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. :)