How can you get your clothes clean and do it with zero waste? Sounds like a pipe dream, right? Every bottle or box of laundry detergent you use just creates waste that may or may not be able to be recycled. Even if you make your laundry detergent, the products that you use create waste in their production processes and your use of them. It seems like it would be impossible to get your clothes clean without the help of some kind of detergent that is man-made and that uses some kind of plastic or cardboard packaging.
Well, put simply, it’s not, and that is great news since we want to do our laundry in the most eco-friendly way possible. Soap nuts (also called soapberries) are the answer because they clean clothes and are compostable. When you’re done using them, just put them in your compost pile, and grab a few more for the next few rounds of laundry. I put together this tutorial for you so that you can see how simple it is to get your clothes clean without creating any extra waste. They provide a very affordable way to do your laundry in an eco-friendly way, and they are great for your skin because they are very gentle in how they clean your clothes.
What You Will Need to Follow this Tutorial
- Soap nuts
- Muslin bag (A scrap fabric bag can work, too.)
- Lots of dirty laundries
Soap nuts are typically not something you can just go to the grocery store and buy in the laundry aisle. You will need to buy them online, but you may be able to pick up some at a specialty store in your community as they are becoming more popular to use. You may find them for sale with a muslin bag that you can use to put them in in the wash, or you could fashion a bag of your own.
1.) Locate Soap Nuts for Sale.
Soap nuts are native to India and Nepal, so you’re not likely to be able to find them for sale in your backyard, unless you live in the regions where they are grown, of course. Check with your local health food store or other similar specialty stores to see if you can find them locally. You can also find them at multiple retailers online. Try to get organic ones if you can to further increase the eco-friendliness of the process of doing your laundry.
Soap nuts are very cost-effective, and you can get a handful of them for just pennies, which can be used for several loads. They work well in front-load and HE washers, and they don’t leave any residue behind after the wash is finished.
2.) Put 4 to 6 Soap Nuts in a Muslin Bag.
Use a muslin bag or one you’ve fashioned out of scrap fabric to hold your soap nuts. You’ll need about four to six soap nuts per load of laundry. Then load your washer as you usually would, and add the soap nuts in the bag.
Soap nuts clean clothes because they contain a natural surfactant called saponin. It releases dirt, oils, and stains from clothes. Soap nuts don’t contain any chemicals, and they are sustainable, so you can feel good about using 4-6 of them for a few loads of laundry. You’ll have to replace them every so often, but, because you’re using them instead of laundry detergent, you’re making a positive impact on the environment.
Soap nuts are actually berries of the tree called Sapindus Mukorossi, and they are of the lychee family. The soap nuts can be harvested from September to February, which means they have a long and sustainable harvesting season. Soap nuts don’t come off of trees right away, though. A tree takes nine years to start yielding fruit, but they produce berries for 90 years. Soap nuts do more than get rid of chemicals in your laundry process: their trees change carbon dioxide into oxygen, so this helps combat greenhouse gases.
3.) Add Your Laundry, and Choose Your Water Temperature.
Now, eco-friendly laundry doers will mostly tell you to always wash your clothes in cold water. But there is some debate about the best way to use soap nuts. Some say that they are most effective in hot water, and others suggest boiling soap nuts in their bag in a cup of water and then adding the soap nuts and the “tea” to the wash before you start a load. Others will tell you to just use whatever temperature you want. In this case, the jury is still out.
I would suggest doing what you’re most comfortable with regarding the temperature of your wash and try out a few loads with different temperatures to see which produces the best results. Keep in mind that soap nuts are good antimicrobial agents and can help clean your laundry of things like bacteria, but you will need water of at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit to get rid of odors and stains (except blood, which cold water is okay for), and water temperatures of about 140 degrees is necessary to kill bacteria and viruses. Consider how dirty your laundry is before you determine how hot you want your water to be for each load.
4.) Pretreat, if Necessary.
So how do soap nuts compare with regular detergent in how well they clean? Frankly, it’s not likely that you’ll get the same results that you would from manufactured laundry detergents, so it would be a good idea not to expect that your clothes will be their whitest, for example, when using soapberries. In general, however, you’ll get great results when you use soap nuts for your laundry detergent.
However, lots of natural ways to pre-treat your clothes are good options to get the best results with soap nuts, such as using distilled white vinegar to pre-treat stained clothes. You can also add a cup of lemon juice or use sodium percarbonate (an adduct or baking soda and hydrogen peroxide) to the washing machine to get your clothes whiter. Some have suggested soaking clothes in a soapberry and water mixture to also help pre-treat clothes.
Note that soapberries do not make lots of suds, so don’t expect lots of foam. But, remember, it’s the surfactant that removes the dirt, not the suds. It’s difficult to retrain our minds to think that we don’t have to have suds to have clean clothes.
5.) Wash as Normal.
You really don’t have to think too hard about washing your clothes any differently than you normally would with laundry detergent. Soapberries just go in a muslin bag and get thrown into the washer. They are septic-safe, good for high-efficiency machines, and they don’t leave anything behind to clean up after a load is done.
Another plus to using soap nuts is that they have been used for centuries to help with skin issues like eczema. So, if you’re looking for a natural alternative to chemically-harsh detergents, soap nuts may be the perfect solution for you. They also don’t leave behind much, if any, of ascent, so, if fragrances are bothersome, soapberries may be a great laundry detergent choice for you. You can add essential oils to your wash if you like a light scent, such as eucalyptus, but it definitely isn’t necessary to get your clothes cleaned just like you would with any other type of detergent.
6.) Change the Soapberries after a Few Loads.
How effective the soap nuts you use are will depend on many factors, such as the temperature of the water, how dirty the clothes are, how many clothes are in the wash, etc. So you can expect that your soap nuts will last at least a few loads and maybe up to ten. You’ll know that it’s time to switch them out and get new ones when they begin to be grey and become soft to the touch. At that point, just grab four to six new ones; take the old ones out of the bag; and put the new ones in. You can put the old soapberries into your compost pile. They are completely biodegradable, so you don’t have to feel concerned that they will impact the environment negatively.
Soap nuts are one of the best ways that you can get your laundry done effectively and make a significant difference in the state of the environment. Since they are compostable and don’t create packaging waste, you can be confident in using them. They are easy to take with you when you travel as well, and you can use them when you have to hand-wash your clothes.
Being so good for your skin, affordable, versatile, and effective, it is hard to imagine using another type of laundry detergent. It may take some getting used to since they don’t produce the bubbles or have the scent that you may be used to from commercially-produced or even the naturally-made detergents you create at home. However, they are good at cutting through dirt and grime, and they are one way you can change your laundry routine for the better. If you have ever used soap nuts to do your laundry, tell us about your experience in the comments below, and send this article on to anyone else you know who might be interested in the benefits of using soapberries as their laundry detergent.