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• Soapberries & Saponin: Here to Stay!

Soapberries – The Future of Natural Organic Soaps and Cleaners.

Finally, I’m becoming comfortable calling “soap nuts” for what they actually are – berries.

It’s been six years since I began writing about soapberries and the potential they offer us as a genuine, viable, sustainable and renewable, safe and environmentally friendly alternative to commercial, chemical-based detergents and cleaners. You may have just recently become aware of them. You may still be wondering if they really work, or if they’re just another gimmick or fad. Believe it – they work. They’re for real.

USDA Organic - Award Winning - soap nuts - soapberries

USDA Organic Sapindus Mukorossi Soap Nuts / Soap Berries: Two-time Green Dot Award winner. The jury proclaimed, "NaturOli green detergents' and cleansers' use of saponin, which is derived naturally from soap nuts, is possibly the most significant green innovation in history for everyday household cleaning needs."

The whole key is that the family of sapindus plants produce fruits containing saponins (natural surfactants / i.e., soap) in high enough concentrations that they are being recognized as a marketable commodity of significant value. Many plants contain saponin (such as agave, yucca, soapwort, etc.), but only soapberries contain enough of the precious saponins to make them a practical, sustainable, and economically viable source of it. It’s actually the combination of the tree’s prolific fruit bearing capacity, and its hardy nature that make annual harvesting possible. Other known saponin producing plants don’t produce enough saponin to make them viable or sustainable as a resource.

As most of my readers probably know, I’m particularly fond of the mukorossi species. That’s a very large tree with a big fruit. It’s like a big, juicy cherry, except golden colored. They’re very fleshy with lots of pulp. Hence, it’s the reigning king species of soap nuts. However, sapindus plants vary greatly. Some grow more like shrubs. I should say “weeds” because wherever they take hold (be it tree or shrub like) they tend to flourish! As you would expect, the fruits vary accordingly. Some are small with thin pulps and skins.

There are species that grow well in almost every climate and elevation, hence various species are found worldwide. Regardless of species, they are all sustainable saponin producers. Research is in progress to isolate all the differences in the saponins. In time, we will know much more. But just like different apples, oranges, corn, etc., the usefulness of each species will be determined. Surely we’ll even have hybrid soapberries someday. It’s inevitable.

Anyway you shake it, soapberries and saponin are here to stay – and the fruits and market will only get better with time, study and experience. I see no risk of over harvesting. Virtually all are growing wild today, and are under-utilized. We’ve barely even begun commercial tree farming. Supply in the wild is bountiful right now! Imagine what can and ultimately will be done…

The future points towards a world with less chemical production of soaps. More green forests and trees. Less chemical processing plants and pollution. More farming and harvesting. Procter & Gamble will fight this transition to be sure. They’ll kick, scream, plot, and execute strategies with every tool and penny in their box. But, they’re a dinosaur – and their end (as they function today) is nearing.

Mother Nature has made it so that the best and strongest will always survive. No amount of money on Earth will change that. Nature’s way and our ultimate destiny won’t be changed by the conglomerates. They will only slow our progress towards a world without them.

Saponin has made this all possible. It has opened this crucial gateway for us. All we need do now is walk through it – and start playing on the other side!

I hope you enjoy your visit with SoapNuts.Pro. Please visit often. We have an in-depth approach to soapberries (soap nuts) with an emphasis on education – almost 40 pages of information and “how to” tips. We explore science, testing, botany, history, and a plethora of uses – plus FAQs that are second to none (over 10,000 words in our FAQ page alone). This is not a store. But you’ll learn the ins and outs, the pro and cons, plus how to use them, buy them, and even sell them. You’ll learn to find good, honest sellers in a marketplace full of rather cagey opportunists – so you’ll never get taken, scammed, or ripped-off. You’ll learn how to get the best product – and great deals! You’ll learn what they will do, and what they won’t do. No sales hype or BS allowed.

