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• Laundry Use: The Wash Bag Method

Let’s get to the age-old, traditional method of soap nuts (soapberries) laundry washing. That is, using the dried soapberries in a wash bag. It is extremely simple, but the most difficult method to wrap our brain around. It is simply such a different and unique way to wash laundry. Never use soap nuts without a wash bag. That would be very wasteful, plus you would likely get bits and pieces of the soap nuts in your laundry. Do not put soap nuts into the detergent compartments (either loose or in a wash bag). Doing so will not permit the agitation that helps the soap nuts release their saponin – their all-important active ingredient.

With traditional soap nuts wash bag usage, forget about your washing machine’s compartments entirely. Put five or six soap nuts (approximately a half an ounce) into a muslin or cotton wash bag. Tie it closed and simply toss the wash bag right in with your laundry. Period. That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether your machine is standard, HE, front-loading, top-loading or whatever. All we want to do is get the wash bag to be “washed” right along with the rest of your laundry.

NOTE: Be sure that the soap nuts do not contain seeds. (You can tell very easily if they do. The seeds are large, like a seed in a cherry. There are some soap nuts being sold on the market that are not de-seeded. The seeds are big, very hard and black as coal. They have no cleaning benefits at all, and can potentially leave spots on your laundry. This is not to mention that since you purchase soap nuts by weight, the seed will weigh about as much as the shell (the part that produces the saponin). Beware of very cheap prices.

VERY IMPORTANT FUNDAMENTALS:
Certain things are necessary to understand how to use soap nuts traditionally and to achieve the best results from them. Some basic points:
1) The dried soap nuts must become saturated with water. The dried fruit will become softer when it is releasing saponin at a desirable rate.
2) Heat is a catalyst that can be used effectively to more quickly soften the soap nuts and facilitate a faster release of the saponin.
3) Good water flow in and around the soap nuts and laundry, plus agitation are key factors to effective and ongoing release of saponin throughout the wash. Overstuffed laundry loads will not produce desirable results.
4) Cold water merely reduces the degree to which the saponin is released. There is no need to remove the soap nuts during the commonly cold rinse cycle. Saponin is so benign that a little in the rinse cycle has no negative effect whatsoever.

The traditional method of soap nut usage is the most economical method of use. Soap nuts’ cost per load is far less than most commercial detergents – particularly the so-called “natural” laundry soaps. Plus you will need no fabric softener or dryer sheets anymore. You will typically get around five loads per half an ounce of soap nuts. When washing and rinsing in cold water or when using an HE washer, you can often extend that to 6-7 loads. Tip: If you choose to, you can remove the wash bag prior to the rinse cycle and that will also extend the useful life of the soap nuts. This is not necessary at all. It may simply get you an extra wash or two per soap nuts wash bag.

If using a cold-water wash cycle, it is best to soak the bag of soap nuts in a cup of warm water first. Make a soap nut “tea” so to speak. That will help to stimulate the release of saponin from the soapberries. Then pour the cup of liquid and the bag right into the machine, add your laundry and start washing. If you have a pre-wash cycle, that’s fine. It won’t make a difference. Many people do not do take this extra step, and get great results. Water hardness and the exact water temperature are other variables. One person’s cold can be many degrees different than another’s. Softer water will allow the soap nuts to begin working more quickly, too. Hence, it is best to simply experiment to determine what works best for you.

Overstuffed laundry loads is the #1 reason for less than desirable results - regardless of detergent type.

Over-stuffing laundry loads is the #1 reason for "less than desirable" wash results - regardless of detergent type.

Be certain not to over-stuff your loads. If water is not flowing adequately through the fabrics, no detergent of any kind will work well. You should always be able to see your laundry intermixing and moving about. If nothing appears to be moving about freely, then your  laundry load is packed too tightly. Overly packed loads may save water, but at the price of having laundry that has not been properly cleaned.

Once you begin using soap nuts you will quickly understand just how simple they are to use. I feel that much of what I write is not because we need to learn so much about how to use them, but rather to explain the many things that we have come to believe about doing laundry that are just plain wrong. Given the fundamentals above, you would figure most of this out for yourself through trial and error. However, I hope that to help shorten your learning curve, bring clarity to certain issues about using soap nuts, and minimize any confusion that occurs during the course of changing our ways of doing laundry.

