So, I realized something not too long ago, which was that I do not use normal laundry detergent. Some people might find this strange. For me, it only makes sense. If I want to go more “natural” with my food, why not in other aspects of my life? Now, of course, not everything that is “natural” is safe. Many poisons are natural concoctions. But things like detergent tend to be made from chemicals or petroleum products. Not exactly something I’d consider sustainable. So, here I’m going to tell you what I do for laundry soap.
First of all, what is a soapnut? According to Wikipedia, soapnuts are the fruits of a tree or shrub related to the Lychee family. Soapnuts are also known as soapberries. The outside of the nut contains saponin, a natural surfactant, or substance that messes with the surface tension of the water. It’s basically a natural soap. They grow mainly in the sub-tropical regions of Asia and India, so that may be why it seems only recently they’ve gained popularity. You can see in the picture above what they look like and how big they are. They are supposedly great for people with sensitive skin, but I don’t have super-sensitive skin, so I can’t say. Another advantage to soapnuts is that they don’t bubble or foam like commercial detergents, which makes them great for high-efficiency washing machines like mine.
So how do you use them? Well, if you do all your laundry on the same day, you place three or four of them in a drawstring bag like the one above, and toss them right in with the clothes. (Hot water works better than cold for this method.) Andrew and I tend to do a single batch every couple of days, and try to minimize our use of hot water, and so making a soapnuts liquid makes more sense.
1. Take 12-15 soapnuts and place them in at least a 2 qt pot. If there are halves, two halves count as 1 nut.
3. Once the mixture boils, lower the heat to keep it simmering, and simmer for at least 30 minutes. The goal is to get the water to condense into a concentrated soap liquid form. You may need to add some liquid to keep the pot from drying out, so keep an eye on it. However, I’ve never had to do this.
4. After mixture is done boiling, turn off the heat and let it cool in the pot. Set up whatever container you want to keep the liquid in. Here, I’m using a wide-mouth quart glass jar. You’ll need a funnel also. Take some paper towels (or cloth ones if you like) and dampen them before lining the funnel with them. See the picture.
The point of dampening the towels is to keep from losing liquid to the paper towels, which will filter out the nuts and any other little pieces we don’t want to put in with our clothes.
5. Begin pouring the soapnuts liquid into the top of the filter. This may take a while, because you can’t dump it in there all at once. You’ll notice a fruity smell; that’s perfectly normal. These are berries, after all.
6. Once done, put on the cap and put it in the fridge. Putting it in the fridge keeps it from spoiling, though if you notice a fermenting smell, you’ve probably let it go too long. I haven’t had a problem with it.
To use, put 3 tablespoons where your normal detergent would go. If handwashing an item, use 2 teaspooons.
Now, I know you’re wondering if it gets your clothes clean. I haven’t had any problems. My clothes don’t have a noticeable detergent smell anymore, but they certainly don’t smell dirty. For stains, I add Borax in with the detergent. If the stain is really tough, I use a commercial stain remover stick. I’ve heard vinegar works, but I don’t like the smell, so I avoid it unless I really feel it’s necessary to get rid of other smells (forgotten loads in the washer, anyone?) Vinegar also supposedly works as a fabric softener. I don’t use it in that way, and I don’t use dryer sheets. I use wool yarn dryer balls. They make more noise, especially if you have a small batch in the dryer, but I feel like they agitate my clothes well and “fluff” them. I put in two dryer balls for each batch.
Sources for soapnuts: I got my first small batch at my local health food store. If you can’t find any there, I recommend Naturoli on Amazon. Start off with a small tester batch to see if you like it, and then you can do what I do and buy them by the kilo. Soapnuts liquid can also supposedly be used as a dish soap, hand soap, even shampoo. I don’t use it for any of these, though I might consider it for hand soap in the future.
P.S. Make sure you label the jar or have some other way of identifying it, especially for other family members or roommates. You don’t want to accidentally eat this!