Most importantly, you’ll discover the facts about soapberries – the truths.

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• How to Buy Soap Nuts – The 12 Tips (Note: This is very detailed page. The “Tips” are in order of priority. It’s a lot to digest in any single session. Much like our FAQ page, it’s updated often. Such pages remain timely with the most current info. We suggest visiting them often.)

• Many Uses Part 2 – Shampoo

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• Get Best Results: Washing Machine Types

It’s time to look at how to use soap nuts (aka: soapnuts, soapberries, wash nuts, etc.) in your particular type of washing machine. Depending upon the type (and some other factors), the way you use your soap nuts will vary. This post is an introduction purely to get some fundamentals out of our way. We will drill much deeper into all the little nuances of soap nuts and your specific machine later.

Let’s start with a look at these basic machine types. We don’t need to bother discussing the size of machine. Regardless of size they will all work similarly to their bigger or smaller brothers and sisters. There are top-loaders and front-loaders. There are standard and high efficiency (HE) washers. Basically, that’s it. (Okay, somebody is still using a washboard with rollers somewhere, and I’ll even get to that some other day.) Please note that any front-loader is essentially a higher efficiency unit simply due to its design. It is simply that extra water and energy saving features have been incorporated into the newer models.

Electrolux 2007 Design Lab winner. Soap nuts washer prototype. Photo courtesy of Electolux.

Electrolux 2007 Design Lab winner. Soap nuts washer prototype. Photo courtesy of Electolux.

No washing machine of any type currently on the market addresses the use of soap nuts in either their designs or owner’s manuals. Only Electrolux to my knowledge has a soap nuts washer on their drawing board. Some soap nuts (saponin) based detergents are being developed to be used in similar fashion to the typical commercial detergents (supposedly natural or not). That is the path of least resistance in reaching the average consumer. Given that the popularity of soap nuts is spreading like a wildfire, it is only a matter of time before more machines are designed to utilize them, and manuals will specifically address their usage.

For the soap nut users that prefer the traditional method of soap nuts in a wash bag, I suspect it will take a bit longer to be addressed by manufacturers. It is simply so different in the way they are used it will be more difficult for to address. Ironically, it is probably the easiest way. (Soap nuts used properly in the traditional method is the most economical – and even fun – way to wash laundry.) Let us be aware that there are strong relationships built between the hardware manufacturers and the detergent producers – similar to the relationships between computer and software companies. They need and help each other. Given that, the fruits of the soap berry tree are not likely to be embraced by the makers of Tide, Gain, Clorox, Cheer (or whomever) anytime soon, the traditional users of soap nuts are going to be left to information such as this (and their common sense) for the best guidance in the meantime.

The numerous benefits of the soapberry are now being found in soap nuts (saponin-based) liquid and soap nut powder detergents that can be used in very similar fashion to the commercial brands. I highly recommend soap nuts liquid for many reasons. See the upcoming post on “Powder vs. Liquid” for in-depth information and rationale. For the sake of brevity, let’s just leave it at this: Liquids are cheaper and simpler to use regardless of machine type. There are more variables that must be considered when using powder. Soap nuts liquids are essentially a no-brainer.

Possibly the most important thing to realize from this post is that when it comes to soap nuts – in any form – are fantastic for every type of machine. Don’t get hung up on the newer HE models that discuss using only appropriate HE detergents. All they are really saying is to avoid high sudsing detergents. Soap nuts are naturally low sudsing. Due to their very nature, soap nuts work equally well in all machine types – and far better than the chemical-based detergents for many reasons. Don’t get hung up on how to use soap nuts in the machines that have various compartments. Some will be used and some won’t be required at all. That stated it now becomes a matter of how to improve upon the way we use soap nuts, and ultimately obtain the very best results from each type of machine. Have no concern. It will all be addressed in great detail in separate posts.

• Soap Nuts Made Easy

Let’s look purely at what soap nuts do for us – and keep it simple.

