I'd like to introduce you to one of my most favourite zero-waste swaps. A natural, 100% organic alternative to laundry detergent - Soap Nuts! As you'll probably already know, we have sensitive skin in our family and even had painful eczema before we started making our miracle soap that cleared it up.
So, it's super important for us to wash our clothes in something that doesn't irritate our skin, soap nuts are a gentle yet effective natural alternative to chemical-ridden commercial laundry detergents. Plus, they're zero waste! Win-win.
Here's some information about the wonderful Soap Nuts:
What Are Soap Nuts?
Soap nuts actually aren’t nuts, they’re berries that are harvested from trees that grow in India, the Caribbean, Florida and Hawaii. They are in the Sapindaceae, or soapberry, family. They're actually related to lychees, believe it or not. However, when they're dried out, they form a hard shell that resembles a nut.
What Makes Them Good For Cleaning Laundry?
These berries contain saponin, a natural surfactant that is released when the shell absorbs water. So when you put soap nut shells into a load of laundry, the saponin penetrates the fibres of the material which lifts dirt, oils, and stains from your clothing to be rinsed away naturally.
Soap nuts are very gentle and an ideal laundry solution for:
- People with skin conditions or sensitive skin
- People with chemical sensitivity
- People who care for the environment
- Baby clothes, nappies/diapers and bed clothes
How to Use Soap Nuts for Laundry
Only use deseeded soap nut shells, because the seed itself can stain fabric.
- Pop 4 to 6 organic soap nut shells into a cotton muslin bag (7 soap nuts if you're in a hard water area.)
- Tie the drawstring tightly to keep the soap nuts inside, put a knot in the bag.
- Put your clothes and the muslin bag into the drum of the washing machine, together.
- Wash as normal :) Simple!
The water smells fresh and a bit like apples, not chemicals, which is amazing, but if you did want some fragrance, add a few drops of organic essential oils on to the outside of the bag.
A bag of soap nuts can be reused several times before it wears out. When the soap nuts get mushy, compost them and start fresh.
Does Lack Of Soapy Suds Mean Less Cleaning?
You’ll notice that soap nuts don’t produce foamy and soapy bubbles that you see with commercial detergents. This doesn't mean they aren't washing your clothes. Actually, those "normal cleaning suds" you’re used to seeing in your washing machine are generally produced by artificial foaming agents that don’t actually contribute to the cleaning ability of the product, they're just made to look that way, to sell more chemical products.
Soap nuts clean incredibly well and another plus point is that the lack of artificially added foaming agents means this natural and organic laundry detergent is also easier on your water systems than traditional chemical detergents.
Would you like to try these magical soap nuts?
Here are some answers to common questions that people have the first time they try soap nuts for laundry detergent:
1 - Are they actually berries, from a tree?
Yes. You'll notice they are hollow or they may be in pieces. This is because the detergent is actually in the dried shell. We take out the seeds because not only do they not contain any detergent but the seeds can actually stain clothing.
2 - Do we leave these in through the whole cycle, including rinsing?
Yes! It may freak you out to think that the soap nuts will be in the washing cycle the whole time, but you actually want these to be in the whole time because the cleaning agent that's in soap nuts also acts as a 2-in-1 fabric softener. In fact, extracts from these soap nuts are actually used in some natural commercial fabric softeners, too. They act differently from standard chemical softeners because chemical softeners work by coating laundry with wax that can really irritate sensitive skin (yuk!). The detergent from soap berries is clean rinsing and works by opening up fibres making them soft and fluffy. Some people use them with other detergents, in place of fabric softener.
3 - Are these natural cleaners good with stains?
Soap nuts work amazingly well on some stains and not so great on others. If you have a bad stain, try pre-treating before washing, with some apple cider vinegar or even some concentrated soap nut solution made by popping some soap nuts into a pot of water and boiling, or adding some eco friendly oxygen bleach to make sure it gets taken care of.
4 - Do soap nuts take a lot of work? Like keeping track of how many washes I have left etc.
You don't have to count your loads, though they'll likely last 4 washes. It's super simple. After some uses you'll notice they become thin, like the picture above. You probably won't even have to look in the bag - you'll be able to feel through the bag that they've lost their cleaning "oomph". You can compost used soap nuts in your garden.
5 - I'm Just Not Sure They're Cleaning, I Want To See Bubbles?
Bubbles don't actually clean. We have been trained to expect to see bubbles and the big detergent companies actually add foaming agents to their detergent just so that you see the appearance of bubbles and think it's cleaning better! Ridiculous, right? The truth is that in commercial laundry detergent there's a foaming agent creating the bubbles and a detergent in there doing the cleaning! We don't add anything like that to our soap nuts because it's not necessary and they're completely organic, whole, one ingredient detergent. If you did want to see some bubbles to be convinced, pop some soap nuts into a jar and shake it vigorously, you'll see some suds, they just don't form as easily in the washing machine.
5 Top Tips:
Don't overfill your washing machine. Soap Nuts work more efficiently with more agitation and room to work.
There's no need to add fabric softener. Your laundry will come out soft and fluffy without it.
For brighter whites, wash whites by themselves. + add a cup of lemon juice or a drop of eco-friendly oxygen bleach for any stains.
Make sure you store your natural Soap Nuts in a cool, dry place.
Soap Nuts work in all washing machines, with any temperature of water.
Do you have any zero waste tips you'd like to add? Comment below to help others become more eco friendly ⬇️
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