The Eco-Friendly Soap that Grows on Trees!

by Tiffany in Green Cleaning

try-soap-nutsWe all want our clothes to be clean and fresh right? But at what price?

Ironically the detergents that many people use to “clean” their clothes are actually leaving your clothes in worse condition than before you threw them in the wash. This is because conventional laundry detergents are full of toxic chemicals and these chemicals leave a residue on your clothing that may be absorbed by your skin or may evaporate into the air for you to breathe in. Some of the concerns in your laundry detergent are artificial fragrances, dyes, enzymes (which can burn your skin), and optical brighteners (which are meant to stay on your clothes and not wash off). Since we pretty much always wear clothes ;) our cumulative exposure is great.

This is one aspect of natural living that has always concerned me. About a year ago I created a detergent chart where I rated various detergents based upon the number of non-ideal (unnatural) ingredients they contained. The more natural and eco-friendly detergents got the highest ratings. But still I was always bothered by the fact that even those “natural” detergents were not natural enough. They still contained chemically altered or produced surfactants and more then a few moms emailed me to share this concern. Sadly there have been few options for eco-conscious consumers.

Well a few weeks back I was reading Mothering magazine and I was excited when I read about a 100% natural laundry soap called soap nuts. Soap Nuts are a natural soap that literally grows on trees! I was so excited in fact I dropped what I was doing and contacted the company. I had a great conversation with Dariel Garner, one of the owners and I was convinced that Maggie’s Soap Nuts where just what I had been searching for. Dariel was kind enough to rush me a box of soap nuts for review.

Dariel explained the fascinating history behind soap nuts and how they are relatively unknown in the Western world. Soap Nuts are the dried fruit of the Chinese Soapberry tree (Sapindus mukorrosi), similar to the lychee. A long time ago, local folks in the South East Asia figured out that when the nuts get wet, they release saponin, a natural surfactant, making them great for washing clothes! Maggie’s Soap Nuts are the only household cleaner made exclusively from Nature, by Nature.

A single soapberry tree produces hundreds of kilos of nuts per year! So they are very sustainable and fall to the ground in Indian and Indonesian forests where they are collected by folks who have used the nuts for centuries.

So the burning question is do soap nuts really work? I was delighted to find that they do! I have used them for several days now and I let my laundry pile up in anticipation of their arrival. My first load of laundry that was washed with soap nuts was a set of organic cotton sheets. It had just rained here in Ohio and my dogs were outside getting muddy. My son accidentally let them out of the mud room and they tore a muddy path down the hallway until they reached my bedroom where they jumped on my bed and rolled around on it. Yuck! Mud and dog hair were everywhere and a strong wet dog odor lingered. So I threw the sheets in the wash along with 4 soap nuts and viola .clean sheets. I slept on them that night to see if they were really clean and I was very pleased. I laundered cloth diapers after the sheets and that is another big test for this product but again I was pleasantly surprised and the diapers smelled very fresh and clean.

I also used the soap nuts to clean the carpet! I simmered a cup of soap nuts in about 4 cups of water, mashing the nuts by hand to release the saponins. Then I drained the liquid using a cheese cloth and I was left with a super concentrated liquid soap that I put in my Bissell carpet cleaner. It worked beautifully. The soap nuts work just as well as commercial soap products.

So how do they work? You take 4 nuts and put them in the linen bag that comes with the box, then use them 2 to 3 times according to the web site. I used mine 5 times. For heavily soiled clothes you can soak the soap nuts in hot water first to soften them up and then throw them in the wash. No fabric softener is needed. Maggie’s Soap Nuts naturally soften and add body to your clothes. Soap nuts won’t get your whites sparkling and white though. Dariel suggested using a bit of natural oxygen bleach. I suggested buying unbleached organic cotton clothing instead to avoid the issue. Soap nuts are great for delicates like wool and silk so that is a big plus.

I think soap nuts are quite possibly the greatest natural product I have come across in a long time. I love the soap that grows on trees! And there is great little free gift that comes in the box I either have some great new natural baubles to wear or I can grow my own soapberry tree! In fact I also found some soap nut earrings that look pretty cool. They would make a great conversation piece.

I hope you are as delighted by soap nuts as I have been. If you have tried them I would love to hear from you. :)


8 Things About Me

by Tiffany in Tidbits

Tag..I am it! Barb at Naturally Wahms has asked me to share 8 things about myself. I hope I don’t bore you to tears. Well, here I go with 8 things you may not know about me:

1. I play steel drums (or a steelpan). For many years I was in a steel drum orchestra as a baritone. My favorite song to play was Tequila followed closely by Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid.

2. I used to ride a motorcycle. I got my start riding on the back of my boyfriend’s (now husband) bike. I felt like such a bad ass wearing all black, a leather jacket and a black helmet. When I eventually got my own bike I picked a neon green Ninja and I got green leather riding gear to match it. :) I gave up riding when I got pregant with my first child.

3. I am a HUGE movie buff. I used to see 3-4 movies in a theatre a week! I hardly ever go now after the birth of three kids but I still LOVE movies. In fact my oldest child was named after a movie character named Payton Westlake. If you can tell me what movie that is from I will send you a canvas grocery tote! My daughter was named after a character from a TV show actually. Rose McGowan plays her in the show. Can you guess the charcter’s name?

My favorite movie at the moment is Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. I also adore the Pirates of the Carribean movies.

4. I graduated highschool and started college at 16. I was premed so I studied alot of anatomy and pysiology, chemistry, science, etc. and I even got to dissect a cadaver. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and I still have about 500 photos of it. Understandably the photo clerk was eyeballing me when I picked the photos up.