This may be the most elementary, yet most important article on Soapnuts.pro. Let us get right to the heart of what the heck a soap nut (soapberry) is, and lift the veil of mystery surrounding them. This segment is focused on only the VERY basics of what soap nuts are and WHAT THEY DO in the BROADEST sense. We will get more detailed regarding soap nuts’ origins, history, benefits, economics, uses, botany, science, FAQs, reviews, and more in other segments. Let’s first understand soap nuts at a purely CONCEPTUAL level. It is so simple. Soap berries are fruits that offer us a better, greener way to clean. Soap nuts produce natural soap. That’s it.

I am intentionally skipping ALL the nuances about soap nuts that create confusion and debate. Some statements and terms will be technically wrong – but VERY true and purposeful in understanding the fundamental concept. My purpose here is to help change HOW we think – to open up parts of our brains that have been clouded and stifled due to a lifetime of programming by big business. This is not an article that will nit-pick details. We are taking a bird’s eye view of the primary things soap nuts DO FOR US.

So, what are soap nuts? Nature’s soap. Plain and simple. And what does soap do? It cleans things. Now, we have just connected soap nuts to cleaning. We are on our way! Therefore, what do soap nuts do? They clean things!

Don’t worry about HOW just yet. What is critical is to understand is that soap nuts can replace virtually ALL synthetic, commercial, chemical cleaners in our homes. You can keep your laundry and home wonderfully clean, fresh, bacteria and pest free – and never purchase another big jug of Tide, fabric softener, dryer sheet, bottle of Windex, canister of Comet or can of pesticide ever again! A bag of soap nuts can replace them all. Herein is our paradigm shift – the beginning of our deprogramming. This is the beginning of recognizing safer, better, natural OPTIONS in how we do our most rudimentary, everyday cleaning and household maintenance.

Think of soap nuts this way: They are Mother Nature’s soap. Soap nuts do not come out of a chemical processing plant. She just grows them on trees. How is this possible? Mother Nature can do whatever she wants. She doesn’t get paid for it, nor does she promote them. Same as accidentally discovering fire, thousands of years ago man discovered a fruit that produced lather. What does lather do? It facilitates cleaning. What did man discover about soap nuts? They clean things!

“I thought it was a detergent.” What does a detergent do? It cleans things. Is it a soap or detergent? Both. For the purpose of changing HOW we think, this doesn’t matter. What DOES matter is that our brains accept that soaps, detergents, cleansers and cleaners DO NOT need to be manufactured by man – that nature’s soap nuts clean things (as well and even better).

Where do they come from? Trees. Let’s just call them soap trees. Most trees produce something that enables them to start growing baby trees. Right? Who cares if it is a fruit, nut, berry or acorn? If you take a handful of them – and can lather up and clean with them – it’s a soap. That is EXACTLY what soap nuts do. Certain special trees produce fruits that produce soap. Those special fruits are commonly called soap nuts and/or soap berries.

Mother Nature has her own ready-to-use “brand” of soap. Natural cleaners have been around for ages in various botanicals long before man ever started making soap. Soap nuts simply clean EXCEPTIONALLY well – plus offer us even MORE benefits that we’ll deeply probe into.

Where have soap nuts been all this time? Since Mother Nature doesn’t work for profit – that’s WHY they are new to most of us. She doesn’t market or advertise. It is mainly ancient Far Eastern cultures that have knowledge regarding uses for soap nuts. People elsewhere around the world found other ways to make and profit from producing man-made soap ages ago. There was no motivation for man to seek alternatives. Everybody was happy, and money was pouring in. If Mother Nature was in it for the money, soap nuts would be on store shelves around the world.

As an Asian Indian gentleman explained to me: His family knows soap ONLY as soap nuts. They grew up with them. Be it to bathe, wash clothes, clean jewelry, repel pests or whatever – when they started cleaning, they pulled out the soap nuts.

