I have to admit when Tracy Grant of Barley Sugar Creations asked me to try Soap Nuts on my laundry, I was definitely a little sceptical.
I had already heard of Soap Nuts through several cloth diapering friends who use and love them, but had never given them a chance myself. So, out of pure curiosity, I took Tracy up on her challenge, putting my Tide on the shelf for a week to give Soap Nuts a try.
For starters, it’s technically not a nut, but rather a fruit from the soapberry tree (who knew?) harvested in India and Nepal. Used for centuries in Europe and Southeast Asia, they are known for being natural, powerful cleaning agents. Soap Nuts are starting to make their way into the homes of North America, where they are touted as a greener alternative to common detergents, often filled with harsh chemicals.
Soap Nuts, when in contact with water, produce a chemical compound known as saponin, which suds and acts as a detergent, most commonly used for laundry.
They can be used whole (mostly for laundry purposes), or in liquid form as a concentrated detergent. According the the pamphlet, for an average load of laundry, you need 3-5 soapnuts (or 6-10 half shells) and a small muslin bag- all included in the package. The bag is tied tightly and thrown into the drum of your washing machine along with the clothes that need washing. These 5 soapnuts should do 4-5 loads before becoming small and thin and ready for the compost. They go in the washer only though- NOT in the dryer!
Soap Nuts can be used for puposes other than laundry, includingdish detergent, window cleaner, hand soap, vegetable wash, laundry pre-spot remover, jewellery cleaner, all purpose cleaner, and steam cleaner spot treatment. I found some other good uses for them too- read on!
Soap nuts are 100% natural and are gentle on clothes and skin. They are biodegradable, hypoallergenic and even anti-microbial, helping to break down the “grey water” in septic systems. When used for laundry, they are HE compatible and you do not have to use your rinse cycle, or any fabric softener. They are also known for their ability to get bad odours out of clothes and for being a great pre-treater for stains. They are also cheap! $10 + tax gets you a 250 g bag (up to 100 loads of laundry!). Also available are a 500g bag for $18 + tax (up to 200 loads) and 1kg bag for $30 + tax (up to 400 loads!!!!).
After getting my Soap Nuts home and reading the literature, I was excited to see if they would work. I knew they could do the job of detergent, but wasn’t overly confident they could remove stains and eliminate the need for fabric softener. I was pretty attached to my Spray ‘n Wash and Bounce sheets!
Because we have a two year old (and tons of laundry stains), I first made some Soap Nuts liquid in order to use it as a pre-treater. I added the Soap Nuts to the required 6 cups of boiling water in a pot on my stove and let it boil for the suggested 1/2 hour.
When finished, I had a thick brown liquid that looked quite cloudy. I was a bit concerned upon seeing this liquid – how would it work when it looked so different from “normal” detergents? And because it’s brown, will it stain clothes (especially my whites!) if I apply it directly? I decided to keep going.
After the liquid had cooled to room temperature, the next step was to strain the shells and debris out to prepare it for use. I had bought a special spout bottle (you can find these at any department store) to pour it into, and used a small strainer and funnel to filter the liquid in. Et voila! Homemade green detergent, ready to go! The pamphlet says this should yield about 4 cups of liquid, but I ended up with closer to 3.
While I was making the liquid, I was on the phone with a girlfriend, telling her what I was doing. She was sceptical about Soap Nuts’ cleaning abilities, and mentioned that she needs to see suds in order to believe that a detergent is working.
I think she would change her mind if she saw what happened after I gave the bottle just ONE shake! Instant suds! I was more than a little surprised. The photo at right (below) shows what the jug looks like after giving the liquid one hard shake! There were more suds as I washed the pot (without dish soap!) and I was impressed at how clean it was when finished. At this point some of my scepticism started to wane and I was ready to give the liquid some tougher jobs.
Putting Soap Nuts to the Test
Did I mention we have a two year old? Did I also mention that we were dumb enough to buy light coloured furniture and cream coloured carpets before he came along? Yeah. Duh.
So….we have our share of stains, like…everywhere.
The Soap Nuts pamphlet didn’t mention anything about carpets or upholstery. Despite that, I’m one of those people who will do little experiments just to see what happens. So, I put the liquid to the test- on my carpet and on my furniture, in addition to the laundry. Here are the results:
I thought I’d start with this one, as it’s the most obvious use for Soap Nuts.
– For each load, I added the little bag with the 5 soap nuts in it to the drum of my washer and went to work pre-treating with the liquid. I also added a few spritzes of 3% hydrogen peroxide on tougher stains, as was recommended in the pamphlet. The pre-treatment solution was allowed to sit for about 10 minutes prior to washing on set-in stains such as chocolate ice cream. I washed darks, colours, towels, whites and a load of bedding.
– I found the little bag of 5 Soap nuts to be good for about 4 loads, but I’m talking LARGE loads which, to me, was impressive. I was able to skip the rinse cycle as is claimed, and once out of the dryer, the clothes were very soft – just as soft as if I had used a dryer sheet – and smelled fresh. Wow! I did notice that the clothes from the dryer had some minor static, but I was otherwise quite impressed. Most stains were completely removed, and two tough ones (set-in pasta sauce and strawberry juice) were still there. In all fairness though, I had already tried Spray ‘n Wash on those in a previous wash, and it didn’t remove them either.
Below is a photo of a chocolate syrup stain on one of my son’s shirts, before and after washing with Soap Nuts. (Pre-treated with Soap Nuts liquid and a spray of hydrogen peroxide).
After seeing the results of the shirt, I was dying to try Soap Nuts liquid on some upholstery stains!
– I first tested the liquid in an inconspicuous area to make sure it wouldn’t damage the fabric (always be sure to do this first with any product!). I didn’t see any damage and proceeded with cleaning my furniture. I applied some Soap Nuts liquid directly to the fabric, then rubbed gently with a wet washchoth. Once I was satisfied with the stain removal, I “rinsed” with another wet washcloth and blotted with a dry towel, then let the fabric air dry. I did this on on an ottoman with a melted chocolate stain (noticing a pattern here?), and on the arm of a wing chair that had an unknown food stain on it (probably some form of chocolate).
– I was very surprised to find that the Soap Nuts liquid removed most of the chocolate stain– only a faint trace can now be seen on the ottoman. The marks on the wing chair disappeared completely, and I was thrilled!
My ottoman and chair, before and after treating with Soap Nuts liquid.
Ah, what the heck. Might as well try it, right?
– Again, after testing first in an inconspicuous area, I applied the same treatment to my carpet stains as I did on the upholstery.
– Although the carpet has a stainmaster treatment on it, I didn’t really want to get my hopes up with stains like soya sauce and smeared red play dough. Both stains were quite ground in and neither was fresh (I’m no Martha Stewart). The Soap Nuts liquid removed both from my carpet almost completely. In fact, the “after” photo of the soya sauce didn’t happen because I wasn’t sure where the stain had been!
Below is a before and after shot of the smeared red play dough. A small amount of the play dough is still visible, but only up close. Hopefully nobody is going to examine my carpets on their hands and knees!
– I was very impressed with the cleaning power of Soap Nuts, and pleasantly surprised with its’ fabric softening properties. Having tried and rejected several “green” cleaning products before, I really hadn’t expected much from them, but they won me over. For a completely natural, biodegradable product that is gentle and eco-friendly, I think Soap Nuts are fantastic. I have up to 95 more loads to go, but when my Soap Nuts are finally gone I will definitely be ordering more. I’m giving this product 9 out of 10 “happy mama” faces!
For more information about or to buy Soap Nuts, please contact:
Phone (705) 888-0014
e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org