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Rhapsodising about soapnuts is not particularly original in the blogging world, but how did OUR love affair with a dried fruit shell begin?

Here’s the background (if you’re not interested in this, skip straight to the practical bit below!)…

When it comes to household management, we’ve always been keen on reducing our impact on the environment- recycling wherever/whatever possible, laundry using the quickest/coolest wash possible, using cloth nappies and wipes, the intermittent use of a hot bin for food waste, using natural alternatives in the place of cleaning products, line drying laundry outside when possible (airs, dries and bleaches out stains, what could be better!) – and this inclination has been encouraged by various other factors.

Our current home has a septic tank, the health and efficacy of which is benefited by reducing the number of harsh chemicals we use when washing and cleaning. Until recently, we were bulk buying Ecover Zero for the laundry; though effective at low temperatures and for cloth nappies, we have hard water and it didn’t leave our washing particularly soft (even with the addition of soda crystals).

Some years ago, I discovered through trial and error that I am allergic to SLS in toothpaste, an ingredient used to create the foam in many products; this led me on a journey of discovery, and encouraged me to seriously consider the choices I made when purchasing, initially for myself, and now for my children. I have been known to spend a considerable amount of time researching sunscreens made from naturally derived ingredients, often to find that they are not easily available in the UK. If you’re interested in safer sunscreens, try http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/

Following on from this, we have almost eliminated chemical cleaning products from our day-to-day household cleaning. Even before we discovered the wonders of the soapnut, we used white vinegar and/or bicarbonate of soda for most jobs, falling back occasionally on commercially produced products where this failed (usually because of our prior neglect/laziness in cleaning something!- especially a problem with hard water). With two children, I’m glad that we aren’t constantly filling the air in the house with a chemical concoction, vinegar and bicarb are cheap, and this way is kinder to the environment.

The most influential factor in our using soaputs came about after we made the decision to sell up and live on a sailing boat. Our youngest will most likely still be in nappies when we leave, and we plan to have at least one baby on our travels, so from this point of view we need an effective, cheap, light and space saving alternative to traditional liquid or powder laundry products. Even bearing in mind that our boat has more storage than many of its size, it doesn’t make sense to have to stockpile our preferred brand of laundry powder, and reducing weight is a primary concern when loading a boat (which I’m sure we will discuss later!).

Living on board will be a huge step towards reducing our environmental impact and living more sustainably, an ideal we always come back to, periodically discussing and designing off-grid eco-homes and imagining our growing family thriving off the produce of a small-holding. But these options are expensive and, in the UK at least, fraught with red tape. Using soapnuts for most of our laundry and cleaning needs will contribute in no small way towards our desire to reduce our impact on the marine environment whilst sailing- Dave has already successfully experimented with using them in their liquid form for a quick deck wash of the accumulated grime of a British autumn/winter.

Still with me? If you’ve manged to get past this verbose reasoning behind why we love soapnuts in our house, here’s the practical bit.

We ordered a 1kg bag of soapnuts last October for around £11.00, and it lasted us through to March. Initially we placed around 8-10 nuts, contained in a drawstring bag, in the washing  machine drum with each load; each bag of nuts, if dried between washes, could be used approximately 5 times. This was effective for loads of bedding, towels and cloth nappies/wipes which we wash at 40, but the results were less promising when used at 30, the temperature we wash the majority of our clothes at.

This led us into making our own soapnut washing liquid. Recipes vary, and we have experimented and adjusted ours meet our needs best, but each seems to follow the same basic principles. Our favoured process is:

  • Fill a large saucepan with 2litres of cold water.
  • Add 20 soapnuts.
  • Bring to the boil.
  • Continue to boil for 15 mins.
  • Strain the resulting liquid into a larger pan to cool, retaining the soapnuts.
  • Follow the process above, using the same nuts as before.

We then repeat this once more with approximately 1 litre of water (rather than 2l) as our soapnut liquid is stored in old 5 litre white vinegar bottle.

When the liquid is cool, we add a few drops of tee tree and lavender essential oils (optional) as these are natural antiseptics (great for the cloth nappies and do not leave a scent on normal loads). Once transferred to our storage bottle, we keep the liquid in the fridge- soapnuts being natural the liquid can deteriorate over time- and measure out up to a cup full into the washing machine drawer for each load of washing. Since soapnuts are known for softening hard water, I can only hope that this is saving our washing machine and pipes from too dreadful a build-up of limescale too!

After this, it didn’t take us long to start investigating whether soapnuts have other household uses. My most valuable source so far has been a blog called Crunchy Betty, which has a whole section dedicated to recipes for common household products which use soapnuts- see https://crunchybetty.com/the-mother-of-all-soap-nuts-recipe-resources/. So far, we have used the recipes (or variations of) for a general purpose cleaner (around 1:1 ratio of soapnut liquid and water in a spray bottle) and a bathroom/glass/kitchen cleaner (1:1 ratio of liquid to white vinegar in a spray bottle), and since both use the same liquid as the laundry detergent, they contain the tea tree and lavender essential oils for their antiseptic properties. Tip: strain the liquid using an old cloth/napkin to stop the spray from clogging.

As I have been ‘no-poo’ since mid- November last year, I have been experimenting with natural shampoos/conditioners (post to follow), but having had success with pre-made soapnut shampoo bars, which can be used for hair, body and face, as well as shaving, I am yet to try any of the recipes for use on the body.

I think it’s safe to say that not only are soapnuts eco-friendly and body-friendly, easy to use/store, and versatile, but that they are also cost effective. We’ve been able to pretty much ditch every other household cleaner and detergent, buying only white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda occasionally, the former to dilute with soapnuts liquid, the latter as an abrasive for tougher grime. The most expensive part is the essential oils, which are optional, and when used sparingly go a long way. When I compare the arsenal of products we used to use when we had our first house to our current collection, it’s staggering. Our soapnuts so far have effectively cleaned clothes, bedding and towels for a family of four (the two youngest of which are young and love nothing more than being out in the mud), as well as cloth nappies/wipes every two or three days, in addition to being used for our household cleaning needs. All for less than £2 per month (not including costs to heat the water for making the liquid, etc.). Oh, and we no longer fill the recycle bin with empty boxes and bottles from shop-bought products either!

This is my fist blog post. I’m pretty sure that it will take me a while to find my voice, so bear with me if it’s not quite there yet.

    2 Comments

  1. Great post, I too have been investigating natural sunscreens, cleaners, shampoos etc. Have not made the plunge yet other than to purchase a couple of mineral sunscreens to compare next holiday. I would be interested in knowing more about your shampoo bar. Also where do you buy your bulk white vinegar? I am also hardwater UK based

    • Sorry for the slow reply Diane – we buy it from amazon as with Prime the delivery works out cheaper than we could find anywhere else. Last time I stocked up, this was the brand Swan white vinegar, just under £13 for 20 litres– seems perfectly good.

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