Go get yourself some soap nuts. Put a handful of them in a wash bag, sock or wrap them up in a washcloth. Get them totally wet and start rubbing and squeezing them. Guess what you get? Suds. These suds indicate cleaning power and much more.

So, soap nuts grow on trees and they produce soap. Understand THAT and the rest will follow. Using soap nuts are a very important option that we have – that we were not aware of. They are putting us on a path to a healthier, chemical-free age. Soap nuts will change how we think about cleaning – forever.

We are beginning a new, “green” age. There are many age-old, natural ways to do many everyday things. Cleaning is only one of them – but a HUGE one. Understand all your options and choose what’s best for you. Soap nuts are a great one to know about.

Freedom of choice has taken a quantum leap with soap nuts. Today our cleaning product options are no longer limited to deciding between which “commercial” brands we buy. Soap nuts are now an option, too – and one of the greatest ones ever discovered.

• What are Soap Nuts?

Are they soap NUTS or soap BERRIES? A little botany:

Soap nuts are not “nuts”. Of course you can take that a few different ways, but I am referring to only the botany. A soap nut is not a nut at all. It is a berry – a fruit. This has confused many people. Most consumers have never seen a soapberry growing on the tree. Most only see the dried fruit. Being hard and crinkled it looks like a nut. It erroneously began being referred to as a soap nut, and the name stuck.

One can become very confused when trying to determine what is rightfully a “nut”. It is a very broad term. Using some definitions, a soapberry could be referred to as a nut or seed. Botanically speaking, a nut is a dried fruit with one seed. That fits for a soap nut. However, the BIG catch is that with a true NUT – the fruit cannot be separated from the seed. A freshly picked ripe soapberry will resemble a cherry. They vary from species to species, but they have a large single seed in each berry and a juicy pulp and skin. Of course, some can get nit-picky here because some nuts have shells, hence they can be separated. However, those “shells” were never a fruit-like pulp. They are woody – nothing like the pulp of a cherry. A soap nut is NOT a nut. It IS a fruit.

Even in India, the soapberry exporters refer to them as soap nuts because that is what most people call them. This does not help the situation. Most all sellers call them and brand them as “nuts”. It is common to see both the one and two word versions of each name to further complicate matters. As usual, the consumer is left confused. I use all the terms interchangeably mainly because “nuts” is so ingrained now, but would prefer for readers to think of them as berries. Again, think of them much like a cherry – a de-seeded (hopefully), dried cherry at the consumer level.

Many different species of soapberries grow around the globe. Simply visit Wikipedia searching under the genus sapindus for some of the many types of soapberries:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapindus

Be they shrubs or trees, we know that soapberries come from sapindus vegetation. We know the species differ significantly. A great deal more study is required to isolate all the differences.

Please be wary of what you read. As stated on Wikipedia, “Common names include soapberry and soapnut, both names referring to the use of the crushed seeds to make soap.” This statement is VERY misleading. It is not the crushed seed that produces soap. It is saponins (the natural substance within them) that produce soap. If it helps, think of saponins as soapberry juice. Saponin predominantly is derived from the pulp and skin of the fruit. The seeds have yet to be determined of significant value.

Personally, I feel much of the confusion is semantics. Much is written by those other than botanical experts and then copied and pasted over and over. I try to write to how I believe most of us think. Is a cherry a fruit or a seed? That depends upon HOW you think. However, most of us think of it as a fruit or berry. It has a big seed inside and we eat the pulp and skin. It is with THIS mindset that I describe soapberries.

I have read claims that soapberries are closely related to the goji berry or wolfberry. This is a little troubling for they VERY different in most of their characteristics. Goji berries are more similar to tiny tomatoes, and often are for culinary and nutritional use. They do not come from the same order of the plant kingdom – and you DO NOT want to eat soapberries.

