• Soap Nuts / Soap Berries & Front-loaders

Having a clean, fresh smelling front-loading HE washer is easier than you may think. Your answer even grows on trees. Welcome saponin from soap nuts / soap berries!

This is an article that my team and I were prompted to prepare in response to the December 11, 2013 email from TreeHugger called “The latest spin on washing machines.” We feel it can be VERY helpful for many of you with the issues you’re experiencing with your HE and/or front-loading washers. The original article, entitled “Lawsuit over front-load washers may drive consumers back to energy-wasting models”, was written by Kimberley Mok, and published on 12-10-13.

The only issue we had with Treehuggers’s article (and its followup) is that a MAJOR remedy was overlooked: That is the use of saponin – derived from soap berries (aka soap nuts). Only in reader’s comments were soapberries mentioned. Guess we need to have a good talk with Treehugger. They simply missed the boat – and it’s right up their alley. As even service techs will attest to: An HE or front-loader that uses soap berries instead of the commercial HE soaps will be sparkling clean by comparison – even the areas and parts you can’t see. No gross chemical residue or gunk, no mold, no mildew, no odors. It’s so simple! For the most part, the problem never begins.

Yuk! Typical stinky mold and residue build up.

Yuk! Typical stinky mold and residue build up.

Ms. Mok also wrote a good follow up article on 12-13-13 entitled, “8 Easy maintenance tips for front load washers.” She’s obviously been writing away same as I. She covers the main helpful tips well, and the reader comments are excellent (especially in the first article). We haven’t even corresponded. No doubt we will at some point. I’m looking forward to that!

The interesting thing though is that the tips and comments are geared to reducing a problem primarily through user maintenance – plus simple things like keeping the door open to relieve the excess moisture. Our approach is a far more proactive one. We focus on eliminating the entire problem from the start – and doing so without a bunch of extra work. – Big difference!

Be assured the gist here has nothing to do with your “green-ness”, or lack thereof. This is to assist with real, everyday problems we all face. As the founder of NaturOli, and the author of SoapNuts.Pro (SNP), of course I will speak to our remedies and solutions to the front-loader issues. If you feel my NaturOli association biases my opinion, so be it for that’s your opinion. However, it’s via NaturOli, SNP, and reading tons of feedback from consumers that I’ve acquired the knowledge to write an informed article on this topic.

From my homework and with input from service technicians, there are no major mechanical differences between the older and newer front-loaders (bells and whistles aside). HE labeled units have been modified to be more energy and water efficient, plus there’s more (often confusing) features. Some are needed, but many are for show and likely will rarely to never be used.

HE units require much more user care and maintenance mainly due to less water usage. They don’t utilize enough water for a thorough self rinsing and cleaning after each use. They attempt to extend time and agitation to offset that lack of water flow. This sounds good in theory, but doesn’t always work out very well – creating numerous problems for consumers. This is why they now need a “cleaning” cycle. (As usual, we consumers had no say as to what constitutes “efficient”, but I’m avoiding that issue. Let’s leave it as “they” just told us – again.)

Manufacturers have made tweaks and adjustments to help with the mold and odor problems, but the real problem is within the fundamental design of a front-loader (HE or not). If HE, the problems is only worsened due to the lack of water used for flushing the left over soap scum and gunk out with each wash. It’s imperative to use a low sudsing “HE compatible” detergent with an HE washer. Yes, they are usually more expensive. No surprise. And typical softeners are a no-no. They definitely add to the crud that builds up. But just hang in there with me for we’re going to get to the EASY fix soon.

It’s like night and day between USA and Europe when it comes to washers. In Europe there has been greater emphasis on both water conservation and space efficiency for (ever…???), hence many won’t even relate to the water-gulping top-loading monsters that we’ve grown to love here in the US. Separate moisture-filled laundry rooms are not part of everyday life for many of our European friends. Washday habits here in the US are quite different. We’ve been spoiled in many ways. Those mainstay front-loaders at the laundromat have big advantages over our “home” units: They are “commercially” built units, they’re typically bigger, they’re regularly maintained, and they’re commonly left open – quite a different ballgame than found in our tidy US home laundry rooms. (“Tidy” may be a stretch. It certainly doesn’t describe mine.)

Properly well maintained laundromat.

Properly well maintained laundromat.

As reported by numerous companies, “bad odors” (also referred to as “The Smelly Washer Syndrome” by the makers of the DIY “Washer Fan”) is the #1 service problem for front-loading and HE washers in the US. The “Washer Fan” is a pretty cool idea ($70). It would have to help. IMO there should be one built-in on all front-loaders in the first place. However, detergent and additive residues, plus pent up moisture are the culprits behind the odor problem. A lack of routine cleaning is also high on the list. Thoroughly cleaning our washing machine is only a slightly more frequent task than “spring cleaning” in most households that I know. And this now takes us to the heart of the matter: The laundry soaps / detergents, softeners, and other additives used.

