When we started on our low-waste journey we tried washing our clothes with soapnuts for about a year. I love the idea of cleaning with something that was 100% natural, that was compostable at the end-of-life. But as is often the case with eco-switches our enthusiasm faded over time. Read on to find out why we fell out of love with soapnuts.
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What are Soapnuts?
Soap nuts are well-known globally by various names such as soapnuts, soapberries, washing nuts, soap nut shells, wash shells, soapberry nut husks and several others. Soap nuts are basically the dried out shells (or husks) from the soapberry (or soap berry nut – see photo above). Typically, after the fruit has fallen to the ground, the seed is removed from the shell (or husk), and the shells are dried up in the sun. It’s a chemical called saponin that produces a soaping effect in these shells or husks. Soap nuts have been used from ancient times all over the world as a laundry detergent, soap for personal hygiene, and a cleanser with a lot of other uses. (Source: Soapnut.in)
How to Use Soapnuts
The instructions on how to use Soapnuts differs from supplier to supplier. I used the brand Star Soapnuts, which unfortunately comes in a non-recyclable plastic bag. They recommend using approx. 3-6 shells in each wash and say that the number of shells required depends on your wash load and whether you are using hot or cold water. Generally we used 5 shells for a full load, washed at 40 degrees and line dried outside.
What to do with Spent Soapnut Shells
Star Soapnuts say that you can use the same shells up to 5 times, but we found that we got about 4 washes out of each set of shells before it stopped working.
On a leaflet that comes with the Star Soapnuts are instructions on how to make a cleaning product with the spent shells. I tried this twice and was able to make a slightly soapy solution but I didn’t find it any good at cutting through grease, which is what I wanted it for.
Being 100% natural soapnuts can easily be composted in your own garden compost heap or send for composting in your organic waste bin.
Do Soapnuts Clean Well?
How well do soapnuts remove stains?
Interestingly research comparing alternative washing products in 2012 reported that soapnuts cleaned about as well as water alone. Equally interesting is the fact that the research found the same to be true of laundry balls, washing pellets, and laundry magnets. The same research found although conventional compact detergent was significantly better at cleaning on all tested soil types, water on it’s own had a substantial cleaning effect.
Personally I didn’t have an issue with stains when using soapnuts, but I tend to pre-treat and/or soak any stained clothes before washing so maybe that was the reason.
Do soapnuts leave clothes smelling fresh?
We found line-dried clothes washed with soapnuts were fresh enough. but not if dried indoors overnight. Don’t get me wrong we’re not a family that’s keen on the strong scent you get with standard washing powder, what we do like is the neutral smell of cleanliness.
We found that on the occasions where we had to dry our clothes overnight on the washing lines in our garage the clothes developed a musty smell and sweat odour was perceptible. To overcome this issue I tried adding essential oils to add to the wash. This helped slightly, but it didn’t resolve the issue fully.
Would I recommend Soapnuts?
If you’re really keen to use a 100% natural product I’d recommend using soapnuts for use in warm/windy and dry weather and having a back-up of a eco washing powder / liquid on other days or for items that have a strong smell of body odour from them.
By the way I’ve heard that soapnuts don’t work well in hard water areas . We live in a soft water area so I can’t personally verify this.
What to use instead of Soapnuts?
I have heard that chestnuts contain the saponin too and can also be used as a natural detergent. I’ve tested these and you can find out what I thought of conker laundry liquid here.
You can also find lots of tips and tricks on How to Make your Laundry More Sustainable in this article
Also check out my other articles on How to Clean Sustainably with Less Toxins