One seller (that I am not yet permitted to disclose) will soon launch a massive campaign that may earmark a turning point. The soap nut may begin to become more rightfully known as a soapberry. In the meantime, don’t get confused. Regardless of the term, they are all a fruit, and there are different types that yield different results.

That is all that the average consumer NEEDS to know – for now.

• Soap Nuts & Saponin

Saponin – The Holy Grail Of Natural, Organic Detergent and Cleansers

Soap nuts work because they contain saponin. Saponin is the all-important, single active ingredient in a soap nut. It is a 100% natural and organic substance. (Please note that I used the term organic in its broad definition – not to be confused with claims of being “certified” organic. We will definitely address that issue later.) Soap nuts are special because they contain an exceptionally high concentration of it. SO high in fact that soap nuts can be used in its natural state (simply the fruit alone) to produce the soaping effect required for cleaning. No other plant yet known contains such a high concentration.

The soap nut is the only fruit that contains enough saponin that extraction is economically feasible and realistic. Saponin is not a rare substance in nature. It is in many botanicals. Agaves, yuccas, soapwort and many other plants contain saponin to some degree. Only the soapberry (soap nut) contains enough of it that it alone effectively cleanses.

It is very important to note that not all soap nuts are the same. As with most plants there are many varieties. The characteristics of each are significantly different. The appearance and size of the soap berries differ. The concentration of saponin in the fruits varies significantly from species to species. Hence, the effectiveness of the soap nuts varies from one variety to another. (More on this later.)

Also, it should be noted that saponin is saponin. It is the only constant. 100% pure saponin would be basically the same regardless of its source. (I feel it’s reasonable for us to skip over any minor molecular variations from plant to plant.Let’s leave those issues to the scientists to sort out.)

The critical aspect to understand is that when soap nuts are used in their traditional raw form, as pure soap nuts powder or pure homemade soap nuts liquid there are absolutely no chemical additives. Period. None. Being a stand-alone natural surfactant (detergent) while having natural hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, antifungal plus being biodegradable it becomes very clear WHY soap nuts are such a precious substance.

For a very simple comparative example, I selected a commercial detergent that is thought to be one of the better, safer detergents on the market (Seventh Generation’s “Baby Laundry Liquid Detergent” ).

The following is its full ingredient list:

“Water, sodium laureth sulfate & coceth-7, sodium gluconate, oleic acid, sodium hydroxide, sodium chloride, amylase & protease, calcium chloride, hexahydro-1,3,5-tris (2-hydroxyethyl)-s-triazine. Trace materials are commonly present in cleaning product ingredients.”

What would you rather use and expose yourself to?

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• The Truth about Suds

The truth about suds and cleaning:

Many people are skeptical that something as low sudsing as saponin can be an effective cleaning agent  – but it is. For generations we have been programmed/taught to equate the amount of suds to the degree of cleaning power. Today’s new, high-tech, HE washing machines prove this is not the case.

Suds do not equal cleaning power. But that’s how most think. Commercial soap and cleaning product manufacturers even developed specific synthetic chemicals that continue producing suds throughout an entire wash cycle or bath. Why? Because they keep telling us to equate those suds with cleaning action. We like to see something happening, so they provide us with a show. That’s all it is – one overly long show.

As we learn more about the harmful effects of long-term exposure to synthetic chemicals, we now know that many have their origin in the surfactants for cleaning and producing suds. (Yes, infamous SLS is one that’s at the top of the list.) In addition there’s a myriad of other chemicals produced for a variety of other purposes. These chemicals can be difficult to flush out of fabrics. A long list of commonplace ingredients are now linked to a host of skin irritations, ailments and many forms of cancer. Our skin absorbs them, and ultimately they enter our bloodstream.

The good ole' sudsy top loader.

The good ole' sudsy top loader.

Because there are toxic chemicals in so many things, our bodies become overloaded resulting in the development of sensitivities (some severe) to commercial detergents, soaps, cleaners and synthetic fragrances. Many now even suffer from MCS (Multiple Chemical Syndrome). Only in recent years was this determined to be a real physical problem. (I’m getting off track. Sorry. So, back to suds.)

