There are two types of people in this world: those who have heard of soap nuts (or soap berries), and those who haven’t. If you’re in the latter group, today is your lucky day. If you’re in the former group and have heard of them but don’t really know much about them, well, your life is about to be enriched, too.
So what the heck are soap nuts?
They’re not actually nuts. They’re the shell of the fruit that grow on a bush/tree in the lychee family, native to Nepal and India. The best part is that they’re an all-natural, (usually) organic alternative to chemical laundry detergents. They’re totally non-toxic. On top of that, you can also use them in a variety of ways unrelated to washing your clothes.They’re great for babies and for people with chemical sensitivities.
In a nutshell (no pun intended), all you do is put a couple of these shells in a little cloth bag, throw it in your washing machine, and do your laundry. That’s it. Each batch of shells lasts a few loads, so they’re economical as well. When they are no good to use anymore, you can throw them into your compost bin.
How They Work
Basically, the shells contain natural saponins which, combined with the water and gyration in your washing machine, acts as a surfactant. A surfactant lowers the tension between the surface of your clothes and the dirt or stains that are on top of the fabrics, thereby allowing the water to lift the dirt from your clothes.
Soap nuts are great for high efficiency washers, because they don’t produce a lot of suds.
Why You Might Want To Avoid Laundry Detergent
If you’re one of those types who cares about what goes into your body, you may want to consider what goes onto it. Add in the fact that when you wear clothes you also inhale the chemicals that was used to wash them, and you’ve got a veritable stew of toxic crap in and on your body on a constant basis.
Four of the worst chemicals used in commercial laundry detergent are SLS or SLES (sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate), 1,4-dioxane, NPE (nonylphenol ethoxylate), and phosphates (if you use powder detergent). Add in chemical fragrances and artificial colors and it’s not a pretty picture: they’re bad for your body as well as for the environment.
Where To Get Soap Nuts
You can order soap nuts online from a variety of companies or stores, or you can check out your local health food store. Just be wary of buying from Chinese producers, because they’re not likely to follow organic principles. In fact, any soap nuts you buy should be certified organic for the best quality.
You might even find them at a baby boutique because they’re great for washing cloth diapers and baby clothes due to the fact that they are chemical-free, fragrance-free, and 100 percent natural. You’ll pay more or less depending on where you get them, but expect to pay anywhere between $8 and $20 for a 500g bag that will wash between 150 and 200 loads of clothes.
How To Use Soap Nuts
So we talked about the basics of how you use soap nuts. How you use them, though, will depend on the size of your load and if you’re using cold or hot water.
Every bag or box of soap nuts you buy should come with one or two small cloth bags. You should use between two and five soap nuts (or the equivalent in shell pieces) for each load, depending on the size of the load.
For hot washes, just put the shells in the bag and draw it closed. A single knot will hold it together through the wash. Put the baggie with the shells in your washer, add your clothes, and choose your settings. That’s it.
For cold washes, you need to add one step: soak the baggie with the nuts in it in a cup or bowl with about half a cup of hot water in it for a few minutes. Then dump the water into the washer, throw in the baggie with the shells, add your clothes, and choose your wash settings. Soaking is important because it will kick start the process that releases the saponins.
When your laundry cycle is done, take out your clothes out and pull out the soap nuts bag. You don’t have to take the baggie out at any point during the wash cycle, because the saponins don’t leave any buildup on your clothes; in fact, they act as a fabric softener (so you don’t have to use that, either). If you want some scent, you can add some essential oil into the fabric softener tray. Just pour in a quarter cup of water and four or five drops of essential oil into the reservoir.
You should be able to reuse the nuts a few times. Once they get soft and don’t feel squeaky clean anymore, they’re done. Toss them into your composter!
Other Uses For Soap Nuts
In case you’re thinking soap nuts are pretty awesome, well, there’s more! You can also use them to make a liquid soap that you can use for cleaning, shampoo, body wash, dish soap, and liquid laundry detergent.
How to make soap nut liquid:
Put 10 soap nuts (or the equivalent in shells) in one of the drawstring bags and tie it closed. Put the bag in a large pot and add eight cups of water. Bring to a boil and keep it there for about 25 minutes until you have a yellowish-brown, semi-thick liquid. This will cost you around $1.00 per batch. You can’t beat that!
How to Use Soap Nut Liquid
To use the liquid for laundry detergent (which is best in cold washes), just add a couple of tablespoons to your wash. Feel free to add essential oils as desired.
To use as a household cleaner, mix it with some baking soda and lavender or tea tree oil essential oil and you can clean the kitchen or bathroom. It’s great for scouring a bathtub: just mix baking soda and the liquid until it forms a toothpaste-like consistency, and use a brush to apply it to the tub. This mixture will remove all kind of nasty stuck-on gunk and soap residue.