Hands down soap nuts (a.k.a soapnuts, soap berries, wash nuts, etc.) are the best HE (high efficiency) detergent or laundry soap available anywhere at any price. Period. Soap nuts actually accomplish everything that the HE chemical detergent producers are still trying to accomplish – and soap nuts do it even better completely naturally – and totally green.
Soap nuts release precisely what the chemists at the major detergent producers are struggling to develop. Soap nuts simply accomplish it naturally and synthetic chemical free. A low sudsing, effective surfactant is the objective of any good HE detergent. Such is saponin – the all-important active ingredient that the soap nut releases to produce the “soaping” effect.
(Just in case: A surfactant is an agent or substance that reduces the surface tension of liquids so that the liquid spreads out, rather than collecting in droplets, hence allowing easy water flow through the soiled fabrics and facilitating the removal or release of dirt, oils, grime, etc.) Saponin does precisely that!
Soap nuts also come with some truly major extra benefits. They are naturally anti-fungal, antimicrobial, biodegradable and hypoallergenic. Plus to top it all off, used properly they are by far less expensive than the commercial chemical detergents. Geeez…what more can we ask for? See the article on affordability.
Virtually everything written in this article applies to all front-loading washers. Front loading washers are essentially HE washers by design. Newer front loaders that are called HE are simply more efficient than older units. They use tumbling as opposed to agitators to clean your laundry and use less water. Tumbling the laundry is the ideal way to agitate the soap nuts. It further enhances their release of saponins.
A very interesting point to be noted is that most HE washers have a maintenance cycle that is required to be run to keep the machine operating at peak efficiency. I very recently wrote an article specifically about purging and cleaning your machine using soap nuts (regardless of machine type). See the article on cleaning up washing machines with soap nuts for more detail. Soap nuts do not leave the residues and build ups that chemical detergents do (even the so called “green” ones). They actually break down such residues. Given that much less water is used in HE washers, a good “flushing” of the detergents, residues and additives out of your laundry and your machine is not achieved. Hence this newly found need for a maintenance cycle to help clean it out periodically.
Chemists are struggling to keep up with the washing machine technologies, and not doing a good job of it. Most of those I speak with that own HE and front-loading machines are not happy at all with the commercial detergents. As the founder of NaturOli, I speak to a lot of people every day about different detergents and the effects of using soap nuts. I routinely hear stories of these nasty odors and gross build-ups – and how well soap nuts work to eliminate the problems.
So, if you have a new or old HE washer (either top or front loader) simply try using soap nuts. It’s my bet that you will be totally astounded. You’ll love what they do for your laundry, your machine and your pocketbook, too!
I’m certainly not going to try to address every single machine out there. They all don’t operate alike. Fundamentally they are the similar, but there are differences. It is very important to realize that the machine manufacturers are working with the chemical detergent producers and writing their manuals accordingly. They are certainly not addressing soap nut usage. Soap nuts are not even on their radar screens. As of 2009, it appears that only one European manufacturer, Electrolux, has actually demonstrated their foresight and vision by addressing soap nut usage.
Soap nuts are a 100% natural alternative to the synthetic, chemical detergents. Using soap nuts in a wash bag is such a radically different way to wash laundry, some experimentation on your part is going to be needed for you to determine the best method to achieve the best results using soap nuts in your machine. But, that’s part of the fun of them. Soap nut liquid and powder are used much like you would use any other liquid or powder detergent.
When using the wash bag method just forget about the compartments. Even if using liquid or powder, I recommend not using the compartments initially. Simply add the soap nuts (in whatever form) directly in with your laundry. Experimentation over time is the only way to know what works best for YOU. Since washing machines function differently the compartments and their dispersion methods introduce variables. As any good scientist will tell you, if you want to learn more and learn faster, minimize variables. Forget about the fabric softener department, too, since you normally don’t need fabric softeners when using soap nuts.
If you are using soap nuts in the traditional method (soap nuts in a wash bag) and washing in cold, definitely make a cup of soap nut “tea” and pour the tea and bag right in with your laundry. Heat helps to activate the release of the saponins. The starter “tea” method works great. You usually don’t need to make the tea again when doing loads back to back. Alternately, just boil some soap nuts and make a liquid, or grind them to a dust-like ultra fine powder. How you use soap nuts is purely a matter of personal preference. All methods work.
An exception regarding compartments: If you are using EXTREME 18X, dilute it as instructed to whatever amount of liquid is typical for your machine. Use both the wash and pre-wash compartments. It is very pure and void of any oils, hence it works great using the compartments – and immediately starts to work clean up your machine’s internal plumbing.
All in all, simply use good old-fashioned common sense. Know that heat and agitation help to release saponin from raw soap nuts. Using powders and liquids are simply convenient alternative methods. Many people really enjoy producing their own homemade detergent concoctions.
What’s most important to know and understand is that you have available to you (right now) the absolute very best HE detergent you will ever find – soap nuts. Soap nuts are the perfect HE detergent in every way – and again – more affordable, too! I guess Mother Nature is a little smarter than all those laboratory chemists. Why am I not surprised?