Detergents work because of the presence of a surfactant. By definition: sur-fac-tant, n. An agent, for example, a detergent or a drug, that reduces the surface tension of liquids so that the liquid spreads out, rather than collecting in droplets. (Courtesy of Encarta World English Dictionary.)

Surfactant combines the words – surface active agent. Surfactant molecules have two distinct parts, one end attracts water, the other end repels water and attracts oil. Water molecules tend to stick together (hydrogen bonds form), hence water creates surface tension. Surfactants break down this tension which improves the water’s ability to “make things wet”, and spread evenly. Surfactants allow oil to be emulsified and dissolved in water so the oils and dirt in the fibers of clothes can be removed and washed away. If it helps, you can simply think of it this way, too: A surfactant allows oil and water to mix.

Getting to the heart of the issue here, to see suds persist throughout a wash cycle is unnecessary for thorough cleaning. Those added extra suds-producing chemicals are more of a function of marketing than out of need for effectiveness.

Why do we think suds equal "cleaning"?

Why do we think suds equal "cleaning"?

This phenomenon is a big part of why it is difficult to find a good HE detergent. The extra suds produced by chemical surfactants in many commercial detergents will gunk up that new HE washer. The hardware has certainly surpassed the software (so to speak), and the chemical detergent producers struggle with the problem.

A vast number of surfactants in commercial detergent products and even personal care products are chemically derived. Their production and use are major sources of the pollution in our water supplies today.

Soap nuts are hands down the best HE detergent on the market. They produce saponin – a highly effective organic surfactant that is low sudsing – by nature. They don’t pollute ground water. They’re biodegradable. They’re even excellent for septic systems. The chemical producers are a long way off from finding something non-polluting that works as well. This is why many people complain of moldy and musty odors in HE washers (and essentially all front loaders). The excessive suds from surfactants and other additives leave residues that become quite nasty over time. Saponin actually breaks up and disperses these chemical residues.

I hope I’ve not confused the issue too much!! Suds are not bad! Saponin will create suds – and a whole lot of them. I had an empty bottle of EXTREME 18X that I tried to fill with water. This bottle was bone dry empty. It took me four times filling and rinsing it out before I could fill it to the top without suds pouring out everywhere. I barely got an inch of water in it on the first attempt before the suds began overflowing.

Standard detergents and front loaders don't mix.

Standard detergents and front loaders don't mix.

Soap nuts release an amazing surfactant (saponin) with tremendous cleaning power. They do so with the presence of natural suds rather than a chemical soup of surfactants and other synthetics that create such a suds “side show”. Given their tenacity and persistence, it’s almost impossible to remove these chemical suds from the machine –and your clothes, hence the common irritations many suffer from.

It’s amusing to see how the detergent producers of today are now balancing themselves on the tight-wire of their own creation. The advent of today’s far-better HE washing machines threw a big wrench into all their teachings. Those suds from standard detergents can actually damage a new HE machine. The owner’s manual will warn you of this.

Change is so difficult. It took me a long time, and lots of personal experiences and experimentation to get all the falsehoods about suds out of my head. I highly doubt any big company is going to come out and ever admit the truth. Surely we’ll never hear, “Sorry, we were totally wrong about suds. (It did help us sell a lot of soap and detergent though.”)

There’s been little reduction over the years in use of the massive number of chemically derived surfactants in commercial detergent products and even personal care products. They remain the top ingredients even in most new “green washed” products. Supply follows demand, so we must change our thinking. We must change our paradigm regarding suds. Product changes begin with us – the consumer. Our demands will make a difference.

Again, the production and use of chemical surfactants are major sources of the pollution of our world’s water supplies. They are an ongoing health hazard, and a cause of widespread skin ailments and human suffering. That’s a tragedy when there is such a simple alternative – SAPONIN.