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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Soap Nuts and other Laundry Fun

By Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortext

Here's the deal. My dearest husband has this terrible, painful skin thing and medicines are not working for him. The ones that do a little bit are icky AND expensive, but they treat a symptom not the root cause. He's always complaining about things smelling too strong or itching, especially clothes. I thought we should change bath soaps.  That helped a little. So what about laundry soap? I tried recipes for such soap, but even those have borax, or fels naphtha, or washing soda- all of which he reacts to.

Then I found soap nuts.

When I stumbled upon the Sapindus tree and its fruit/berries I was intrigued. I had been frustrated that all "soap" must use lye, but here was a plant that produces an agent that much of the world uses for laundry. Hmmmm. I cannot grow it in a zone 4/5. Surely someone has packaged it and is marketing it to hippies.

Someone got there before me AND I could order from them through amazon.com. That said, I was a little ashamed to use it, afraid that this would deeply root me as one of them, especially when it arrived and had a floating yoga hippie on the box and a free pair of love nut earrings.And then, what if its all a scam?

Then my daughter itched at me. So in went the soap nuts and in went the clothes. They came out clean. Since there are no harsh detergents, they say there is no need to use fabric softener. They smelled like.....like....nothing. Like cotton. And DH itches less, claims that his shirts are so soft they tickle. So I washed sheets. The sheets dried in 20 minutes instead of an hour and each load had barely anything in the lint basket. It was seriously like I'd entered the laundry room of the Twilight Zone.  I did the ultimate test, really stinky, slimy dishtowels that had sat in a bucket for two days. Clean? Oh my yes. I didn't even have to run them a second time or with bleach. When the soap nuts are used up, you compost them. I am sooooo totally the laundry queen! Now...... if only I could grow them myself!

The only downside I saw was that my clothes are not super lamb soft like I was used to. I will continue on the quest to fix this, but DH and Lil'Bug don't seem to care. Also, I feel good about letting Lil'Bug help (she is such an adorable helper!), even handle the soap nuts. Check out the photos on the left for all the action packed sudsy goodness. (You have to click on the wash load picture to see most of the sudsing.)

But after a month I was getting frustrated with the soap nuts so I switched to Method brand detergent. Then my husband's skin issue came back, painfully so. He asked why, why, why did I stop using the nuts. Well, 1) they didn't lather up the 3rd use like they do the 1st (supposed to get 3 wash loads from every sack) 2) that made it expensive 3) the bag kept breaking open in the wash and then I was picking nut bits out of the clothes or out of the dryer.

He didn't care. He wanted his skin back.

So I researched a cheaper nut source. I found a supplier in Illinois that sells a lb for 18$ plus 3$ in shipping. That's 150 nuts as apposed to 60 nuts. Way better deal if the quality is as good. It is. Bonus, they now sell on Amazon too! So, then, what about the other issues?

While searching for a different supplier I found a couple blogs and a couple product reviews. One said to brew the nuts in a tea and use that for shampoo. ?? Well, wouldn't that work to get a more consistent laundry detergent too? And eliminate the nut bits? Hmmm, yes.

And so......I brew with 4 cups of boiling water in a quart mason jar, 10 nuts. I use 1/2 cup of the "tea" for each load at the beginning of the week and 1/4 at the end when the concentration gets stronger. The mason jar should have a lid to prevent spilling, use as a pouring strainer for the nut bits, keep the cat/ flying bugs/ laundry lint out, and keep the mixture from going rancid. I don't make more because I don't use more than that in a week. I get 10 loads from 10 nuts or 150 loads from the lb bag. Excellent. I get the sudsing I needed, no bits, and my husband's skin back. :)

An added bonus is that I cut the cost of our laundry. I only need one rinse cycle and dry time seems to be 1/2. We don't have to buy fabric softener or a separate wash for delicates and wools. No phosphate ground water contamination, so I can feel really good about the waste water not adding to water pollution.

Also, did you realize how many non auto related products have petroleum? Forget SUV's, our dependence on the stuff goes way deeper: cosmetics, lotions, plastics, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hair product, detergents, air sprays, candles, Fells Naphtha, preservatives....my goodness, I am still surprised when I find yet another petroleum product. So many go on our skin, the most absorbent organ we have. I am certainly glad to eliminate one more from our use, since that is likely the basis of our family's allergic reaction.

I also get the label of "hippie" from my husband's friends. Fine. It's possible my friends think so too.... ;) If only I could grow my own nuts, then I'd be truly, truly deserving of that label. And actually, I was reading that Quinoa has a saponin shell when first harvested that has to be washed off to make it edible.....I wonder.....

25 comments:

Mama Podkayne said...

Also, I realize that 21$ for 150 loads isn't exactly a bargain. Nor is it very nice that they are imported and shipped around the world. I would like to use something local and I am open to ideas.

Marya said...

It's a bit labor intensive and would take a while to get established, but you can grow soapwort in your zone. You pull up the root and chop it up and boil it, and you can use that liquid (don't know how much) as soap or detergent. I'm planting some this year (I'm in zone 3.)

Joyful said...

Hmm, this sounds promising to me. I might just give it a try until I hear of something more local. First, I have to use up the soap I've made. Thanks for being so detailed with your testing of these nuts. It's very helpful.

Angela said...

I've wondered about soap nuts for a while. Thanks for your take on them.

Laura Jeanne said...

