My experience using eco friendly “Soap Nuts” as a laundry detergent
Nothing says wash day like a giant bag of withered, dry soap nuts next to the washer! Well, maybe not in most households. But it is now the norm in mine. When I first started to read about these magical little berries, I was so intrigued! I pinned and read, and pinned and read some more. I’m weird like that.
My husband was less enthused about the idea. In fact, when I showed him a video that explained how they worked he couldn’t have rolled his eyes any further back in his head. But as usual he let me know he trusted me and whatever weird decision I made.
So what are these things??
I was surprised to learn that soap nuts aren’t actually nuts at all. They are the berries produced by shrubs in the Sapindaceae family. These shrubs grow in tropical climates, and are mostly harvested from Southeast Asia. The berries contain saponins (that create the foamy, soapy consistency) and they are natural surfactants. You can use the soap nuts in any type of washer and they are septic safe.
After doing a little bit more googling, the hunt for my laundry berries was on! It actually didn’t take me long to find some. My local co-op carries several sizes! Even though I had never used them before, I went with the largest bag. My poor husband gets to live with all my experiments taking up space in our little house.
Are they easy to use??
The bag I bought came with two cotton drawstring bags to use in the wash. You simply place 4 berries in the bag, pull the drawstring closed, and throw it in the washer. That little bag is good for around 4 washes. When your washer has completed its cycle just take the bag out and let dry. But if you do laundry like me – just keep it in there for the next load. I like to do my laundry in one or two days a week.
One drawback about using these soap nuts is that they work best in warm/hot water. And I really only wash with cold water… Lucky for me there was a formula on the back for making a liquid soap for laundry. I boiled 15 nuts in a pot of water with 6 cups of water. After it boiled down for 20 minutes, I added another cup of water and boiled again another 10 minutes. After it cooled I strained the liquid into a clean mason jar. It’s actually recommended you keep the liquid refrigerated between uses, as it can spoil. But hey, what’s one more weird jar in my fridge??
Less waste- and I can save money??
Now, one of the main draws of switching to this way of washing clothes was saving money. My husband and kids tend to break out in rashes when I use any detergent other than Tide. And Tide is spendy. Because of that, I’m so happy to find that this seems to be a good fit for our family. No adverse reactions, and it’s easy on the wallet. My two favorite things. Haha!
As I’m working on making changes in the products we bring into our home, I’m becoming much more aware of the amount of unnecessary plastic in packaging. Unfortunately, even though the soap nuts came in a linen bag there was still a plastic liner inside. However, that’s still less waste than a container of Tide produces. After the soap nuts are used up they can be thrown right in your compost pile. But there is still the question of whether or not importing these from Asia is really more eco friendly in the long run. I’m continuing my research as far as that goes!
You may be thinking to yourself “Okay… but do these even work??”. And I’ll answer by saying yes…. and no. My laundry comes out mostly clean using soap nuts alone. Set-in and stubborn stains need pretreated. But to be fair, I was still pretreating stains when we exclusively used Tide. My toddler’s “accident” clothes didn’t come out smelling fresh and clean. I found that adding a cup of vinegar in the wash really helped with that odor. I also put a few drops of essential oil on a clean cloth in the dryer for scent, because the soap nuts themselves do not leave any sort of scent on your clothes.
Is it worth the switch??
So let’s look at potential savings. My 2.2lb bag cost $23 at my local co-op (you can definitely find better prices on Amazon). I wash an average of 6 loads of laundry a week. Each load uses 1/4 cup of liquid. Following the directions on the back for the liquid detergent I end up with a full quart jar. So that one jar will take care of 16 loads- or almost 3 weeks of laundry. And that’s only using 15 of the nuts! Here’s my math:
- 15 soap nuts weigh about 1.4 oz
- The entire bag is 2.2lbs or 35.2 oz
- I will use 1 quart of liquid detergent in a 3 week period
- I should be able to get 25 quarts of detergent out of this one bag which will be enough for around 16 months of laundry
So even with any sort of stain treatment I buy and use (right now that’s vinegar and hydrogen peroxide) I’m still saving a heck of a lot of money. That seems like winning deal to me!