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Fels Naptha Soap

By David Lynch

Naptha sure doesn't sound like a promising material for soap!

Many's the time I've been requested to pass judgement on a bleach or detergent and have respectfully declined. There's certainly a need for some unbiased judgement of such products, but my main concern for now is personal hygiene and I have hardly scratched the surface of the soaps designed for that purpose that are on the market today. That having been said, I'm sure you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered I had puchased a bar of laundry soap to review. Although placed with the hand soaps, Fels-Naptha is explicitly designed for the purpose of washing laundry, and is a skin irritant. This was clearly a dilemma I would have to face head-on. I realized that it was possible that I was not the only consumer who had purchased Fels-Naptha with the intention of washing with it, and it that was a bar soap. I decided that I would attempt to clean my hands with the soap, and report my findings honestly. I must stress the importance of following the directions included with your soap. Soap is a poison, and I am experimenting in professional capacity. Use your head.

The package is wrapped in wax paper, and has a white background. It's 2 1/4 by 5 inches wide, which is considerably longer than the average soap package. The front of the package is taken up by the Fels-Naptha logo, which resembles a forest green concave rectangle or a bow-tie with an olive green border. Halfway through the center of the top of the bow-tie is an olive green oval with a forest green border, with "100" written in white and a yellow banner beneath the numbers, that proclaims "YEARS OF QUALITY" in red. The upper left corner has a yellow box with red shadowing covering the tip. Inside the box, "Ideal for prewash spotting!" is printed in forest green. "FELS-NAPTHA heavy duty laundry bar soap" is printed in white inside the bow tie, and "NET WT 5 1/2 OZ (155g)" is printed inside the bottom concave in thin red letters. "CAUTION: EYE AND SKIN IRRITANT (See back panel for further precautions)" is printed in tiny red letters beneath the weight. There are 25 thin red lines wrapping around the middle of the box lengthwise, and they go completely through the concave rectangle. I painstakingly counted every line with the tip of a compass to be sure my calculations were correct. The Fels-Naptha logo is printed on the opening flaps on the sides of the box within the 25 lines, and there are two lines left to spare on each side of the logo. The top of the box has the Fels-Naptha logo, including the yellow box and the 25 lines, printed across it, but the "100 YEARS OF QUALITY" is printed to the right of the logo. The bottom is identical to the top, but there is a yellow square with a red border printed to the left of the box. The Liberty Bell is printed in red inside the square. For those of you who are unfamiliar with patriotic American symbols, the Liberty Bell is a large bell with a jagged crack running more than halfway up the bell. I have no clue as to why a big broken bell has become a sort of landmark for Americans. Maybe it was broken by Abraham Lincoln in a fit of drunken rage. In any case, it's totally inconsequential. The back of the package has the 25 red stripes with a forest green bow tie with an olive green background. Instead of "Fels-Naptha heavy duty laundry bar soap", the following is printed:

INGREDIENTS: Cleaners, soil and stain removers, chelating 
agents, colorants, perfume.
eyes and prolonged contact with skin. FIRST AID: Eyes:
Flush thoroughly with water. If irritation persists, call a
physician. Skin: Rinse thoroughly. 
              Keep Out Of Reach Of Children.
If you have questions or comments, please call toll-free 1-800-258-3425.

"The Dial Corp PHOENIX, AZ 85077 MADE IN U.S.A." is printed in the bottom concave. The Fels-Naptha logo sans yellow box or lines is set inside the upper concave. The bar code is printed to the left of the bow tie, and the UPC number is 24200-04303, for those of you who wish to order some. To my mind, the package looks more like a small tissue box than a soap package. This is a good idea, as it helps to distinguish it from hand soaps. I only wish it had helped me discern its true purpose before I had purchased it.

The bar itself is quite interesting. It is 2 1/4 by 5 inches, which conforms with the size of its wrapping paper. The coloring is almost neon bright, and appears to be a flourescent yellow-orange in house lighting, and resembles the shading of police tape or municipal signs when examined under the harsh glare of sunlight. This is quite different from the soft whites of Ivory and Lux, or the mellow cream of tone. Even the crayon colors of Dial for Kids seem mellow compared to this laundry bar. A bar of this color would be a bold way to start one's day. The shape is that of an elongated brick, with firm squared-off sides. The front and back of the soap are indented by less than a centimeter, and it looks as if there is a slighly raised border of about a centimeter surrounding the soasp. Inside the indentation is the Fels-Naptha logo, lacking the 25 lines and the overhanging rectangular bars seen on the front. The rest of the soap is blank and uninteresting. The soap's odor is remarkably similar to that of Lux, which had the scent of baby powder to it. There is also a strong, strong chemical edge to it, more like a toilet cleaning fluid than a laundry detergent. I don't like the soap's odor at all, as it is much too strong. Due to the size, odor and color of the bar, I'd say it has more differences from regular soaps than it has similarities.