This is very interesting, thank you. I don't think $21 for 150 loads is expensive at all--it's cheaper than the natural detergent I'm using now. I use the expensive natural laundry detergent from the grocery store because I too found that homemade laundry soap was actually rather irritating to the skin.

I have sensitive skin, and my husband and daughter have psoriasis, so I have to be so careful how I wash our clothes. I'd like to try soap nuts some time.

Kelle said...

I too have wondered about soapnuts, thanks for all the information about them :o)

Blessings for your weekend,
Kelle

DramaMama said...

I have long wanted to try these...I think your post may have pushed me over the edge! Is it possible you could name your supplier? I am going to amazon right now to see if I can find it...thank you for the suggestions about making a tea and using it as shampoo!

Kaylen said...

That's quite the glowing review!

I don't buy Method products because they use artificial colours and fragrances, which may have been what your husband was reacting to. I mostly use Nature Clean liquid http://www.naturecleanliving.com/3x_concentrate_laundry_liquid but it does come packaged in plastic so I suspect your soap nuts wold be better.

Carol said...

I'm in zone 9 can I grow them here?

Cassandra said...

What a great review - thanks!

I've been kicking around the idea of soap nuts for a while after finding a few suppliers on Etsy.com. I've been afraid to take the plunge, but as DramaMama says - I think this may have been just the review I needed.

If you'd like to share...I'm also very interested to know what supplier you found.

Marie @ Awakeatheart said...

Thanks for posting your experience! I've been considering trying these, still on the fence but thinking of climbing over.

Although, I personally don't understand how suds equate to clean laundry. I think that's just a marketing ploy by detergent makers to make their products seem more effective than they actually are. Just because you don't see suds doesn't mean it's not cleaning.

Anonymous said...

Give plain old white vinegar a try as a fabric softener (if your hubby can handle it). It works great.

Anonymous said...

Hi there you don't need 'suds' to get clean washing. In fact it is better for your washing machine to be as sudless as possible makes for a more efficient wash.

Anonymous said...

p.s. use an old sock tied at the top for a soap nut bag, works just as well

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Wow, maybe I'll give those soap nuts a shot. I've seen them around, but never really understood what the heck they were.

Sofia's Ideas said...

We just started using Yoreganics soap nuts and I'm very pleased with the results of their product line. However, I am half way through our supply and have been looking for a more affordable option. We have a family of 8!!! I was hoping you could please share the amazon deal you found? Pretty Please? (I looked it up and did not find 1lb./150 loads for $18)

Hazel said...

I love my soap nuts! I've been using them for about 5 years now. Many of the UK suppliers give you a free sample (usually enough for 2 bags, so about 6 loads). It might be worth asking an independent supplier in the US if you're not sure about trying them.

I found the little cotton bags either came open in the wash or were impossible to open once the string was wet, so MIL's neighbour gave me a couple of the washing tablet bags she'd saved from boxes of laundry tablet.

For those who like more scented laundry (like my DH) you can put a few drops of lavender (or other) essential oil on the bag or in the fabric softener drawer of the washing machine.

I agree that the fact they're imported isn't ideal, but I think that if you added together all the miles of the seperate ingredients of even a 'green' detergent, plus it's packaging and then the miles the finished product is shipped, there's probably not that much difference. And the ones I get here in England are fairly traded.

I have soapwort growing in my garden; it's a very pretty plant but I've never quite got round to making soap out of it. For those wanting to experiment, many plants contain saponins. The Conker (Horse Chestnut) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesculus_hippocastanum has quite high saponin levels- one on my list of experiments to try!

Anonymous said...

I've used soap nuts exclusively for a a couple years with excellent results. One article I read indicated that there's no need to rinse any residue from clothes, so I just run my clothes through one cycle, saving a quantity of water which is not inconsiderable in LA, where we're always trying to conserve.
Jenny

Jane said...

I've been using soap nuts for a couple of months now and find them fantastic for laundering clothes. Washing always comes out clean and soft so there is no need for fabric softener. Best of all, soap nuts are very economical. Average cost is 6.5 cents per wash. That is not bad, a weeks washing costs me less than 50 cents in detergent. Can't beat that! An added advantage of soap nuts is that used laundry water can be piped directly onto garden beds without fear of polluting the soil with salts or phosphates.

Jane

Mama Podkayne said...

I couldn't find the link to the IL supplier, it is dead BUT I found t his on amazon. Similar deal money wise, plus free shipping.

http://www.amazon.com/NaturOli-CERTIFIED-seedless-eco-friendly-detergent/dp/B001DU6SAM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1300067473&sr=8-1

Anonymous said...

Why is the dry time so much shorter? According to my energy company, my dryer costs about $114/year to run. I'd love to cut that down by 2/3! (I already use our clothesline when the weather cooperates.)

Mama Podkayne said...

I don't know, actually. It was just my observation!

Brenda Pike said...

I was really skeptical about soap nuts at first, too, but they're amazing. I actually feel bad that I waited to try them for so long.

Kristina Strain said...

I feel that the environmental costs of shipping a sack 'o nuts halfway around the world is probably less than what it takes to constantly be shipping big, heavy tubs of conventional laundry soap around. The nuts, at least, have the advantage of being light.

I wrote a soap nuts review of my own. I found they worked best, oddly, in hot water.

Sarah said...

actually in zone 9 there is a type of native sapindus tree that the seminoles have been using the fruit of for as long as there have been native Americans here.