Through the course of business I meet many people in the laundry business. As one professional specialty laundry cleaner of many years put it, “Most people shouldn’t do their own laundry.” He stated that there are just too many things that most people do not fully understand about what actually causes the proper cleaning of their laundry. That’s very interesting, don’t you think?

We learn more about soap nuts and saponin every single day. The list of benefits that the soap nut offers us and our environment gets longer all the time. It is ultimately my goal to move on to addressing all these wonderful benefits and the many other soap nuts uses. Mother Nature handed us a remarkable gift when that first soapberry tree took root. I look forward to sharing all I have learned from soap nuts. They will change our lives forever.

• Liquid or Powder: Better Natural Laundry Results?

Soap nut liquids and powders are growing rapidly in popularity because they are more inline with how we typically wash laundry today – primarily liquids. Statistics show liquid detergents are over 90% of the detergent market and are still growing. The traditional soap nut method (the dried fruits in a wash bag) is so radically different it warrants its own post. I will discuss the traditional method of using soap nuts or soapberries in a separate article. For now we will look at only the pro and cons of soap nuts liquids and soap nuts powder.

Use of soap nuts date back to antiquity, but modern manufacturers know little to nothing about them. Hence, don’t expect to find a machine with a soap nuts compartment for quite some time. So, where does that leave us? The answer is very simple: Use of our common sense. All that is required is a basic, understanding of how your washing machine and soap nuts work. Armed with that fundamental knowledge, you will find all your answers.

During a recent trip to look at new washers and dryers, I must admit that they appear to be quite complex, but appearances are just that. The fundamentals are still similar to that 20-year-old Maytag.

An aside: Ironically, if we would have ever been taught the real science of washing and cleaning (other than the technologically improved energy saving mechanics), we could use that 20 year old Maytag and get fabulous results without ever using a drop more water than absolutely necessary. We have been trained to wait for “somebody” to come out with a better way so we can purchase that better way. In essence we are trained to be dependent on businesses to offer “push-button” solutions. That is exactly how big business wants us to think. I believe that we finally are beginning to realize that if we use our brains and learn more, we can stop waiting for the next solution to be sold to us. Knowledge is power. There is truly a great deal to know about effective cleaning and washing that most of us simply do not know and have never been taught – or taught properly. I believe the Internet and information age are going to change many routine and everyday ways we do things in our lives. I believe the future holds many age-old fundamentals that will be rediscovered. The time is coming when less money and resources will be wasted on needless things, and those resources will be rerouted to development of products that will genuinely improve the overall quality of life. The recent economic downturn coupled with the green movement has provided very good reasons to take a second look at how we live our lives. That “second look” is very likely to evolve into an entirely new era for mankind. A very interesting thing about knowledge – when you get a little, you want more.

Getting back on track: There are more bells and whistles in the new machines. There are some extra features and cycles available. Some of them can be very useful. Just keep in mind that we must simply think a little differently and make adjustments as needed to accommodate proper use of soap nuts. Experimentation is always helpful. From household to household there are many variables. Some are environmental. Some are due to our personal habits. Regardless, we are all different and we do things a bit differently. Finding our own personal best way is a function of thought and such experimentation.

Soap nuts are available in liquid and powder forms in addition to their raw form (right off the tree and dried). The soap nuts liquids and soap nuts powders can be made at home or specific formulations can be purchased from a handful of developers. That makes usage much more similar to using standard and HE detergents, and therefore much simpler. However, note that the manufacturer of your machine has written instructions based upon typical “store-bought” detergents and additives – not soap nuts detergents. And once you are using soap nuts, it’s a whole new ballgame. For example: the fabric softener compartment. It is simply not needed at all anymore. (That is going to make some companies unhappy.) Some other compartment will prove to be useful.

Now stick with me on this for it is very important: If you have a high efficiency (HE) washer that requires HE detergents, soap nuts in any form are ideal when used properly because they are naturally low sudsing. They blow away every HE detergent on the market. If you have a standard machine, they are still ideal. Many people get confused at this juncture. What you must realize is that suds are not required to clean. Nor are they a barometer for evaluating the cleaning that is occurring in your washer. That is one of the big myths regarding detergents and soaps. Regardless of machine type only three things are required for effective washing of everyday laundry:

1 – A surfactant to lessen the water surface tension allowing it to break up and loosen dirt and grime.

