Laundry Day

Laundry is not a sexy subject so I’ll get right to the point, traditional laundry detergents are both expensive and extremely unhealthy for both you and the environment.  Additionally, they can be pure hell for those with sensitive skin and severe allergies.

With the exception of some expensive eco-friendly, allergen-free types, detergents contain an awful lot of nasties that are quite harmful to humans.  For instance, synthetic surfactants like alkylphenol ethoxylates are used to loosen soil from clothes, help water penetrate fabric and produce suds.  They can also disrupt your endocrine system, affecting metabolism, reproduction and growth.  Hey, maybe your laundry detergent is making you fat!!!  🙂

Environmentally speaking, inorganic phosphates are a big problem.  While they are used in detergents as a “builder” to build the detergent’s efficiency by removing hard-water minerals, they also create a condition in fresh water called eutrophication.  Basically, excessive amounts of phosphates get into the water system where algae and phytoplankton feed on it and reproduce in massive numbers causing algal bloom.  Algal blooms block out sunlight and deplete oxygen levels creating the inability for the water to sustain aquatic life.

So, what’s a conscious homesteader to do?  Well, you can wash your money down the drain buying those eco-friendly detergents or you can use nuts.  WHAT?   Okay, so you’re not going to throw a handful of peanuts in the wash and call it a day.  These little gems are aptly named, Soap Nuts and they are the dried fruit of the Chinese Soapberry Tree containing the “active ingredient” saponin.  Soap Nuts are all-natural biodegradable, hypoallergenic, low-sudsing and completely safe to both the environment and your body.  In fact, they are so safe they can even be used as a toothpaste or fruit and vegetable wash.  The spent nuts can be reused a number of times before finally adding them to your compost pile.  If you don’t have a compost pile, you should.  At the very least, you can just toss them outside to biodegrade naturally.

There are a couple of ways to use Soap Nuts in your laundry.  First, you can simply place a few nuts in the drawstring bag that comes with them, tie it up and chuck it in the washer.  For years I used this method, however, since the nuts  can be reused for multiple loads of laundry, there was always the issue of digging through a washer full of wet clothes to find the bag for the next load.  Can you say, needle in a haystack?

The other option is the one I’ve been using for awhile and it is beyond simple.

Liquid Laundry Soap

12 soap nuts

6 cups water

old 1.5 qt. detergent bottle
Boil 6 cups of water and soap nuts on the stove.  Remove from heat, cover and let sit overnight.  Strain out the soap nut pieces and funnel the liquid into an old detergent bottle.  Add a few drops of pure essential oil if you choose or leave it as is.  Use 1/4 – 1/2 cup in each load depending on size.  Increase for excessively soiled laundry.

This mixture can also be added to a spray bottle and used as an all-purpose cleaner around the house or as a fruit and vegetable wash.

You will find the color of the liquid to be nearly clear with a hint of a yellowish brown.  The smell of the berries themselves and the resulting liquid is pleasantly earthy though I have found that no trace of their natural scent is ever left on my clothes.  Their natural smell is so light that it easily washes out in the rinse cycle.  Something you will notice in the wash is just how little your soap nuts will suds compared to traditional detergents.  Low-sudsing means that there will be no residue left on your clothes to irritate your skin and that it can be safely used in High-Efficiency washers, which require low-sudsing detergents.  Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the suds that cleans the clothes.  Sudsing agents are added to commercial detergents to give the appearance that they are doing their job.

For the economically conscious homesteader, soap nuts are a bargain.  In 2008 I bought a 1-kilo bag of Soap Nuts from for $40 (that includes shipping).  Three years later, washing at least 5 loads a week for a family of 3, I have only used about half of the nuts.  I can’t even begin to tally their savings over using commercially available eco-friendly detergent.


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    zina said,

    Crissy – thanks for writing this great article – i was using them in a bag for the top loader – but with my HE washer, your premade version works fantastic.

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