(the lovely photo is by M. Gringas — thank you for letting me use it!)
I was on Facebook and noticed my friend Suzy gushing about something called “soap nuts”. She, like many of my other friends, was making a move toward making more sustainable choices in her life. However, with two little kids in cloth diapers, she needed to make sure that whatever she used could handle cleaning… well, cloth diapers and the other messes that small children leave. I’ve learned over the years that a Suzy suggestion is a good one, so I went on Amazon and purchased a pound of the stuff from Naturoli. My pound of nuts (which are actually berries!) came in a large muslin drawstring bag and included a smaller one for laundry loads. It also came with a small bottle of concentrated nut liquid, but I’ve yet to use that.
(IMPORTANT NOTE: If you care for a child, do yourself a favor and sign up for Amazon Mom, okay? You get three free months of Amazon Prime benefits and every total purchase over $25 that qualifies as a baby item will extend those benefits for a month. It’s worth it for the free two-day shipping, really.)
Anyway! How does one wash their clothes with soap nuts?
- Place about 5-6 nuts into a small muslin bag (which is usually given to you upon purchase). I use six in mine, but I also have a high-capacity washing machine and always run it when it’s full, so I’m playing it safe. If you’ve got a standard capacity (or a high-efficiency) machine, you can get away with using five.
- IF YOU’RE USING WARM WATER, SKIP THIS STEP. I always wash with cold water, so I need to pre-soak my bag. To do this, I warm up just enough water to cover the bag and then let it steep for about 1-2 minutes. Don’t leave it in there for too long! You just want the nuts to soften up just a bit.
- Throw the bag (and the liquid if you did the above step) into the washing machine. You can do this before or after loading the clothes, but I like to put it in the middle because I’m weird like that.
- Start up the machine, and you’re good to go!
One thing you may notice is that the nuts have a slightly vinegar-y smell when wet. Don’t worry: your clothes won’t smell like that when they’re dry. In fact, they won’t smell like anything! You don’t need to add any fabric softener because everything will come out static-free and fluffy as all get-out, but if you like to have scented laundry, here’s what you do:
- Grab a rag, old piece of fabric, or old t-shirt. I took an old shirt that I had repurposed and had extra fabric from. Either way, make sure you’re okay with it possibly staining.
- Add a drop or two of essential or fragrance oil to the fabric. I alternate between different vials from Archibald Sisters because I’m too cheap to use my BPAL imps for laundry.
- Throw the fabric in the dryer, and turn it on.
Voilà! Wonderfully scented laundry is yours, and it won’t irritate your skin like the residue that dryer sheets leave behind will.
Since I do cold water washes for everything, six soap nuts last me about 5-7 washes. If you wash with warm water, they won’t last quite as long. You’ll be able to tell when the nuts are losing their cleaning potential when they take on a greyish color and get very, very soft. At this point, I usually get a mason jar and soak them in hot water, extracting the last of the washy goodness out of them. You can use the liquid for other cleaning purposes, like washing your dishes, handwashing your clothes, or any other household chore. It won’t lather up very much (if at all), but that doesn’t mean it’s not getting the job done.
Here’s the nice thing about the stuff: it’s all-natural, free of chemicals (which is good if you have sensitive skin like I do), you don’t have to dispose of huge bottles of detergent, and best of all? It’s pretty light on the wallet. $25 for what will probably end up being around 150-200 loads isn’t a bad deal in the least, and when I’m done I can reuse the muslin bags. I’ve barely made a dent in the stock that I have. Basically, if you’re looking for a cheap way to cut down on your footprint/impact/other word that people use here, there are worse ways to go than using soap nuts.