2 – Adequate water flow.

3 – Agitation.

That’s it. So, for now try not to get hung up on the whole suds issue. I am going to address suds at great length in another article.

Given the above, now let us get to the nitty-gritty of using soap nuts liquids and powders. The variables here (aside from amounts to use) are primarily the concentration and potency of the liquid, and/or the fineness of the powder. If you are making your own liquid then the potency of saponin in the liquid will vary depending upon how you make it. If you are using a CleanNut, Terra, or Maggies soap nut detergent, they will be used very much like all others (a little more or a little less depending upon the machine type. Water hardness is a variable here. If you have hard water use a little more. Experiment and let the results speak for themselves. Back to the suds issue, do not use suds as a barometer to gauge results. Results are determined when your laundry has dried. Does it look and smell clean and fresh? Is it soft and absorbent? This is where you gauge results. This is where it counts. I had to laugh one day as a woman explained her first experience with soap nuts. She said, “I felt like I was just washing in water.” But stood in amazement at the dirtiness of the water coming from a “not all that dirty” load of laundry. She was astonished at how fresh, clean and soft her laundry came out. (She’s another one who will never look back.)

Comparison: 96 loads with 18X soap nut liquid concentrate

Comparison: 96 loads with 18X soap nut liquid concentrate

If you are using NaturOli’s EXTREME 18X soap nuts liquid concentrate this is quite different. The same “little more” or “little less” principle still applies, but this is a very highly concentrated soap nuts detergent. You will typically use only a half to one teaspoon per load. No kidding. That’s just a squirt or two if using the dispenser bottle. That’s a no-brainer. You can use the compartment as you would with any liquid detergent. You simply use much less. You are probably best to start with a teaspoon (2 squirts) and then cut back and compare. Overcome that feeling of needing more – and let the end results speak for themselves. This is where “concentrated” takes on an entirely new meaning. It is actually more of a pure soap nut extract. A small 8 ounce bottle of EXTREME 18X will have as much or more cleaning power than those  that come in a big 32 or even 64-ounce jug. I know, it’s tough to grasp that, but that is only because of the brainwashing factor again. NaturOli set out to produce the greenest detergent and cleaner possible – and did (winning a major award in the process). There is no laundry soap on the planet with a lower carbon footprint. Why do companies  ship all that water anyway? For that totally pure, unaltered, soap nuts clean and fresh result, you will be happiest with EXTREME 18X. It contains no essential oils that can leave residue and cause “wicking” of the fabric fibers, plus it is totally unscented. If you desire a scent I recommend using an absorbent cloth with a little of your scent of choice and tossing it in the dryer. Use more or less as desired. The oils will not impact the cleaning effects when used in such fashion.

If you are using soap nuts powder, you want it to be as fine as you can possibly get it (dust like is preferred). It’s likely better to purchase finely pre-ground and sifted. A course grind and/or a short wash cycle will result in much saponin just going down the drain and being wasted. It won’t have time to fully release its saponin. (Grinding your own sounds easy enough, but it is a bit trickier than you may think. The shells must be very dry first, and if you have a grinder that will produce an ultra-fine powder, plus a fine filter, an airborne soap nut “dust” will be difficult to avoid. The dust will be irritating if inhaled, or if gotten into eyes. I recommend purchasing it ready-made for use.) Approximately a teaspoon of very fine, quality soap nut powder (added into the powder compartment or directly in with your laundry) will wash an average load. Using powder may be a less economical method of using soap nuts because you’ll likely use more soap nuts than required if reusing them in the wash bag method, or if using liquid. Liquid ensures optimal use of the saponin in the berries.

In all cases, if you are adding salts, water softeners, sodium percarbonate (oxy-bleach basically), washing soda, vinegar, etc. to adjust your water’s pH level and/or for whitening and cleaning boosters, that’s totally fine – plus part of the fun! Experimentation is key to obtaining consistently excellent results.

btw: Soap nuts powder makes for an awesome green scouring powder. That is predominantly what I use powder for. Forget about the toxic Comet and rubber gloves! Powder works great!

