As you know, I really don't like using chemicals in the house or for the animals, but it is gradual process to reduce and change what we use. For the laundry, we already use a grey-water friendly product, as all the washing-machine water is used to water my vege garden, however I was sure there was still opportunities to improve. I'd read a bit about soap nuts and thought about it and hadn't done anything about it until I saw them at the local market and finally bought some. I admit that I was a little skeptical, and I do have a boilermaker husband who can come home in some pretty dirty work clothes, so these soap nuts had a challenge ahead of them.
soap nuts are actually dried berries
For those who haven't heard of soap nuts, they're actually a dried berry from the sapindus mukorossi tree, which grows in India and Himalayas. They are imported to Australia by various companies (just google soap nuts and you will find them). This is the only thing that worries me about soap nuts, I would prefer to use something local, but then you can't really fault supporting industry in those countries either. As far as I can tell, we can't actually grow the tree in Australia, the guy I bought them from said it is a weed and the fine is $20,000, and as the nuts are irradiated at customs its pretty much impossible to get the seeds to grow anyway, more info here. If I could get an Australian equivalent and grow it in my garden, that would be the ultimate self-sufficient laundry solution! Any ideas?
**Last minute update: I am excited, I just read about the soapwart plant (here and here), and I should be able to grow that in my garden and use it for various soap applications, but until I get that established, I have soap nuts**
Anyway, moving on with the story, the idea with the soap nuts is to use the coldest wash available, pop 4-6 nuts in the little calico wash bag, put that bag in with your washing and they should last a few washes, not as many if you use hot water. We normally use either a 45 min quick wash, or the 2 hr "cotton" wash for the boilermaking clothes, so I've tried the nuts a few times on both of those wash cycles.
dirty boilermaking jeans
my dirty farm jeans - note molasses stain!
I took some before and after photos of some of our really dirty jeans, because I thought they would be the hardest to get clean. In general I've been pretty happy with results. As you can see these jeans got as clean as I would have expected from the bought laundry powder we usually use. They don't always come out perfect, but they are only going to get dirty again, so we don't worry so much about work clothes anyway! Pete has requested that his work jeans are washed in hot water with laundry powder so that he looks presentable before he gets dirty again. But apart from that, I think soap nuts are great for all other laundry.
The main thing I noticed was that the washing didn't smell of anything. Normally it has that added fragrance, so you know its "clean", that was really weird at first, but good because I don't like artificial fragrance! After the first wash I added a few drops of lavender oil to the powder dispenser, and then the washing smelt like lavender, which was much nicer.
cleaner boilermaking jeans
and clean farm work jeans, molasses stain gone!
The main difficulty I have with the soap nuts is remembering to find the nut sack (te he) from one load and putting it into the next load if I'm doing a few loads in a day. I have wars with that washing machine, and you will notice that the handle is missing, yep I broke that off one time ages ago when it wouldn't let me back in, so the problem is that once you press buttons the door locks and its too late to add the nuts. But I just have to get into the habit, and its not too late to add powder if all else fails!
I also used the nuts to do some hand washing, just soaked the nuts in hot water for 10 minutes, added some lavender oil and washed as normal, no problems and less suds to rinse out as well. This website has lots of great tips for other uses for soap nuts.
The nuts are also supposed to work out way cheaper, however I'm not so sure. One website has them for $26 for 500g, which does over 200 washes, I get 60 washes from my current washing powder (reading the box, not counting personally), for about $10, so its a bit cheaper, but I also like to know that the water going to my garden is as chemical-free as possible. If you buy in bulk it works out even cheaper. You can get Soap Nuts at Biome (affiliate link).