Due in part to our big top-loaders, we’ve grown to love seeing suds. We’ve also been taught to equate cleaning with suds. (Yep, there’s even a post here about it.) It was a long-running marketing strategy that backfired (big time) on the detergent producers with the onset of the home front-loader models. And one they are still struggling to overcome. Most Europeans never developed such a love affair with suds. You can’t easily watch the suds in a front-loader.

Apparently we have a bit of a dilemma in the US with front-loaders. Like Ms. Mok, most of us hate them. At best it’s a love-hate relationship for the eco conscious. However, there is a very simple remedy for most of our problems. – And it requires no extra work nor significant lifestyle change.

Residue and corrosion on washer heater element.

Residue and corrosion on washer heater element.

NaturOli began in 2007 as a formulator of olive-based natural products (mainly personal care). Hair care plus home cleaning products followed after we began working with saponin which is derived from soap berries. We discovered soap berries (aka soap nuts) about a year or two after we launched nationally. (BTW: They’re not nuts at all. There’s a whole article here regarding that issue, too.) Soap berries contain saponin which is a natural surfactant that leaves no residues or build-ups as all the chemical surfactants do. The detergent developers just can’t seem to produce a “clean” chemical surfactant. Saponin however will nearly purge washers of old build up and all the associated nasty molds, odors, etc. (I should say saponins for it is a family of them, but we’ll leave that for another day.)

Given the large number of comments from Europeans to the TreeHugger article, it should be noted that Germany has been and remains the largest importing nation of soap berries in the world. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the Swedish manufacturer, Electrolux, developed and won a 2007 Design Lab award for a prototype washer that uses soap nuts exclusively.

For years we’ve been getting rave reviews and feedback from users who had terrible problems that are simply GONE. Nasty musty odors are GONE. The mold, mildew, and detergent residues are GONE (or have lessened dramatically). Use of saponin is the best and easiest remedy – by far – to resolve these problems. It’s that simple.

Being free of toxic chemicals, saponin is a “greener” remedy. That’s a given. Again, that’s not what this article is about though. Saponin works better than the standard or all the psuedo-green products. Even if you don’t care about that, being healthier is a certainly a nice bonus. Thousands who suffered with skin sensitivities due to today’s commercial detergents are now living irritation free lives again – and there’s tons of testimonies here to support what I write. (See Reviews and Testimonials here, on the NaturOli site, or on Amazon.) It was humorous to read a commenter’s input regarding fragrance tablets as a remedy for the musty odors. No thanks. I’m not one to spray perfume on a pig. Solve the problem. Don’t try to hide it. Yuk.

Overstuffing loads is a common problem. Understandably.

Overstuffing loads is a common problem. Understandably.

There are other articles on SNP about the inherent mechanical design issues with HE washers and front-loaders, plus discussions about the plethora of problematic detergents and additives on store shelves. These troubling issues are only compounded further by common “human” errors – i.e., overstuffing loads. It appears that the mainstream machine technology has surpassed that of the mainstream detergents being produced – causing lots of problems in the process. The chemical product producers have yet to find good viable solutions, and equipment manufacturers are now being hit with the lawsuits. I’ve yet to see an owners manual that the average person will likely read completely. Most folks won’t get beyond the basic functions, or will find a YouTube video for a quickie demo.

The manuals are loaded with “don’t dos”, while failing miserably to communicate all the “dos”. The only thing covered well is their indemnification: Basically stating that virtually all typical problems will be your fault. What a mess and joke! It’s no wonder that there’s lawsuits in the works.

We found a viable, effective solution to this mess years ago – while winning TWO international awards in the process. And frankly, we’re only scratching the surface of the iceberg we found.

After California loosened up on some building codes, the LA Times wrote about our soap berries and saponin-based cleaners in the “Top 4 Best” grey-water safe detergents. Note for our green friends: Regardless of washer type (HE, top-loader, front-loader, or the kitchen sink) use of a grey-water system ranks as one of the greenest things you can do at home. The majority of home water consumption is grey-water – not sewage. Hence, that beloved big old top-loading Maytag no longer wastes ANY water! And when using soap berries and saponins – your lawn and gardens will love you for it.

