A detergent that grows on trees? All natural? Self lathering? Reusable? Cheap? Effective cleansing properties? Safe & gentle? Compostable at the end of a long and productive life?
Intriguing. I needed to try this out.
Next thing you know, a cute 50gm pouch of 'Soapberries', from www.soapnuts.co.nz - also known as Washing Nut or Wash Berry, arrives in the letterbox.
In a nut shell (ahem), Soap Nuts have a slightly tacky surface due to the natural saponin that coats them. Once they come into contact with water, they create mild suds similar to soap. This soapy substance has remarkable detergent properties, removing dirt and dissolving oils from clothes and other surfaces as good as any supermarket cleaner. They're versatile, too - with the ability to wash clothes, dishes, cloth nappies, make a liquid soap, pet shampoo, personal shampoo, a household cleaner and so on.
The latest eco fad? Well maybe, but Soap Nuts have been used in India and Nepal for hundreds of years. I know plenty of people that swear by them, particularly those with sensitive skin, eczema and contact dermatitis from household products. They also make a lot of financial sense. At $5.50 for a bag that will last up to 20 wash cycles. 1kg of soapnuts shells can be used for up to 365 loads of laundry - if you do 1 load a day that's 12 cents per load, and cheaper than most other detergents.
As is customary, I went ahead and trialled some to make up my own mind:
I used about 8 nuts in the wash bag. I've since re-read the instructions properly to discover you can get away with 4-6, which is said to last 6 washes.
A lot of soap nut retailers will recommend a warm wash, as the saponins release easier with the warm water. To me that kind of defeats the purpose of an eco-friendly laundry detergent. Because I always do a cold water cycle (saves on electricity big time), I steeped the soap nuts in hot water for about 5 minutes to get them going. Unlike me, you can steep them inside the pouch. I just took them out of the bag to demonstrate what happens when you shake them up - incredible natural suds!:
Steeping sounds fiddly compared to throwing powder in the machine, but honestly its so simple to have it sitting there while you collect and sort your dirty clothes. Just like brewing a cuppa.
I was a little apprehensive about that brown tinge in the water, especially since I was doing a white load. But ever the careless housewife, I chucked the soap nut pouch into my machine along with the sudsy water and hit GO!
Impressive! My laundry came out super clean & fresh, without any smell or fragrance at all. Now, I am partial to some yummy smelling clean sheets, so since then I've used the soap nuts with some essential oil dripped onto the bag and it has worked a treat.
The eco factor
Just 6 soap nut shells can be reused up to 6 times. Better yet, for the gardeners out there, the waste water from the washing machine can be used as a natural insecticide & bug repellant for your plants & garden. This will be awesome in the summer when rain is scarce, particularly for those on tank water. At the end of their useful life, the nuts can be chucked in the compost. Environmental win win!
Now it wouldn't be a fair trial without a before and after test! Enter sacrificial white tea towel, smeared pretty good with dirt from my garden, right into the cloth fibres. Here's the before and after.
Mud stains not completely gone - but gone enough to impress me - I mean I really smushed it in there. And I have to ask - could regular detergent to a better job? If this was a real scenario I'd be reaching for the stain remover anyway, which, incidentally, you can buy al-naturale from the Soap Nuts NZ website too - win! Might be needing that for my poor teatowel!
I love natural products, and something straight from the tree? Well sign me up. But I'm also a pragmatist. It's gotta work. For that reason, I reserved judgement until, after 5 trial washing loads, I can honestly say I am a believer. Soap nuts sud up like anything, clean just as well as other detergents I've used, and are SO gentle on fabrics, making your clothes last longer. They've also got the all important bonus of being 100% natural, economical and safe for you and the environment.
Calling all Eco Mamas:
One thing I haven't tried is nappies. I don't yet have the pleasure of washing millions of cloth nappies and other baby paraphernalia but if you are one such superwoman, and you've tried Soap Nuts, I would LOVE to hear your experiences - please share with us in the comments below! Do they do the job?
If you would like to try them out, you can buy them here:
Homemade Bounty Bars
Chocolate Coconut Kale Thickshake
Dinspiration - my favourite throw together meals
Raw Vegan Lime Cheesecake
The Original Green Smoothie
Plant-powered Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream
DIY Three Ingredient Facewash
Creamy Cashew Berry Smoothie