Soapberries (or Soap Nuts) have been used as a natural detergent for centuries. Soapberries come from the fruit of the trees of the Sapindus genus, from the family Sapindacea. There are around a dozen species; native to India, China, Southern Asia, parts of north and central America. The one most widely used for its detergent attributes is Sapindus mukorossi, known simply as the Soap Nut Tree or Chinese Soapberry.
Soapberries are a small yellow-brown fruit around just under a half to just over three-quarters an inch in diameter; containing a black seed. The shells contain a substance called saponin, usually present in quantities of around 10-15%. Saponin dissolves in water to form suds and can dissolve fats and oils and help to lift grime. Soapberries are also suitable for use in grey water and blackwater recycling systems.
Soapberries Shells or Soapnut Powder for washing clothes
A few shells in a cotton bag or just 2-3 teaspoons of soapnut powder can replace your normal washing detergent and fabric softener. A cotton bag containing a few shells will last for up to 3-4 washes. 5 for cold water or 3 for hot. It appears to work out to be quite a bit cheaper too – you can save up to 50% on normal washing detergent. Soapnuts are fragrance free and if you use the shells instead of powder, they can be added to your compost once their saponin levels have been depleted. Soapberries are used extensively in some countries for washing woolens and delicates.
While good for normal washing, soapberries aren’t great on really stubborn stains (red wine, grass, blood) from what I’ve read. Warm water is also needed for maximum effectiveness in order to help release the saponin; the higher the temperature, the more saponin is released. In the case of cold water washing, you may need more soapberries or probably a better option is to soak the bag with the nuts in a bit of hot water for a few minutes and then throw the bag and water in with your wash.
Another great aspect about soapberries is that they are low sudsing, meaning they are well suited to high-efficiency and front loading washing machines.
Soapberry Powder: an alternative for Shampoo and body soap
Soapberry powder can be applied directly to your hair and body to replace soap and shampoo. Soapberry is also used to remove head lice. Very little is needed, around a teaspoon of soapberry powder for long hair; but be aware that when used in this way, it won’t lather like ordinary shampoos. As with anything new you apply to your skin, it’s always best to test first on a small area first, and if you’re allergic to nuts; play it safe and don’t experiment.
Soapberry Powder or Shells: a biodegradable cleanser for your kitchen
Soapberry powder or shells can be added to a sink of water to provide you with a totally biodegradable and natural dish washing detergent – and it can also be used in dishwashers! You could try placing 3 half shells in the cutlery basket, which lasts about 3 loads. Using soapberries works out to be even cheaper than the cheapest dishwashing powder!
Soapberry Powder: a non-toxic way to polish Jewelry and Silver
Commonly used for polishing jewelry in India and said to be great for silver and gold – add water to soapberry powder to form a paste, apply, then buff off.
Soapberry Solution: Organic pest control for the Garden
A weak soapberrry solution sprayed on plants can help deter pests such as aphids.
Soapnut Shells: an environmentally-friendly way to clean your home, cars and boat
Boil a handful of crushed soapnut shells in 2 cups of water, simmer for 5-10 mins, then strain. You’ll be left with a cleaning liquid concentrate that can be used for washing cars, floors and just about any surface! Even in your doorway to keep away ants and other pests.
They can be found at many of your local Health Food stores. Questions and comments can be posted below. Have a Green day, Everyday!