Thursday, November 15, 2012

What I Learned After a Year of Doing Laundry With Soapnuts

Over a year ago, these funny-looking little 'nuts' made their way into my life. They are all natural cleansers that grow on trees. No, I'm not kidding. Soapnuts – as they are called – have a natural content of saponins (read: natural surfactants).

I got excited.

Here was an all-natural, efficient and planet-friendly solution to commercial detergents! It took me all of a nanosecond to abandon ALL of my regular laundry products and replace them with this little bag of drupes – for a full year – for everything I washed.

When I say everything, I mean
Dishrags
Towels
Sheets
Whites
Undies
Silks
Sportswear
Wools
Teddy Bears
Tablecloths
and everything else that made its way into the washing machine

'Methinks this woman is mad'. (I clearly heard you think that)

Perhaps.

But I learned a whole heck of a lot of things about using soapnuts for laundry. And because you may just find my observations and experiences useful, I'm going to share them with you.

Soapnuts - The Basics
To do a load of laundry, it takes a mere 5-6 nuts (if you have water that is relatively soft). These are placed in a small muslin bag that is tied shut and dropped into the washing machine. (The bag is even included when you buy the soapnuts). One bag will last for 4-5 washes, so they are very economical to use.

Some folks don't like the smell of soapnuts (they are a bit vinegar-like). Adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to the bag before putting it into the washing machine transforms the scent of the emerging laundry to a more neutral soapy-clean scent. Because we have very hard water where I live, I found 9-10 nuts per full load was optimal. I also added the lavender essential oil (as I am not a big fan of vinegar-scented clothes and sheets).

Where They Shine
Soapnuts work well
  • for colored silks
  • for colored cotton
  • for colored linen
  • for colored wool
  • for colored delicates
I know you're seeing a pattern here, and you are indeed spot-on. Soapnuts are great for natural fabrics that have color.

Where they Don't Shine
Much as I hate to admit it, there are things soapnuts really suck at. Washing whites and lighter colors eventually results in 'grays' (or, to be more precise, one might say 'browns'). Well, judge for yourself by checking the bags in this picture. The one on the left has been through 2 washes, and the one on the right has been through about 50 washes. The 'darkening' is a very gradual process. It wasn't until I decided to switch to a new bag that I noticed how much the color had dulled.

There's More...
Soapnuts have an annoying habit of staining what they come into direct contact with (like the little muslin bags). The higher the washing temp, the more they stain.

This is a good reason to learn how to tie the bag shut in such a manner that the soapnuts have no chance of escape during a wash cycle.

Because if they do – this is what happens to your lovely white sheets (the brown splotches part – not the green rings part. I added those on purpose so you could see the brown splotches part more clearly).

The bad news: the stains won't even consider coming out without persistence and bleach.

Which is why I have gone back to my old laundry detergent for whites, but still prefer using soapnuts for colored fabrics washed at lower temps.

Do Tell
Have you ever used soapnuts for laundry? What were your experiences with it?

Read more about soapnuts here

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

What about soap nuts for washing hair, face and body?
Also soapwort, yucca root and stearic acid produced using natural sources as cleansers?

Lise M Andersen said...

Hey there!

If you click the link at the bottom of the post 'Read more about soapnuts here' you'll find the original post on using soap nuts for for cleansing that goes into a bit of detail on how to use it for things other than laundry..

Also, I have a post about soapwort here
http://www.lisaliseblog.com/2011/05/natural-surfactants-soapwort.html

There is also a post 'all natural hair cleansers' using soapwort and soap nuts, as well as rhassoul clay
http://www.lisaliseblog.com/2011/04/discount-solution-all-natural-hair.html

Anonymous said...

best way to use soap nuts as a face wash is to place some soap nut pieces into a mesh cloth the harder the mesh the better and soak in hot water for a few sec then rub the mesh cloth hard. a lot of foam will come out with which you can wash ur face. only use once a day as it is quite strong.

Lise M Andersen said...

Hey there Anon - this sounds like an interesting idea. I will be giving this a try. thanks for the input.