Next, I undertook to wash my hands with the soap. It is prominently noted on the packaging that Fels-Naptha is a skin irritant, and that one should do their damnedest to avoid prolonged contact with the skin. I said earlier that one should always follow the instructions on the packaging, and I believe that with all my heart. I'll be using my own hands as guinea pigs for the edification of you, the reader. It should be noted that I already have small sores on the backs and knuckles of my hands, so my response to the soap's detergent will likely be more intense than yours. I wrote "Vendetta" on my hand with a free black ink pen from Susan's Corner at 1581 Bardstown Rd. In a remarkable 16 seconds, the ink was completely removed from my hand with the aid of warm water and brisk scrubbing. My hands felt cleaner than they had for weeks, and did not smell of detergent at all. This was a very impressive showing for Fels-Naptha, but not entirely surprising. A laundry detergent could afford to be much stronger than a soap intended for use on human flesh. Despite this proficient cleansing, I do not recommend Fels-Naptha for daily usage. Save it for the the day you clean the chimney, or need to clean off blood. Fels-Naptha makes almost no lather, but what does come about is almost pure detergent. A little goes a long way with this soap. While this soap was not made to clean human beings, and should not be used thusly, it COULD be used to clean people's hands, which is what I set out to determine with this review.

Fels-Naptha is a good soap to have around, and cost me about $.75 at my local Kroger. I must reiterate this is NOT a suitable day-to-day soap, but I would recommend having it around for the times when Lava just won't cut it, or you only need to wash one shirt in your sink. (I found that Fels-Naptha will clean one's hand's just as well as any detergent, and can be used judiciously in one's tub.) If I had my druthers I would see to it that Fels-Naptha was sold separately from other soaps, but I'm not sorry that I bought it. I'm just glad that you, the reading public, will avoid making the same mistake I did. Buy it, but know exactly what you're getting.

A response from James Baloun:

Please forward this comment to the David Lynch Soap Review Page as I could not locate Mr. Lynch email address.

Regarding the Fels Naptha review. Very interesting. I did not know that Fels Naptha was not recommended for contact with a person's skin. My experience with Fels Naptha is related to a poisionus vine that grows in California called Poison Oak. This vine grows in dense lowland forest and it's oil can cause a very uncomfortable rash. It was recommended that the best soap for washing off the Poison Oak oil is Fels Naptha. As your review states, it is also useful for washing off difficult dirt such as automotive grease.

James Baloun
Palo Alto, CA.

A response from Mitch Rumbley:


Thanks for your review of Fels-Naptha Soap. It was worth the read. Any native of Southwest Philadelphia (home of the Liberty Bell) knows and appreciates (most of) the advantages of this product. I will enumerate some of my reactions to your review:

  1. The awful stench of the soap being manufactured on the outskirts of the southern portion of Fairmount Park, contiguous to Darby, Pennsylvania, is still entrenched in my memory. Some of the best Philly Cheesesteaks were sold and consumed in the shadows of the Fels-Naptha Soap factory. Nice (?) combination of aromas.
  2. It was always my belief that the nonusable parts of pigs, cattle, and Park and police horses slaughtered in the neighborhood (Haversettes Scrapple, Oscar Myers meats, et al) were the main ingredients for the soap.
  3. Many a floor and cement surface was scoured clean using only a bucket of Philly water, an overused scrubbing brush, Fels, and plenty of elbow grease.
  4. And... after a discouraging word or two fell from this juvenile's mouth, a Fels cake was inserted to remind the transgressor of the error of his ways.
I strongly recommend to all that rubber gloves be used in the future for association with the infamous Fels-Naptha Soap.

I hope that my input has been of value to the reader.

Mitch Rumbley

A response from Mike J:

Very nice web page you created. I read the fine article by David Lynch and find no email address for him. I have a question about Fels-Naptha soap as he is very knowledgeable about it.

I like the old fashioned soaps as I feel they are safer and have stood the test of time like Kirk's Cocao Hardwater Castille soap. I'm a low budget person. I live alone and do not have a large amount of dishes to clean. For years I've used the "wand" style of dish cleaner. They have a hollow handle to pour liquid soap into and tiny holes that allow the soap to leech into a small scrub sponge. It is a very handy way to clean dishes. I tried to save a lot on liquid dish soap because with so many brands of the wand cleaners the soaps would also leak through the sponge or leech way too much for the amount of cleaning I would be doing - literally waste soap.

Instead of liquid soap with an empty wand cleaner I started using the Castille bar soap by rubbing the sponge into the bar. Kirk's soap is great for cleaning hands and using in the shower. It makes a lot of nice lather, in a jam I've even used it to brush my teeth ha, but it doesn't really cut grease on dishes. So it seems a bar of Fels-Naptha (I put it on a scrub sponge to stabilize it) is a better cleaner. I moisten the wand sponge (no soap in the hollow handle) and rub it on the bar of Fels-Naptha and clean my dishes.

I went to the manufacturer site for the list of ingredients and wondered if I really should be using it on my dishes. One bar of the Castille can last like eight or more months for me which by far saves me on dish soap cost. I rinse my dishes well but still wonder about using the Fels-Naptha in this manner. I was hoping someone might know. At the company site they want a lot of personal information first before they answer any questions, which I think they want so they can sell your information and send all kinds of ads to your email box... so I backed out and hope you or David can answer my question. Thanks for your attention and for writing the fine article as I found you have a real gift for writing.

With Kindest Regards,
Mike J