Thursday, 10 March 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 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 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, 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.....