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Bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap, May 2011

Bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap, May 2011

“Ideal for Pre-Treating Stains”

“Heavy Duty Laundry Bar Soap”

“Ingredients: Cleaners, soil & stain removers, chelating agents, colorants, perfume.”

Fels-Naptha seems to have been around forever, but I had never seen or purchased the product and didn’t know what it was for. With a name like Fels-Naptha, it sounded like it contained strong ingredients, like napalm or something.

Hubby wants to make homemade laundry soap and one of the ingredients in the recipe he has is Fels-Naptha, so we picked up a bar at Wal-Mart. (Strangely, Wal-Mart continues to carry these odd, old-timey products, even if you have to bend to the lowest shelves to find them.) We read the ingredients, which I’ve listed above, and couldn’t help noticing how general they are. Cleaners? Soil removers? Stain removers? Colorants? Gee, could you be any more specific?

So, I did a little research, as I am wont to do, and discovered on The Official Fels-Naptha website the honest-to-goodness ingredients:

Soap (sodium tallowate*, sodium cocoate* (or) sodium palmate kernelate*, and sodium palmate*), water, talc, cocnut acid*, palm acid*, tallow acid*, PEG-6 methyl ether, glycerin, sorbitol, sodium chloride, pentasodium pentetate and/or tetrasodium etidronate, titatium dioxide, fragrance, Acid Orange (CI 20170), Acid yellow 73 (ci43350)

*contains one or more of these ingredients

Once I had an answer on the ingredients, I wanted to know how this laundry soap got its name. I mean, come on, Fels-Naptha is not only mysterious as a name, it has a great ring to it. Wikipedia partially answered my query. The Fels part is the last name of Joseph Fels, who developed it in 1893. The Naptha part was a tad harder to pin down. Two websites helped me with this. As it turns out, Naptha can also be spelled Naphtha. Whichever way you spell it, it is a hydrocarbon made from crude oil that can be used as a solvent, which is why it works well as a stain remover.

The science-y explanation comes from the Wise Geek website and I hope I’ve summarized it correctly. I also found a great review of Fels-Naptha by bkalafut on Epinions.com that explains some of the soap’s uses, including removing oily stains and washing the capsaicin from hot peppers off your hands. Historically, it was also used to treat poison ivy. However, before using Fels-Naptha on your skin, you’d better read the warning on the package:

“Caution: Eye and Skin Irritant (See back panel for further precautions)”

Back of a package of Fels-Naptha laundry soap, May 2011

Back of a package of Fels-Naptha laundry soap, May 2011


Incidentally, I tend to write a lot about products and packaging on my blog, so much that I see I have a collection going. I didn’t know I was collecting them until I read Stephen King’s short story “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” in the book “Everything’s Eventual.” The story features bathroom graffiti. At the end of the story, King explains that he collects bathroom graffiti and wanted to use it in a story sometime. “All That You Love …” was his chance to use his collection.

Does that mean I’m going to write a short story about wacky product packaging? I have no idea.