Soap that grows on trees…literally?! It’s true my dear friends, and I am so glad to be the bearer of such earth-saving, laundry-loving, chemical-free news. When I first head about soap nuts, I must admit, I was extremely skeptical. How could these little nuts actually clean my clothes? I was convinced in just one wash load of laundry, as my clothes were fresh and clean without any harsh detergents that would otherwise leave dangerous chemicals on my skin! It seems ironic to me that we use such toxic substances to clean our clothes, while they typically end up leaving more damaging chemicals behind.
What is a Soap Nut?
A soap nut is the fruit of the Ritha tree, also known as the Soap Nut tree, or Soapberry tree, indigenous to northern parts of Asia, India and Nepal. For centuries, soap nuts have been used by people in these areas to wash their laundry and finest textiles (wool, silk, cashmere…).
The Soap Nut tree synthesizes its own natural soap-like saponins that coat the outer shell of the fruit. When the fruits ripen and fall from the tree, local families harvest the windfall, and then remove the inner fruit from the outer shell. The soap nut shell is then dried in the sun, using absolutely no chemical processing or manufacturing processes. In fact, the whole process uses no fossil fuels either, (except in the transportation of the product).
How do Soap Nuts work?
Soap nuts release their saponins in hot water, so you must use medium-high water temperatures when washing to ensure that it is liberated into the washtub. Soap nut saponins circulate as a natural surfactant in the wash water, reducing the surface tension of the water and freeing dirt, grime and oils from the clothing. And unlike the harsh chemicals, which are poured down the drain with your waste water, soap nuts produce no harmful residues, are 100% biodegradable and septic safe.
The best part
They are reusable! After each load of laundry, leave your soap nut shells to dry completely and use them once again in your next load. When all the saponins have been released from the outer shell, toss them in the compost heap or green bin to return back to the earth. This makes them incredibly affordable too.
How to use Soap Nuts
Place 4-6 soap nut shells in the small cotton bag that will be provided when you purchase them. If you like your laundry scented, place a few drops of your favorite essential oil directly onto the bag before placing in the washing machine.
Soap nuts are especially recommended for babies and people who suffer from any kind of skin sensitivities or allergies. In addition, the soap nut saponins naturally exhibit antibacterial and antifungal properties.
What else can I do with Soap Nuts?
Soap nuts have even more uses than just laundry detergent. A “soap nut solution” can be made from the leftover shells to be used as hair shampoo, pet shampoo, all purpose-cleaner and even dish soap! Wowee. I have yet to try washing my hair with this solution, but I will give a full and honest report once I’ve really gone to the dark side. I did wash my hair with the leftover liquid from making tofu once, so it’s really not that much of a stretch. This, by the way, is a very ineffective cleaner, but great for repelling bad dates. I’ll try the soap nuts (check out the directions below).
How to make Soap Nuts Solution
In a small/medium cooking pot with a lid, add some water, and cook a small handful of soap nuts for about five minutes. Cover the pot with a lid while cooking. After five minutes, remove the pot from heat and let cool. Remove the soap nut shells, and place in the compost.
* By increasing the amount of soap nuts when making the solution, you can make the solution stronger, and adding more water will make it weaker.