There is no rocket science here. Most of this is plain, old-fashioned common sense. The only real hurdle is changing the way we think, and some old habits. Good results are what we are striving for. It may take a couple loads to dial in the best results for your particular scenario, but you will soon know exactly what to do. If you have a pre-wash and a main wash cycle, simply use them as your owner’s manual suggests.

It is noteworthy to point out that with soap nuts you really don’t need a second rinse cycle unless your laundry is very dirty. In most cases, that second rinse is to help flush out all the chemicals in the fabrics. Since we aren’t using chemicals with soap nuts it is no longer needed. It becomes a matter of choice, not necessity. So you do have an opportunity to save quite a bit of water. That’s a nice plus.

I hope this has helped you. It is actually hard to really do something very wrong when using soap nuts liquid or powder. If you are not satisfied with the results, take a look at what you did and make some adjustments. If you have very hard water then you will typically need to use more than average amounts. Once again, let the final results be your finished laundry. Once you have dialed in what is right for you, your laundry will be clean, fresh, soft and absorbent – unlike you have ever experienced before. If you are like the vast majority, you will never want to use anything except soap nuts detergents again.

• Soap Nut Trees

Soap nut trees are one of nature’s greatest gifts.

Sapindus mukorossi tress with ripening soap berries.

Sapindus mukorossi tress with ripening soap berries. Note the yellow to golden brown colors of mukorossi berries that are ready for harvesting. This coloration will last for only a few months at most. They are rarely seen like these by Western consumers.

Man has used soap nuts since ancient times – primarily in Far East lands. They go by many common names such as soap berries, washing nuts, soap nut shells, wash shells, soapberry nuts, Ritha nut shells, Chinese soapberry and many more. Until recently, they have been obscure and virtually unheard of by most. There are logical explanations for this obscurity – many are sad and tragic, but true. However, what is most important is where we go from here. Integrating the benefits of soap nuts into our daily lives will be one of the greatest accomplishments of our age.

Soap nuts are more appropriately called a soapberry. I will use both terms. There is no difference whatsoever regardless of the term used. To visualize a soapberry, think of a golden colored cherry while still on the tree – they are very similar type fruits in appearance. Being more specific, the soap nut that we use for cleaning purposes is actually the pulp and skin of the dried soapberry. The seed is not used for cleaning. It is for cultivating new trees. Research is being conducted for other uses of the soap nut seed, but no other benefits have yet to be documented. Please note that all soap berries are not alike. This will be discussed in detail.

This pulp and skin contain an extremely important natural substance called saponin. Saponin is a truly natural soap (in effect at least). More precisely, and MOST importantly, it is a 100% natural surfactant. By definition a surfactant is an agent, chemical, drug or substance that reduces the surface tension of liquid. It is this reduction of water surface tension that makes cleaning easier. Soap nuts contain this all-important saponin that makes our everyday cleaning needs not only easier, but much healthier, safer and totally free of synthetic chemicals.

So, a soap nut is the vehicle that releases this highly effective, 100% natural substance that is the best alternative to the synthetic chemicals used in the virtually all commercial detergents and cleaners. Even today’s supposedly “natural”, “organic”, and “green” detergents and cleaners mainly use synthetic chemicals as their primary active ingredients. Saponin is the only all-natural substance known that works as effectively and diversely as synthetic surfactants – and therefore is one of the greatest re-discoveries of our age.

I state “re-discovery” because soap nuts are far from new. There are many ancient and Ayurvedic treatments that soap nuts have been essential in producing. They are still commonplace and the primary cleanser used in many remote regions of the world.

They key here is that Mother Nature has freely provided us a substitute for the man-made chemicals that have been coming out of the factories and labs of many of the largest companies on earth. This simple all-natural substitute has profound health and environmental benefits for all mankind. With only a little thought, it is easy to understand why soap nuts are not well known. What does man crave and Mother Nature cares nothing about? Money.

People across the globe are taking a hard, close second look at all the hazards and problems created by exposure to and release of all the synthetic chemicals in our world. Soap nuts are now in the right place at the right time. Soap nuts will be one of the leaders of the new, green age that lies ahead. Their time has come.

