Pros: Inexpensive; no petro chemicals or chemicals of any kind, actually; biodegradable; hypoallergenic
Cons: Slightly messy; some prep work; no suds
A few weeks ago I posted on a Facebook thread about soap nuts. In the post I said I’ve wanted to try them for a while, but haven’t had the chance to sit down and purchase any. I got an email a little while later from Ken McGowan, the owner of Sinfully Wholesome asking if he could send me a package to try. I was thrilled and agreed. I got a package in the mail about a week ago, and have been doing my laundry with them since then.
What are soap nuts, you ask? Here’s a quick Q&A based on an email interview I did with McGowan.
KB: What are soap nuts?
McGowan: Soap nuts are not nuts at all, they are a fruit. A berry that grows on shrubs and small trees and are related the lychee –they even look a little alike. While you can eat soap nuts, they are not sweet like lychees and are used as a tonic in Chinese medicine. [When used as laundry detergent] they are de-seeded and dried in the sun and because of that they have an indefinite shelf-life.
KB: How do you use them?
McGowan: When using soap nuts in your laundry, put six soap nuts in the [included] washer bag and throw it in the wash. You can reuse the same six soap nuts for up to six loads of laundry. You can tell when they’re used up by squeezing the wet soap nuts. If soap comes out you can still use them for your laundry.
When…you’re done using them for laundry, you can boil the nuts — gently boil for 1/2 hour and then let them steep over night — and you’ll have a household cleaner you can wash your windows with (no streaks), floors, doors, dishes, cars, dogs and even your kids. There is nothing you can not wash with them. You can even make a natural shampoo with them and many of our customers do. We even have home health care professionals who bathe their elderly patients in soap nut liquid.
KB: Are they as good as the detergent you’d buy at a store?
McGowan: Yes and no. For everyday laundry they are as good. For heavily soiled clothes you should add some baking soda or even vinegar to the wash. Cleaning aside, soap nuts have excellent anti-microbial, antifugal, and anti-louse (head lice) profiles. It kills germs! And they compare favorably against industrial cleaners for just plain cleaning power. To put it in terms Americans like: In the war on dirty clothes soap nuts are conventional weapons, while commercial detergents are nuclear weapons with all of their nasty side effects. Conventional weapons will do the job without destroying everything in their path. Including the planet. Because when you’re done with soap nuts (doing the laundry and making household cleaners etc), you put them in the compost bin and return their nutrients to the soil.
So…I tried them and I have to admit: I am a convert! The first load I did was a towel wash. I had one towel that I was supposed to spot treat. I cut and broke my index finger of my right hand. (That’s another story!) I got blood on the towel, so I assumed I would have to pretreat; I have to pretreat blood with my current detergent. I was shocked when the towel came out clean after washing with soap nuts– no pretreating necessary.
Since then I have been pleasantly surprised at how well soap nuts work! I did do a little reading before using them so I took the advice of countless bloggers who suggested those with hard water should soak them (inside their little cloth bag) in warm water before using them in the wash. I have a little cup that I fill with warm water and soak them in. Then I toss them — and the soaking water — in the wash.
Using that technique I’ve seen poster paint disappear, ground-in knee dirt vanish, and pizza stains evaporate. I haven’t done a white wash yet, so we’ll see how that goes, but I plan on using a little baking soda to give the soap nuts a little extra power. I’ll probably do the same with my gym clothes. I am not allowed to work out until my finger heals so it will be interesting to see how it tackles my post-spin class workout stuff. One quick word of warning: Since soap nuts don’t contain sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), they aren’t going to make suds. That threw me off for a bit. No suds? How could it work? But it did. You just have to wait for the big post-wash reveal!
And then there’s the money side of things. A 250 gram bag has enough soap nuts to fill the little cloth bag about 12 times give or take a bag or two. Each bag does about five or six washes. That’s 72 loads of laundry. Right now, that bag sells for $9.72. That’s $.13 per load. Not bad! Definitely less than a conventional product with no allergens, chemicals, or fragrances. I think I will be sticking with the stuff!
Have you ever tried soap nuts? How did it work out for you? I’d like to know.