Soap nut is a bit of a misnomer because a soap nut is neither soap nor nut. In fact, it is actually a berry native to the Himalayas and goes by the scientific name of Sapindus Mukorossi. The only thing soapy about these berries is that they hold some amazing cleaning potential.
These berries can be harvested in between the months of September and February. It takes saplings of this tree 9 years to grow until they can start creating their own berries. Once they’ve developed, they can produce berries for up to 90 years, which is a lot of time to get soap nuts. But what else do we know about them?
The Low Down
Another name they go by are soap berries though they are not commonly known through this name. Soap nuts are found on trees and are related to the more well-known lychee berry.
It’s not the berry itself that holds cleaning value, but the berry’s outer shell. Inside of the berry shell is saponin, a natural cleaning component you can find in most if not all commercial detergents at stores.
When the berry is picked, it is left to dry so that the skin hardens until it is as hard as a nut. (hence the name, soap nut.) This hard shell can then be used to make multiple household cleaning items but is most commonly used when doing laundry.
The soap nut can in fact, completely replace your detergents. Since this soap nut is a more natural solution, you can be promised that no chemicals or additives are touching your clothes. This is a huge bonus point for most as chemicals can be harmful if you have sensitive skin.
Though the name may imply otherwise, soap nuts are not edible. Some people will claim that soap nuts have beneficial factors if digested but nothing has been tested or approved by professionals. Until then, it is safer to assume that no, you cannot consume soap nuts in any form no matter what others may claim. What has been proven though, is the fact that soap nuts are not in any way nuts, so people who suffer from both minor and major allergies can use these berries in household cleaning recipes safely.
History of the Soap Nut
Throughout history, soap berries have been used for the primary purpose of serving as a cleanser. They were used for both personal hygiene and general cleaning. This cleaning would involve clothes, household items, and more.
The use of these berries can commonly be seen in India, China, parts of Europe, and other countries located in the eastern hemisphere. Found in South America though, is another type of tree that contains cleaning properties, the soap bark tree scientifically known as Quillaja Saponaria.
The name Sapindus given to the tree of the soap nut is derived from two Latin words; sopa which is soap and indicus which is India. This translates the name to Indian soap, as this is where the special nut was formerly found.
This tree does not require the most fruitful of soils and can grow in poorer, lesser quality ground. They sprout their first batch of soap nuts after 9 years, and then continue this for the next 90 years they remain. Their nuts can be collected six months of the year (September to February), meaning that from a healthy soap nut tree, you can get around 540 abundant harvests throughout its lifetime.
Before the berry blooms, it is a white flower that takes place on the tree from May to June. This white flower will then transform into a yellow, gummy berry that is what we call our soapberry.
The soapberry tree is not a high maintenance tree at all. It demands constant watering for the first 9 years, but then becomes relatively independent when managing itself. The soapberry tree does not need any pesticides or spray agents to keep insects at bay, because insects already avoid this tree due to their toxic containment of saponin.
The harvest of these soap nuts is done entirely by hand and is completed by local farmers. To get the shell of the berry, which is what contains the saponin, local farmers have to first take out the seed and then leave the shell out in the sun to dry. This process ensures that there are no chemical additives involved in the process and the outcome is entirely natural. The more natural the shell, the more effective the saponin becomes.
How Do Soap Nuts Work?
When cleaning your clothes in the wash with these special berries, it’s important to know how this proceeding takes place. They work as surfactants. They alleviate all the dirt inside of the fibers of the clothes and suspend the dirt in the water.
First, the saponin, when touched and diluted into the water, finds its way into the fibers of your clothes. Thicker clothes have tougher fibers so naturally they need more saponin to weave its way into the cloth strings. The way the soap nut’s saponin seeps into the fibers of your clothing is much gentler than the way detergent manages to wrestle its way into everything.
When the saponin reaches the stains and dirt on and inside the fibers, it separates them from one another, lifting the dirt off of your clothes. This is done with extreme care and gently done over the time the cycle is running.
Finally, when the dirt has been removed, the saponin suspends it in the water, where it stays as your clothes come out newly fresh and clean. They also come out softer thanks to the fibers being brushed across. This allows ventilation in the fabric, which creates the final, fluffy effect users love so much.
Pros of Soap Nuts
There are tons of things to look forward to when tuning to the soap nut trend. Like most things that are 100% natural, they pose numerous benefits with no chemical or synthetic drawbacks.
Firstly, the natural formula of these special berries, though toxic for consumption, is very gentle on both clothes and skin. If you have sensitive skin soap nuts are perfect! They can also be used for baby diapers and clothing as well.
One major selling point for detergents is the amount of foam they can produce, since in that logic, the more foam there is the better the detergent. This logic is wrong. In truth, foam has nothing to do with how well the detergent cleans and all to do with how chemically diluted the solution actually is.