Mature mukorossi tree beginning to flower for the upcoming year's bountiful berry harvest. Note: Long distinctive leaves of the mukorossi species.

Mature mukorossi tree beginning to flower for the upcoming year's bountiful berry harvest. Note: Long distinctive leaves of the mukorossi species.

A few facts of interest:
– The mukorossi species is indigenous to China. They are still listed on the books as an “alien” species in India and Nepal, but this is splitting hairs. (The term Chinese soap berry is antiquated at best.) For thousands of years the invasive species migrated southward through eastern Nepal and northern India. Today they are far more established in India and Nepal as agriculture products of international commerce and community incomes – their Fair Trade markets becoming well developed after years of work by local villagers and Southern Asian exporters. China recently began exportation after recognizing a potential for profit. Agricultural products are only a scant few percent (at best) of China’s GDP due to their reputation for low quality control, lack of regulation, common use of toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides, excessive pollution of both water and air, plus persistently being plagued with worldwide news of hazardous contamination outbreaks.
– They are exceptionally prolific fruit producers. See post on Soap Nuts Sustainability to learn more.
– When growing, patience will be needed. They make take up to 9 years to bare their precious fruits.
– They’re big trees! Can grow to 90′. Allow room.
– Once established, expect them to be live a long time – commonly a century!

Growing Soap Nut Trees from Seed:

(Courtesy L.R. Sacks, www.Soap-Nuts.info)

Initial Note: It is extremely common to see a ring of moldy-looking “white fuzzy stuff” around the umbilical area of the soap nut seed. This is perfectly normal. It does not mean the heart has become rotten nor will it affect germination in any way. No need to wipe it off – and it may even be a good thing.

1. Scarify the seed. Because the soap nut seed coat is so hard, the plant embryo inside cannot breakthrough the seed coat on its own. You must help it by damaging the seed coat. You’ll have to be a little creative. One option is to use a nail file and wear down a notch in the seed coat. I found the seed coat to be so tough that sand paper and fine-grained files did not leave a mark. Another option is to hammer the seed. Be careful not to crush the seed; we just want to weaken the seed coat. I gave about a dozen hard whacks to my seed against concrete, and felt like I was weakening it, but did not see any visible change. Another option is to soak it in hot water. Don’t use water that is actually boiling, but it can still be very hot. I boiled a kettle, let the hot water sit for five minutes, and then filled up a vacuum insulated thermos with the seeds and water, and let it soak for 24 hours. The thermos will keep the water quite warm throughout that period. I used all three methods (filing, hammering, soaking) and it worked ok, but I’m sure there are other good methods too. Soaking is particularly important though, as the water is what activates the germination. If you choose the hammer method be careful not to fully break the outer shell of the seed because once it’s in damp soil it may begin to rot. Remember sapindus mukorossi (and many species  of soap  berry trees) grow in rough rocky mountainous soil not in wetlands so don’t over water.

2. You need to plant the seed. I would do this in spring or early summer in a pot either outside or in a greenhouse. Choose a pot that is deep, as soap nut trees send down vertical taproots. If you don’t have a deep pot, a 2 liter plastic bottle works well – cut off the top and drill several holes in the bottom. Bury the seed in potting soil (not dirt – use good quality potting/germinating soil) to about three times the seed’s depth. Put it in a place where it will not be in direct sun, and where it can catch some rainfall. Water the pot if the soil starts to dry, but don’t water if it is still moist – that can promote fungal growth. Also, avoid fertilizing the soil before germination occurs – high levels of nitrogen in the soil can actually inhibit germination in general.

3. Wait. Your soap nut seed may take a long time to germinate. It could be 1 month to 3 months, perhaps even more. Not all of the seeds will germinate, but if you follow these directions, you should get 80% or more to grow. Once it does begin to grow, it will shoot up fast. About 1 foot in 1 month should be about right, then it will slow down a little. Give it plenty of full sunlight, and water when soil begins to dry. Again, remember these trees grow in rough rocky mountainous soil not in wetlands so don’t over water.

4. Taking care of the tree. My trees are still very young, so I cannot provide a lot of personal experience. I will be growing mine in progressively larger pots, keeping them on a sunny patio. They should be moved inside once freezing weather begins next winter. Since they are mainly grown in northern India and southern China, they may or may not be able to sustain freezing temperatures. Soap nut tress are known to be and appear generally quite hardy, so should not need a high level of care once well established.

