Despite the fact that it has been around since 1893 and has a wide variety of household uses, Fels-Naptha soap can be quite hard to find. Its main use and the one for which it was invented is as an ingredient in homemade laundry detergent. Most people use premixed detergents these days. However, you can still find Fels-Naptha in some stores and online.
Where to Find Fels-Naptha or a Substitute
Fels-Naptha is no longer a household staple for most, and that means many stores don't give it shelf space. You might find it in the laundry aisle in a grocery store or in a pharmacy near where it stocks mosquito bite treatments or soaps. Some hardware stores and international grocery stores carry it. You can also buy it on Amazon.
If you still can't find Fels-Naptha, you may want to consider an alternative as a homemade laundry booster:
- Zote Soap: As popular as Fels-Naptha as laundry soap, Zote is available in pink and white bars and has a citronella-like scent. It may be more readily available at big-box stores than Fels-Naptha.
- Castile Soap: This is not a brand but a type of fine white soap made with olive oil. Look for one made with all-natural ingredients. Kirk's and Dr. Bonner's are two brands that DIY detergent users recommend.
- Ivory Soap: Another classic American product, Ivory is a gentle soap that is free of dyes and heavy perfumes. It is available at almost any grocery or drug store in the United States.
While it's marketed for use as a laundry additive or laundry detergent, Fels-Naptha has a wide range of other household uses. Some of these include cleaning grout, lubricating squeaky doors and drawer hinges, and keeping deer out of your garden (they don't like the scent). It also repels mice, mosquitoes, and lice. Fels-Naptha is used to clean sinks and showers, toilets, paintbrushes, and outdoor furniture. It shines up aluminum, too.
Fels-Naptha has long been a folk remedy for treating poison ivy and poison oak exposure on the skin. Some even use it to treat cold sores. If you balk at that, you can still use it to remove poison ivy or poison oak oils from your clothes.
The original Fels-Naptha really did contain naptha, which is a flammable liquid hydrocarbon also known as benzene. Its use in soap was apparently considered quite an innovation at the time. The product once carried a warning to avoid contact with the skin, as it was an irritant.
Naptha no longer appears on the ingredients list for Fels-Naptha soap. However, a warning on the modern version of the product indicates that it could irritate the eye or the skin after prolonged exposure.
The Fels-Naptha name remains the same, though, presumably because of its status as a genuine all-American product. Fels-Naptha was created by the company Fels & Company in Philadelphia in 1893. The product remained in the family's hands until 1964. It was then sold to a bigger company and changed hands several times before landing with the Henkel Corporation, now also the owner of the Dial soap brand.