5. I started my first home based business at 14 years old and was making a 5 figure income after one year. I quit the business to go to college.

6. I used to write science fiction novels. I guess I got it from my mother who is a novelist with several dozen published books. Now I have no interest in writing anything other than non-fiction though. In fact I don’t even read fiction books anymore…go figure.

7. The people I would most like to meet are Al Gore, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Joan Gussow.

8. My wildest aspiration would be to go into politics and be a champion for environmental causes.


Saturday, May 26th, 2007

12 Comments on 8 Things About Me


Lunch Lessons

by Tiffany in Book Reviews

lunch lessonsEver since my oldest child started all day kindergarten I have been concerned with the issue of school lunches. If you recall I had a few reservations about the school menu awhile back and this prompted me to start making his lunch every day.

While making his lunch fixed the immediate problem, the larger issue of unhealthy food in the schools is still looming. Recently my family was living out of a hotel while we moved into a new house and my son had to eat the school lunches again and I think it is no coincidence that that we saw some unfavorable behavorial changes. I ended up taking him swimming in the hotel pool for 3-4 hours each night before bed to get him to a level of calm that was favorable for sleep. If food is the body’s fuel then how can it “run” on junk food? This issue should concern everyone.

Last week I read the book Lunch Lessons – Changing the Way We Feed Our Children by Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes. The statistics in this book are terrifying! Childhood obesity has doubled since 1970…35% of American kids are overweight…25% are obese….14% have type 2 diabetes. The authors also claim that new research shows that 40% of all cancers can be attributed to diet.

I have some personal experience with that and I would be heartbroken if my children ever had to face what I did. But as I have said before…my colon cancer made me see with supreme clarity that diet is the key to health and it is a lesson my kids are taught every day. “Changing the way we feed our children is not a luxury: It is an imperative”.

As Lunch Lessons shows, schools are contributing to the childhood nutrition crisis we now face. Yes, they try to meet USDA standards but many fall short and even then, the USDA’s standards are not nearly good enough in my opinion. Schools continue to feed kids frozen, processed, fried, and sugary foods.

The book goes on to explain how diet is contributing to many childhood and societal problems and why schools are having a tough time turning this around. Schools used to have a cook and an actual kitchen. Do you remember those days? I sure do. At my elementary school we had a real chef and several cooks and HOT meals. Now most schools have food service workers that unpackage, re-heat, and microwave.

Some wonderful examples are given of schools that have risen to the challenge of changing the way their students eat and have been hugely successful.

The Ross School in East Hampton, New York hired Ann Cooper (also called the Renegade Lunch Lady) as their executive chef. She helped to design their cafeteria, which included a wood burning pizza oven, actual ceramic dishes, glasses, and silverware. Can you imagine? It sounds like a restaurant! All food is cooked fresh by chefs and cooks. There are no steam tables, no re-heated or microwaved foods, and no fried or high fat foods. Ann Cooper’s experience at Ross showed that if you put delicious foods…even vegetables and whole grains…kids will happily eat them.

In the Santa Monica/Malibu unified school district the nutritional specialist formes a joint venture with local farmers markets to create a salad bar program in 14 schools. Now 1/3 of the students choose the salad bar option.

In Berkeley, California, the Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program at King Middle School has been a great success. They grow a large portion of food on the school campus and have students do the bulk of the gardening and caretaking. They even do some of the cooking and food studies are a big part of the curriculum. This program has become the heart of the school.

It was so inspirational to read these stories. I could not help but feel that I should work with my son’s school to see how the lunch program can be changed. Only parental activism can spark widespread change.

That is why Lunch Lessons also has many pages of healthy menu options that kids will love as well as a policy guide model to be used by parents and schools to instigate change. Parents should read this book and then donate it to the nutritional advisors at their child’s school.

Friday, May 25th, 2007

3 Comments on Lunch Lessons


Earth Day Resolutions

by Tiffany in Environment

I wrote a bit last week about viewing Earth day as a natural family holiday and making resolutions to encourage environmental concerns every day, all year long. BUT you won’t find the post here. I am writing as a guest blogger on occasion for Green Options or GO. So if you want to read all about it you will need to go here: Earth Day Resolutions.

Leave me a comment at GO and tell me about your resolutions.


Are You Frugal, Instinctive, Health-Nutty, or Green?

by Tiffany in Tidbits

baby cloth diapersI was chatting with my friend Carrie a few days ago over at our community forum for natural business moms. We were discussing my “revelation” that the natural moms demographic was getting pretty broad and that it could be broken down into four smaller segments that I am calling Instinctive, Frugal, Green, and Healthy. If you are reading this blog then likely you have some interest in natural family living…but what motivates your interest? Are you a green mom that comes here to read about reusables and global warming or are you a healthy mom that wants information about natural cleaners and holistic medicine?

I decided that I wanted to see what the cloth diapering moms at my Diaper Jungle site felt about this and their motivations for cloth diapering…a typical natural mom practice. So I asked my blog readers over there to answer this question: What Kind of Cloth Diaper Mom Are You?

I am surprised by the results. So far 38% say that their motivation for living more natural family lives and using cloth diapers in particular, is one of economics. Natural products and alternatives seem to be the more frugal choice for many families. 28% of moms chose cloth because they follow the theory of instinctive or natural parenting, 23% of moms were motivated by green causes, and 4% are searching the healthiest option. Another 4% said that all four applied to them.

So going beyond cloth diapers….what kind of natural mom are you? Are You Frugal, Instinctive, Health-Nutty, or Green?