Frequently Asked Questions
So, what's a Soapnut?
Soapnuts are a macadamia-sized berry which is cracked open and dried in the sun, producing a dark golden 'shell'. These shells (known as 'soapnuts') can be placed into your washing machine instead of detergent and fabric softener, and will leave your clothes clean, soft and without scent. The pods contain a very high percentage of saponins (Mother Nature's soap), a surfactant which removes dirt and oils from clothing when contacted with water. Soapnuts can also be boiled into a liquid concentrate and used as a general purpose cleaner, shampoo, hand soap... lots of things!
What can I use them for?
Well, just about everything. As a detergent, a personal cleanser and shampoo, a general purpose cleaner, car wash, pet wash, vegetable wash, carpet and upholstery cleaner...
Soapnuts are most commonly used as a laundry detergent. They are used instead of chemical detergents and fabric softeners. Soapnut shells are used simply on their own in a washnet or toe of an old stocking, and put into the machine with your clothes. They do not need to be removed during the rinse cycle as there is no harmful or irritating residue as is left over from normal detergents. The surfactants in the nuts cleans and softens your laundry in one economic and environmentally friendly swoop!
We have personally tested them extensively in our washing machine and are very satisfied with their ability to clean anything and everything, including baby clothes and nappies, delicates and silks, woolens, towels and muddy bathmats and even sweaty work clothes from gardening, as well as pet bedding and horse blankets.
How safe are they?
Soapnuts are completely hypoallergenic, as in, are not likely to agitate or irritate the skin. They are so gentle that they are recommended for use by people with eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions. We use them for washing our baby and toddler's clothes, and our baby has particularly sensitive skin. We have seen an improvement in her skin since switching from 'sensitive detergents' to soapnuts, proving to us personally that they are indeed as gentle as can be. Many mothers have been sharing their success with soapnuts as a washing detergent alternative on online forums; a simple Google search will bring up many examples. Also, soapnuts are not technically nuts, they are berries. So people with nut allergies have nothing to worry about.
How do they get here?
Our soapnuts grow wild in the Himalayan foothills. The berries fall from the trees when ripe and are collected from the ground by local families during October and November each year. The fallen berries are then cracked open, the seeds removed (which have no saponin) and the shells left to dry in the sun. Then they're weighed and packed into boxes and sent to us. Simple, wholesome and environmentally friendly. And our wholesaler uses village-friendly practices including fair pay and treatment for its workers. A refreshing change, we say.
Are they organic?
Our soapnuts are grown wild, and no chemicals are added at any stage, and have recently gained Organic Certififcation from the USDA.
Are soapnuts a sustainable resource?
They are indeed. They grow wild in forests but lately the price of the wood from the Sapindus mukorossi tree has been higher than the price for the soapnuts, so by using them we are creating an increased demand, which means the living trees become more profitable! Which means by using soapnuts, we are protecting our forests.
So what about performance?
Soapnuts work just as well as ordinary chemical detergents.They are fibre-friendly and will not leech the colour out of your garments, though we do recommend separating light and dark clothing to maintain the brightness of pale clothing. Soapnuts leave clothes looking, feeling and smelling clean!
Because soapnuts are completely natural, they do not contain optical brighteners, foaming agents, bleaches or chlorine, so they will not produce the same results as commercial stain removers, but they can be used to soak out tough stains in hot water. If necessary you can also add environmentally-friendly oxygen bleach.
Do soapnuts have a scent?
Soapnuts do have a light, natural scent, but this is not left on the clothing when used for washing. We recommend adding a couple drops of essential oils to the cotton bag or sock you put your soapnuts in, which will leave a delicate scent of your choice on your laundry. If you are using warm or hot water, put your oils into the fabric softener drawer.
Personalised washing, what a luxury!
Eucalyptus and Tea Tree oils are antibacterial and leave your laundry smelling fresh and clean, while Lavender oil can be used when washing bed linen to help you relax at night. Clove and Orange oils can repel moths and insects if you are washing linen or clothes to be put into storage. The options are only limited by your personal preferences and requirements. You can even use your own or prescribed aromatherapy oil combinations.
How do they perform in HE (High Efficiency) washing machines?
We have found that we can use less soapnuts for more washes in newer machines. HE washing machines also use less water, and because soapnuts don't leave a residue that needs rinsing away like chemical detergents, a simple "30 Minute" or "Quick Wash" may do the trick - using half the water and electricity. We suggest experimenting with your particular machine, using less soapnuts each time your washing is perfectly clean until you find the amount right for you.
So what about my old, rattly clunker washing machine?
Soapnuts will work in any machine, and also for hand washing. Again the wash cycle can be reduced as an extra rinse cycle is not needed. Experiment with your machine and use less soapnuts, or use the same ones for more washes, as you deem necessary.
Do I use hot or cold water?
Whichever you use is up to you. The saponins are released quicker in hotter water, so for very dirty or large loads hot water can be used to release more soap from the nuts. Alternatively, using hot water for normal loads means you can use less soapnuts per wash, but you would use them for less washes. The soapnuts are ready for composting when they no longer feel squeaky clean and look pale on the inside. You can also save up your 'used' nuts and boil them in water on the stove to get every last bit of saponin out and use the liquid as a cleaner. See our soapnut liquid recipe for more information.
How do I know if they're ready to compost?
Soapnuts have a lot of soap in them! Sometimes it's tricky to tell if they're gonners. Here's a couple tips:
- After using them in your washing machine a couple times, have a look at them; you can tell by looking at them how much more soap is in them.
- If they are wet, squeeze the edge of one. If you see any tiny bubbles, there's plenty left, throw them back in for more washes. Also, when the inside looks grey and mushy, they're probably done.
- If they're totally brittle when dry, they are ready to compost. Any squishy parts, there's still soap left!
- Another way to tell is by the quality of the wash. If you use the same settings regularly on your machine, you will be able to tell when your soapnuts need replacing when the latest load is not quite "as clean" as the last. Experimentation is the key, as is getting used to your machine's capabilities.