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I Challenge You to Soap Nuts

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

Soap Nuts

I grew up loving the smell of Gain. I used it for far too long as an adult before I realized all that scent and blue-green color was actually just a mask for any residual smell or fading of color and white brightness, as well as bad for the environment and my own health.

With eyes opened, I bravely delved into the world of making my own laundry detergent; first powdered, then whipped.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

That was exhausting and time consuming, if I'm being honest. And while I liked the way the clothes turned out, I don't think I loved the way they turned out. There was some kind of residual something that I can't put my finger on that wasn't getting rinsed out completely. But they got clean enough and smelled good enough, so I forged ahead.

Then we had a baby.

I reverted. Not quite all the way back to liquid Gain, but to the Trader Joe's [much more eco-friendly] version of it. I tried to be ready with homemade stuff when Roz came, but I just couldn't get to in on my pre-delivery list.

It's now officially been more than a year, and I admittedly haven't made my own laundry detergent for longer than that. And while we have been using store-bought laundry detergents (until recently), I finally swore off all liquid detergents (plastic bottles) in lieu of powder detergents (recycleable/biodegradable cardboard boxes).

And then one day, about a month ago, I stumbled upon a Pin or an Instagram post or something that rang a little bell in my memory: soap nuts as a completely eco-friendly laundry detergent option. I was skeptical, but I am really feeling the pull, lately, to reduce all of my bad effects on the world, and I heard they were quite easy to use, so I thought, what the heck, I'll give it a shot; we're almost out of detergent, anyway.

Fast forward more than a month, and we're still going strong on the soap nuts. Here's my bulleted review of the highlights:

-They are super easy to use (just as easy as commercial detergent)

-They leave the clothes with no detectable smell (which to me is great), even cloth diapers

-They are completely fine for a grey-water system

-They are biodegradable and compostable

-They are price comparable to or cheaper than conventional store-bought detergent (soap nuts at ~$10 for 100 loads, for example, vs. store-bought detergent at ~$10 for 64 loads)

The only drawbacks or inconveniences I can see are that you are supposed to let them dry out between loads (I don't always do this if I have a lot of laundry to do and am in a hurry) and you have to remember to take them out of your load of laundry, preferably before they go into the dryer (although it's not the end of them if they go through the dryer).

So where do you get them and how do you use them? I started off getting mine on Amazon, but I'm on the hunt for a bulk retailer. As to how to use them, simply place 5-7 soap nuts in a small, sealable cotton bag (my first order came with one), saturate the soap nuts with warm-to-hot water, and toss them in with your load of clothes to wash on whichever cycle you need. Let them dry between loads (it's ok if they go through the dryer, but they'll last longer if they air dry). You can reuse the same soap nuts for 4-7 loads, or until they get grey and brittle. If you pull the bag out before the final rinse, you can apparently get more uses out of them, but who's going to remember to do that? Not me.

Here's a scale of the evilness to holiness of laundry detergent options:

Most Evil --->--->--->--->--->--->--->--->--->--->---> Holiest

liquid detergent with scent -> unscented liquid detergent/scented powder detergent (the fragrance vs. the plastic bottle is a toss-up) -> unscented powdered detergent -> homemade, unscented detergent -> commercial soap nuts -> home-grown soap nuts (I dream)

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