Monday, 6 February 2012

Soap Nuts

alternate title:  You Wash Your Clothes with What?

In our quest to expose our child to as few chemicals as possible, I started looking into gentle detergents that weren't full of harsh ingredients.  Here in the UK, there are two major types of detergent "Bio" and "Non-Bio".  I don't really understand the difference.  I've asked a few people and none of them have been able to tell me either.  Just that "Non-bio" is less harsh, so should be used for babies.  (Here's a link from a leading detergent company explaining the difference.)

At any rate, I combed the aisle of the grocery store for the gentle, baby-safe options and was surprised that there doesn't seem to be a brand that market directly to that population.  I then broadened my search to onlines.  I found something that was very intriguing.  Ross has introduced me to plenty of natural alternatives for cleaning over the years, but he'd never heard of this one either.  We aren't hippies really, but we're all for using natural alternatives to chemical products if they work.  We thought this one was worth checking out, so we ordered our very own Soap Nuts for £5 (including shipping) from eBay.

A few days later, this muslin bag arrived in the mail.

It contained a plastic bag full of soap nuts and 2 small muslin drawstring bags.

The nuts themselves are about the size of  marbles and are slightly sticky.  Sorry for the flash in this picture, but it was the only way to capture the sheen on the nuts.  They have a little bit of an odor, but it's not really a bad smell... just sort of... nutty...

To use the soap nuts for laundry, you put 4-6 in one of the small muslin bags.

And then soak the bag in a cup of warm water for about 3 minutes.

This helps release the suds in the nuts a bit.  You can see some foamy bubbles around the edge of the cup in this picture.

Then you just toss the little bag in the washing machine on top of your clothes.  The same bag can be used for about 3 washes before the nuts are spent.  They take on a dried out shell look when that happens.  The shells can then be composted.  We don't have a composting facility, so into the trash they go.

I've used the soap nuts for the last several weeks and have been really pleased with how they clean our clothes.  They come out of the wash soft and clean smelling (though not perfumed... if you want to, you can apparently add essential oils to the washer, but I don't mind a lack of "smell").  I haven't washed anything that was super-duper dirty (just our regular washing) yet, but the soap nuts have done a good job.  I'll have to update y'all once I've tried this method with some dirty baby stuff and especially on cloth diapers.  I do still add bicarbonate of soda to our white loads to help make them nice and bright.  At our current rate of use (I probably do about 6 loads of laundry a week), I imagine the bag we bought for £5 will last for at least 4 months, probably more.  That seems like pretty good value to me!  

You can use soap nuts for other methods, as outlined on the website
We tried to use them in the dishwasher and weren't very impressed, so for now we're sticking with chemicals to clean the dishes.  Perhaps if we made soap nuts liquid and used that we'd see better results, but that seemed like a lot of work.  

All in all, I'd give Soap Nuts a tentative, but strong thumbs up!  If you're looking for a method to clean without chemicals they're worth a shot.  

(Note:  We bought these little nuts on our own and no one paid or asked me to review them... just a little public service.)

What cleaning methods do you use?
Are you traditional or willing to try weird, natural stuff like us?


  1. very interesting, I've never heard of it. I'm also going to try the bicarb with my white wash next time!

  2. I hadn't heard of these either until you posted. I'm all for using fewer chemicals in our lives, and certainly while a child is young. Our washing machine at our new house will drain right out behind the house (no sewer) so I'd love to know I'm not pumping harsh chemicals out 30 feet from my garden! I think I'll have to see if I can find any on this side of the pond and try them.