It’s all quite amazing what saponin will do. Putting it simply, cleaning up your washer is a no-brainer. Washing machine technicians have even written us commenting about never seeing machines so clean before. The internal plumbing, gaskets, heater elements, etc. remain cleaner than they’ve ever seen when servicing the machine of a soap nut user.

So, soap nuts / soapberries are key. There’s different techniques in using them. All are discussed here on SNP. However, front-loaders are the most challenging in obtaining optimal results because they fall short in agitation and even more importantly – adequate water flow for the proper dispersion of the saponin. So, here comes the only sales pitch from me:

Use our flagship formula: EXTREME 18X.

NaturOli EXTREME 18X soap berry liquid concentrate, 8oz with micro-dose pump.

NaturOli EXTREME 18X soap berry liquid concentrate, 8oz with micro-dose pump.

In these past years we’ve become the largest importer and distributor of soap berries and saponin products in the US and Canada. Our EXTREME 18X is effectively a pure saponin extract. Angele Sionna of Examiner.com’s “Early Child Parenting” column put it as “Soap Nuts in a bottle” in 2009 – shortly after we unveiled it. That’s a darn good description. (Today, both the bottling and liquid look nothing like the original in 2009. We’ve come a long way since then.) But EXTREME means extreme for a reason! A tiny 8oz bottle will wash 96+ HE loads. You can stop lugging big jugs around. You need so little that it comes with a micro-dose 2-ml squirt pump to dispense it properly.

Hands down, EXTREME 18X is best for front-loaders. It’s a one squirt and done. Traditional methods of using soap nuts are not as effective due to that lack of adequate water flow, and circulation is problematic. Due to the typically tiny front-loader drum space, many folks over stuff them, and that’s the worst thing you can do (regardless of detergent type) if you want clean laundry. As a very potent liquid, EXTREME 18X disperses immediately and thoroughly. Alternate methods require more effort and care for best results. (See the post on “Common Problems” for more details.)

Incredibly, saponin is also a natural fabric softener. And does so without any residue left behind. There’s no “wicking” of the fabric fibers. This is why cloth diapering moms were one of the largest market segments to first embrace soap berries. Cloth diapers came out so soft, and diaper rashes disappeared. (This must almost sound too good to be true, huh? But it IS true. It actually works – and works very, very well!) Simply refer to the user testimonies. They are real folks, with real stories.

EXTREME 18X comparison

Sorry for the cliche, but I can’t resist: “A picture says a 1000 words.”

Here’s just ONE recent feedback posted on 12-11-13 that you can find yourself in NaturOli’s feedback on Amazon: “I was skeptical about the promises made by this cleaner but it is great. I have 2 kids with eczema and I only used all free and clear before. This uses so much less and I have noticed the scaly buildup in my HE front load washer is almost gone. I’m not a “green” fanatic but this product really works.” – Carrie L., Bangs, TX. There’s literally been thousands of such comments since the formula’s unveiling.

I could write all day about this. We won’t mask the problem with fragrance – we eliminate it. Plus save you lots of extra work in the process. We guarantee it.

Soap berries have been around for ages. Various species grow across the entire globe. I’ve written many articles about why they are not well known in the US. For this post, let me simply state that nobody can patent an apple, an olive, or an orange. They’re fruits. If anybody was to have a patent, it would be Mother Nature, but she’s not profit motivated like P&G. So, figure it out yourself. It’s doubtful that P&G wants us growing our own soaps and detergents in our back yards. Plus, they certainly don’t want one small-footprint product out there that decimates the need for all their ancillary product sales. Ouch.

There’s some 30+ articles here on SoapNuts.Pro, and you can learn more at NaturOli.com. You’ll also find us on Amazon, iHerb, and scattered amongst select specialty stores across the US, Canada and abroad – plus with more and more dermatologists, homeopathic doctors and their like. For the greatest selection and options, you’ll find them in NaturOli’s Online Store. Ordering direct is currently the only way to obtain large sized refills, plus up to gallon sizes in the online Warehouse Department.

We do not seek mass merchandisers. Sorry, no Walgreens or Targets for us. That’s not our way. We like it the way we are.

We think you will, too.

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CAUTION: Don’t miss the updated post about China-grown soapberry seller(s) found in violation of U.S. Federal law, USDA regulations – and carrying a high risk of contamination. Many grandiose claims, and statements of being tested safe are made – however none (not a single one) has ever been substantiated. Online and third-party availability only. No address or phone is provided for the seller. The berries are characteristically soft, slimy and oily while having a dark reddish purple to black color (like old, dirty motor oil). Commonly noted is the scent of petroleum. Best to return (if possible) or discard in an environmentally friendly fashion.
(See full post in left-side column for the latest info.) – Just say “NO” to China-grown.