Soap nuts that is.

I was running low on laundry soap and had been casting around for a zero waste alternative to buying a new plastic container full of liquid soap or a box of powder with ingredients I can’t even pronounce. Do I make my own? Do I buy from the bulk aisle?

I wasn’t keen on making my own. It’s not hard, but sourcing all the ingredients for zero waste was not a challenge I was in the mood for. The liquid soap at the zero waste store has a scent which I didn’t want to learn the hard way I am allergic to. And powders, I wash everything in cold water and find that powders do not dissolve well.

When we were shopping at our food co-op recently I spied, just peeping out from behind the bulk liquid soap and shampoo, a bulk container of soap nuts. I did some research and the next time we were at the co-op, bought a scoop to try.

soap nuts

In case you have never heard of soap nuts, they are 100% natural and hypo-allergenic. Soap nuts, also called soapberries, come from about five to twelve species of small trees and shrubs in the lychee family. The fruits, soap nuts, contain saponin and have surfactant properties. They have historically been used in Asia and by Native Americans for washing. When you buy them for laundry, they are dried “shells.”

So how did they work? I love them! The first time I used them I just tossed a small handful loose into the laundry. I had read that the nuts need to be activated by hot water, but it turned out to not be so. They worked just fine “unactivated” in all cold water. And everything came out of the washing machine feeling soft. I can re-use my handful of nuts five or six times and then toss them in the compost.

After the first try with the soap nuts I have since been putting them in a mesh washing bag. Turns out shaking all the laundry to find the soap nut pieces gets tedious really fast. And then there was James calling me from work, laughing, to tell me he found a piece of soap nut in his pants pocket!

Soap nuts will not work on heavily soiled items or on grease. Also, stains like spaghetti sauce will need to be pre-treated, but you would likely do that no matter what kind of laundry soap you use. I highly recommend them especially if you have a grey water system or allergies.