• Soap Nuts & Soap Making

To make soap or grow soap? That is the question.

Soap making within ancient civilizations (primarily Roman, Greek, Babylonian and Egyptian) can be traced to Biblical ages (centuries B.C.). Animal fats, tallow, vegetable oils, clays, ashes, salts and numerous ingredients were commonly used. For this article, the different types of soaps are not relevant to soap nuts. Only the fact that they were man-made is very significant.

The soaps used by most of mankind throughout history were not picked from a tree, as are soap berries. Hence, soap producing berries are exceptionally unique. Just the idea of a fruit producing soap is tough to grasp. However, once embraced it becomes very intriguing. The level of excitement in people continually amazes me once they begin to see all the possibilities soap nuts offer us.

Soap was originally produced in large part as a medicinal product. Centuries later it became recognized as a cleanser. The early ancient Romans used olive oil for personal hygiene – not soap. A mixture of olive oil and sand was applied and scraped off in order to cleanse and exfoliate the body. Ancient Greeks also used exfoliation by other means as their primary method of cleansing and maintaining personal hygiene. At some point during the height of the Great Roman Empire soap (Latin: sapo) became widely recognized as a personal cleaning product. A soap making facility and soap bars of man-made soap were uncovered in the ruins of Pompeii. Soap nuts were not in the picture – at all.

There is little evidence that any form of soap was used in cleaning fabrics during ancient times. Water and agitation were the primary means of washing laundry. I’m certain that we’ll never go back to water and rocks for doing laundry, but this indicates just how little we know about how to clean fabrics properly – even today. A surfactant (such as soap nuts or any soap) would have simply made laundry day a little easier.

Sadly, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the importance of personal hygiene took a major dive throughout the lands ruled by the Empire. It is suspected that this decline in personal hygiene resulted in many of the major plagues in Europe during the Middle Ages. It was man’s greed that led to this decline.

During the centuries after the fall, European soap making began to really take off. It began being produced at commercial levels. In the 1600s, English King James I granted the exclusive rights to a single manufacturer in exchange for huge annual payments. It was even taxed and essentially became a luxury item. Soap was not readily available to the average consumer due to its high cost.

Bottom line: Man-made soap has been a major moneymaker for ages. Fortunes were made then – and still are still being made today. For all of Europe and the new western hemisphere the stage was set. There was no incentive for businesses to look for a natural soap – particularly something like soap nuts which abundantly grows on trees. Many powerful people had a great thing going. People were getting rich, and nobody wanted to change a thing – with the exception of making the businesses even more profitable via producing cheaper commercial soaps, detergents and cleaners.

Soaps, as we know them today, did not appear until around the early 1800s – not far off from when P & G first opened their doors. (Old-fashioned, glycerin-rich soap is nothing like what comes out of the factories today. Ask any true soap maker sometime.) For a great article about what man did with soap to trick us, visit: http://www.naturoli.com/mission/powermarketing.html

Does anyone find it ironic that one of the earliest known sources of a cleansing medium was naturally growing on a tree (olives), and today we are discovering another totally natural cleansing medium (soap nuts) growing on trees – over 2,000 years later?

Thankfully, a huge grassroots movement – the GREEN movement – emerged in this century and has placed an enormous emphasis on safe, chemical-free alternatives to today’s chemical laden products. In many ways the re-discovery of soap nuts is a direct result of this newfound emphasis and energy. Soap nuts are, as the “Green Dot Award” jury put it,  “…possibly the most significant green innovation in history for everyday cleaning needs…” Soap nuts will change what and how we think about soap. And also what we DO when it comes to cleaning.

Important note: In no way is this article to cast a shadow on today’s handmade soap making – quite the contrary. Real soap making is an art and a science. Soap-makers are a very special, wonderful breed that cares about healthy, nutrient rich formulations. Some small businesses and people at home are making genuinely fabulous, luxurious soaps – nothing whatsoever like today’s commercial soaps. At NaturOli we still hand pour pure, glycerin-rich soap bars and produce amazingly effective, moisturizing, chemical-free liquid soaps and washes. Most true soap-makers I know embrace soap nuts and saponin. Soap nuts make for another wonderful ingredient that can be used in soap making, plus they are appreciated for their myriad of other uses. Soap nuts will never replace true, pure, chemical-free soaps. Such soaps are a must-try if you have never experienced the quality and richness of them.