These special berries produce no unnecessary foam, which makes them more trustworthy than store-bought detergents. This also makes them safe for the sewage system. When you use detergents in your wash, the detergent gets into the water and sewage system and it takes a lot of processing and time to then get it out.
When you use them as detergents, they leave your clothes feeling fluffier and lighter than when you use normal detergents. This is because the saponin found in these special berries penetrates the fibers of your clothing with little to no struggle and then ensures all the dirt surfaces with ease. The fibers in your clothes aren’t harshly pushed through like detergents do. Detergents flatten as well as loosen the clothes of your clothes.
These benefits are wrapped more tightly around when you use them for laundry, but there are other general advantages.
The source of these special berries is very sustainable. The trees they come off of grow fruitfully in dirty, weathered soil. They don’t need ripe, fresh dirt which can be hard to find. Since they are so sustainable, they are also much cheaper than detergents. As these berries can be harvested throughout the months between September and February, there are six months in the year when you can a plentiful supply.
Once more, there’s no added chemicals or synthetic fillings since these nuts are completely natural. These special berries are environmentally friendly, as they don’t go through any processing that can create pollution. They also don’t contaminate the water after they’ve been used.
You can use them more than once, whether you’re cleaning or creating new solutions. They can keep being used until they reach a grey and start becoming softer.
Soap nuts are hypoallergenic. They won’t trigger any allergies, including nuts since as mentioned before, these aren’t even nuts; they’re berries.
They do not have any significant smell when used. Some people enjoy this while others don’t. There is a trace of a smell similar to apple when the soap nut is freshly used, but this fades away quite quickly. This does remove the enjoyment of a fresh laundry smell if that’s something you look forward to.
Since they don’t form any foam or suds, they are safe to use inside of HE machines. They don’t require a long period of time in the wash to work. This allows them to use less energy and water. You can also use any temperature of water with soap nuts. Cold, warm, and hot all work with the same level of efficiency.
Once you’ve finished using them, you can put the shells in the compost instead of throwing them out.
Cons of Using Soap Nuts
There are some downsides to soap nuts of course. The fact that it lacks foam and smell, some people do not prefer to use it. In fact, these are reasons why they aren’t used.
Coming down from the standard of detergent to the reality of these special berries can be quite disappointing. They are no professional-grade bleaching agents that can remove everything and bring out the white in everything. They are only a safe, more environmentally solution to cleaning your clothes.
Some people also find that they create the best results only when they’re used in hot water. Creating hot water for the wash uses up a lot of energy and water which can eliminate one of the benefits to them.
One solution to this is to first place the these special berries in boiling water, and then put them in the wash. If this doesn’t work for you, then you can place other alternatives that conjunct with soap nuts for a stronger performance. You can also settle with the results you get with warm or cold water, which honestly aren’t that bad.
Other than this, there isn’t much that can be held against soap nuts. They can make your skin quite smooth and your clothes very soft.
How to Use Soap Nuts in Laundry
If you want to see whether soap nuts are right for you, then try out washing one piece of clothing with them. This isn’t a waste of water if you’re testing out a potential future change in your daily habits. Once you’ve checked out the piece of clothing you washed, to see if it itches, if it’s soft or not, and if it’s clean, you can then move to bigger amounts of clothing with your nuts.
For regular use, you start off with a fabric bag big enough to hold 4-6 soap nuts inside, depending on how heavy the load is. The more clothes, and the thicker the clothes get, the more soap nuts you’ll need for one load. In the winter, you’ll find yourself using possibly more than six soap nuts for all of the thicker clothes you have to clean.
You then fill up your load with warm, cold, or hot water, whichever you’re adjusted to using. Try avoiding hot water since this can be a waste of energy. The special berries can go right into the load with all of the clothes. So long as they are fastened in the bag, you don’t have to worry about them coming out and leaving color on your clothes.
Use your normal time for a load, which can range from 20-30 minutes. Bigger or smaller loads along with the thickness of the fabric kept in mind, the timing will be up to you and the machine you’re using.
Once the cycle is done, first take the berries out of the load. Remove them from the bag and let them dry out until they are hard and lightly maple-colored. The bag will need to dry as well for the next use.
The clothes, now that they have been washed with soap nuts, will respond best if they are placed outside in the sun. The sun will allow them air out and become their softest, fluffiest and cleanest. This entire procedure helps keep your clothes in their finest condition for longer. They can be worn snugly for longer than they would be if you constantly wash them with a detergent.
The nuts can be continuously used until they reach a light grey tint. This indicates that their voluminous saponin is no more and they have no more cleaning qualities to offer. Instead of throwing them out though, you can place them in the compost since they are 100% natural with no plastic or chemical additives.
