After writing about some of the nasties which are lurking in many laundry products, I thought I should take the time to tell you about the awesomeness of Soap Nuts. Soap Nuts grow on the Soap Berry tree and have been used for centuries in India and Nepal. Like many plants (such as the chestnut tree & soapwort) they are naturally high in saponins, or soap.
Why would a plant need to produce soap? Well, the saponins act as a natural defence against fungus, bacteria and pests, helping the tree to grow in less than favourable conditions. (As an aside you can use them to make your own eco-friendly pesticide sprays, multi-surface cleaners and even head-lice repelling shampoos but more on that later).
So the tree isn’t particularly bothered that its anti-fungal, anti-microbial berries are also incredibly useful for us when it comes to washing our clothes. It’s got its own reasons for producing them, which we humans have been taking advantage of for centuries in many parts of the world. The soap is released when the berries are put into warm water, producing mild bubbles which keep even delicate fabrics naturally clean and fresh.
For washing clothes I pop about 6 soapnuts into an old sock and tie a knot at the end so they don’t escape. I put the sock in with my clothes in the washing machine drum and let them do their stuff. Washing at 30° is fine for most things. You get more bubbles at a higher temperature but they won’t last for as many washes. That’s right, my 6 soapnuts will do at least 3-4 washes which means they cost less than 10p a wash! Compare that to the prices of a conventional non-bio, even a non-ecofriendly one, and you can see straight away how they benefit your wallet. Oh, and as they leave your clothes naturally soft there’s no need to use fabric conditioners either which saves you even more money and makes them perfect for washing towels and re-usable nappies too.
So Soap Nuts can save you money on your household expenses, but how are they at saving the planet?
Really rather good, as it goes. Firstly they grow on trees. Trees absorb CO² and release oxygen so Soap Nuts are a truly renewable primary resource. The trees are hardy thanks to their natural defences, and grow well in many tropical climates. They grow to around 20-30 feet and will produce berries for about 90 years providing much needed income to the rural communities that live in these areas. Local farmers collect the fruits as they fall, dry them in the sunshine using no chemical processing whatsoever, before packing them and shipping them to their destinations. Try comparing that to the pollution caused by the production processes of the conventional SLS laden washing powders which make huge profits for big multi-national corporations. I know what I’d rather put in my washing machine, especially as the anti microbial properties of the waste water they produce even helps clean out the drains in an environmentally friendly way.
Soap Nuts are a great alternative to conventional detergents for sufferers of eczema and psoriasis and have actually been used for years in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for these conditions. They are hypo-allergenic which makes them particularly good for people with sensitive skin, especially babies. The lack of chemicals means that they keep your colours brighter for longer, however don’t expect your whites to come out “Persil White” if you use Soap Nuts on their own – they’re only berries for Pete’s sake! Not to worry, though. A teaspoon of Soda Crystals or BioD Nappy Whitener in with your wash will give them a sufficient boost to keep your whites white. For dark and coloured washes they are perfectly good on their own and are a completely natural and organic detergent which keeps your clothes soft and clean. And that is why I am nuts about Soap Nuts.
If you’d like to try them for yourself take a look at Living Naturally Soapnuts!