• Varieties & Quality

Soap nuts were originally discovered and used by locals as a cleansing medium. They were primarily used for bathing and personal hygiene and a plethora of cleaning uses. They make an exceptional jewelry cleaner for example. Soap nuts were also used in numerous medicinal treatments and worked as an effective, yet safe, chemical-free pest repellent. These same uses prevail today – PLUS there is a long list of NEW uses in our modern age.

The botanical term Sapindus is derived from the Latin word “sapo” (soap) and (Indian) indicus, referring to its lather-producing fruit. It is this genus of tree that produces soap nuts – and there are many varieties. Saponin is found in many plants such as yucca, agave, soapwort, and others. What makes the soap nut SO special is their extraordinarily high concentration of saponin (the active ingredient and natural surfactant in soap nuts). Extracting enough saponin from other plants would simply not be feasible. However, Sapindus trees produce a fruit that not only makes it feasible, Sapindus trees make it easy AND SUSTAINABLE.

Soap nuts are a common name for the ripened and dried fruit harvested from a Sapindus tree. There are two primary species being harvested today: Mukorossi and Trifoliatus. Both are found mainly in Southeast Asia. Both are of the family Sapindaceae. I am often asked why does NaturOli use only Mukorossi soap nuts. The Mukorossi species consistently produces the highest level of saponin of the many soap berry varieties. Hence, consumers get the best possible experience from them. Also, other than Mukorossi and Trifoliatus there is no infrastructure and supply chain for the other varieties. When ordering tens of thousands of kilos, the Southeast Asian exporters are the only suppliers that can meet the demand. With time, increased consumer awareness, and increased demand this scenario will change. In decades to come, we will find suppliers in many regions around the Rocky, Andes, Sierra, Appalachian and other mountain ranges. Most likely it will be the Mukorossi variety being grown and harvested.

Sapindus Mukorossi is a large soapberry tree growing primarily in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains of China, northern India and Nepal. It is a prolific fruit producer and lives around ninety years. It is native to China and considered alien to the Doon Valley in India where it flourishes in poor soil conditions. It aids in the reducing soil erosion in these regions. The soap nut flowers are small, white and grouped in panicles (clusters). The fruits are round, yellowish berries that become gummy and wrinkled as they ripen. It produces large, colorful and glossy soapberries compared to other species. It is the most highly valued species.

Sapindus Trifoliatus is a smaller soapberry tree typically found in Southern India, Pakistan and numerous countries in Southeast Asia. It prefers lower altitudes and warmer climates. It produces a smaller soap nut (about half the size of the Mukorossi soap nut). It contains saponin as do all Sapindus fruits, however not as high of level as Mukorossi soap berries. Harvesting and de-seeding the smaller soap nuts is more difficult. Being sold by weight makes Trifoliatus less desirable in many ways. There is more work for the harvesters for less money. There is less money involved per kilo for the exporters. And they are of lower quality and effectiveness for the consumer. Trifoliatus soap nuts are certainly a valuable resource for saponin. HOWEVER, they are also the primary species sold deceptively to be its far superior cousin, the Mukorossi soap nut.

Local villagers, farmers, families and co-ops harvest the soap nuts after the fruit falls from the tree. Properly processed, the seeds are removed and the shells are dried in the sun. They are then sold to the exporters. Currently only about half of the Mukorossi soap nuts available are harvested annually. The rest go to waste. Harvesting provides an economic stimulus for these economically depressed regions. Increased global demand will provide additional stimulus and encourage more cultivation.

Many other varieties of these remarkable soap nut trees grow around the globe with differing data with regards to their fruits. There are actually many types of saponin, too – also with varying properties. We will be studying these soap nut varieties and their individual properties for many years to come. We have much to still learn. The consensus at NaturOli is that the further we drill into the benefits of soap nuts and saponin the more we continue to discover. Who knows how deep this rabbit hole goes?

• 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.