Overall, these special berries offer you a much safer, healthier, and beneficial experience. They can wash thoroughly, and the soft, clean, fluffy texture is worth the exchange of detergent. There’s no smell, it’s hypoallergenic and not hard to use at all!
Other Uses for Soap Nuts
Laundry isn’t the only applicable scenario where they can come in handy. Thanks to their cleaning qualities, there are a lot of other places where you can use you them to the best of their abilities.
You can create a shampoo out of your soap nuts, and it’s not hard to do at all.
- First you place the soap nuts inside of a muslin bag. You can place 4-5 soap nuts inside the bag for a stronger effect. The more soap nuts you have, the stronger their effect will be.
- Place the soap nuts inside of 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring this water to a boil.
- After the water has come to a boil, turn the heat to low and let it sit for 20 minutes.
- After this time-period, add in one more cup of water and let it sit for 10 more minutes.
- Then take the saucepan off of the stove and let it sit for a while until cool.
- Take the bag and squeeze it nicely until it suds. Pour cool water over the bag and keep doing this until there’s nothing left.
- Finally, store your mixture in the fridge to keep it cool and use whenever you wish
To use this, you massage the shampoo into your hair and keep it in for five minutes. This will leave your hair clean, soft, and if it reacts positively enough, it might even be silky.
This mixture can also be used over eczema and acne, or for other cosmetic reasons.
You can also make liquid washer for surfaces. These can clean out stains and grime from tables, counters, windows, and more, so long as you have the right ingredients and tools to clean.
Quite like detergent, you can use soap nuts to create a dishwasher solution! This will take a little more time, but the benefit is you’re not using chemically made dish detergent on a daily basis.
Soap nuts can do more than clean your household, they can be used in cosmetics as well! You can create body and face washes with these berries that’ll make your face feel softer and smoother in a matter of minutes.
The toxins that keep you from eating these berries can also repel insects and mosquitoes from ever biting you! You can now make an at-home-remedy to keep all types of bugs at bay.
If you have a lust for jewelry, but the sky-high maintenance prices just don’t work for you, then look no further than soap nuts. These nuts can be used to make a solution that can polish jewelry to its original former glory in no time.
All of this can easily be accomplished by making a mixture out of these berries and watching as the results reveal themselves. There are so many recipes to try out when it comes to the nuts.
You can turn your liquid solution into a bar of soap for your hands as well. Take a plastic square-shaped container and powder of line it with wrap so the soap nut liquid can come out easily. Fill up the desired amount of soap nut liquid you need for your bar and let it freeze. This will become your hearty bar of soap.
You can also powder your soap nuts into a more material cleaning solution. The only drawback to powdering them is there’s no going back from doing this. You have to use up the powder until it becomes useless. This, or you get such a fine powder that you have to clean with it, and it dissolves through this process. Powdered soap nuts are not as easy to use as their liquid solution, but it is stronger. It’s a matter of preference.
Soap Nut Medicinal Uses
There are some medical benefits associated with soap nuts although most of them have not been tested.
The most common claim is that these berries can be consumed if they are diluted properly. They can have benefits helping diabetes and cancer. These claims have no proof behind them and for all we can be sure about, there are toxic contents inside of soap nuts.
Saponin is proof of this. Saponin is the cleansing component of soap nuts which makes it possible for this to replace detergent. This is definitely not something you want to consume, diluted or not.
There are, however, some proven benefits for your skin. People who suffer from acne and eczema can use this as a cleanser. It can soothe your irritated skin and rashes over the skin. Soap nuts cannot be placed on open wounds. This will create a stabbing pain over your flesh and can help promote an infection.
When used in your hair, the toxic component can help kill lice. This component is not strong enough to harm your hair intensely, unless you use soap nuts more than twice a week. It can kill lice in the hair, both live ones and knits (eggs) that may be stuck to strands of your hair.
These are the only claims that have been proven. Anything that involves consumption is most likely not tested and best to avoid. There are so many other natural berries, foods, and solutions you can resort to for internal benefits, so leave them to household and cosmetics.
Where Can You Find Soap Nuts?
Soap nuts are difficult to come by if you’re looking for them in convenience stores or cosmetic shops. The likeliest case is that you’re not going to find them, and you most certainly won’t find when looking through the grocery store.
The best option for buying these special berries for yourself is by doing it online. There are plenty online retailers that carry soap nuts specially. There are also promotional websites who encourage the use of these nuts that carry them for sale.
The Bottom Line
Soap nuts certainly are an interesting investment that brings many promises. They can clean over almost anything. Windows, counters, tables, wood, and even metal if you’ve used adhesives and more powerful complements!
They are an environmentally friendly solution to a lot of other cleaners in your house, including your laundry detergent. They are a great, cheaper alternative that is more versatile and gentler than any other household appliance on your shelves.