Remember when I discovered that my “eco” laundry detergent with cartoon planet earths and bunnies all over the label contained chemicals that can kill aquatic life? I was determined to do something about it, and started researching alternatives. It came down to purchasing another brand that is low impact (but is a little hard to get, and still comes in a giant plastic jug) or making my own. Making my own started to sound like the more appealing solution until I ran across — SOAPNUTS!
Soapnuts are actually berries from the Sapindus genus of trees and shrubs. They contain saponins (soapy stuff!), which are a natural surfactant. They couldn’t be easier to use – pop 5 of them in a little muslin bag, put the bag in your washer, load your clothes, and let the machine do its thing. You can reuse these soapnuts 5 to 7 times (squeeze the bag after a load — still soapy? They are good for another round!). When they are no longer soapy, pop them into your compost bin. Between loads on different days, I take them out of the bag and put them in a little dish to dry — I read this helps them last longer. No plastic jugs to contend with, too! The ones I got came 100 soapnuts to a tiny cardboard box with no added plastic. You can get them in bulk at many herb purveyors like Mountain Rose Herbs too. 1 lb of soapnuts there are 6 USD, which will do up to 200 loads of laundry. That’s pretty much $6 a year for laundry detergent!
I know the magic question you want answered — how do they work?
I think they work great! I actually think my laundry is cleaner. I say this because the colors look brighter and my towels are more absorbent! Everything feels slightly crisper, too. I imagine this is because there is no soap residue in the fabric. I did the first loads with just soapnuts, then started adding my usual glug of white vinegar and a little baking soda, and I’m really, really, really happy with the results. I also love how everything smells like … nothing! It just smells clean. No itching or other sensitivities as well. I have no trouble remembering to take the little bag out because I always have multiple things in each load that I air dry, so I’m always fussing over what I take out of the machine. I read that if you forget and throw them in the dryer, it’s no big deal. They will still work again, and will not adversely affect your clothing.
You can also simmer soapnuts in water and make a liquid soap from them, which you can also use as a laundry detergent, in the bath, as a shampoo, and to clean with. Some people use their soapnuts in the laundry 5 times then simmer them in water to get the last bit of soapiness out of them — that sounds pretty smart.
You have no idea how happy I am to have come to such a green, simple, inexpensive laundry solution! Since these are berries, I don’t even think I need to use any soap coupons for these — what do you guys think?