• 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.

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.

• 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 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.