  

Cardboard packaging for example typically causes a few logistical issues. Our Laundry Powder must be kept dry – when exposed to moisture or humidity, it essentially turns into a brick. A protective coating on the cardboard packaging would normally be a great solution, however, the chemical makeup of our Laundry Powder interferes with the quality and effectiveness of the protective coating. Glass isn’t a viable option either, as it would require us to use unsustainable packaging to prevent breaking during shipping. Glass is also very heavy, which would increase the fuel needed to ship. 

We have also toyed with the idea of using foil-lined canisters like your favorite brand of tube-shaped chips, but those don’t ship very well when they are as wide as we would need it.  They also don’t fit well on shelves and could confuse customers — who would pick up the laundry detergent that looks like a can of chips?? 

Currently, we are testing different types of recyclable and reusable containers, such as metal containers, compost options, and more. Metal can be quite expensive, but compostable film is currently performing well with our tests. If we do choose to go the compost route, we want to make sure that the end product is something you can throw in your compost pile at home — that’s the only way to truly create biodegradable packaging! 

Do we want to add anything about the refill program? Sounds like it’s pretty murky still, so may not want that.

Charlie’s Soap is dedicated to sustainability

We hope that this little trip down memory lane has shown you how much our family-owned company has grown over the last 40+ years, and how we constantly seek to improve. From our laundry and home cleaning solutions to the packaging we use to deliver them right to your door, we are always looking for better solutions. We are getting better every day!