This article is talking about soap nuts. To save time, I’ve shortened this to ‘nuts’ during most of the article, resulting in some… funny sentences. Please try to excuse these as you read through the article.
Like before committing to doing most things, I did some research about soap nuts long before I decided to try them.
In my research, I learned that soap nuts grow primarily in two places: the Himalayan mountains, and Canada. Being in Canada, I thought it would make more sense for me to try some soap nuts that were native here. If for nothing else, it would be pretty wasteful/silly of me to ship something in from another country that naturally grows here, right?
Right. Or, so you’d think.
Apparently, Canadian soap nuts (which are commonly referred to as ‘buffalo berries’), are considered endangered, and thus are not available for purchase. While I understand wanting to preserve the plant (you can’t even buy the seeds to plant your own!), as said above, it seems silly for Canadian who want a more natural laundry detergent to have to spend money on shipping a native plant from the Himalayas.
That said, I really wanted to see if they were worth the hype, so I found this company called Eco Nuts, and ordered their sample pack of soap nuts in late May, 2021. (They arrived early June) This was a Canadian company that unfortunately no longer exists (they were already going out of business when I placed my order). I had naively thought that if I was ordering from a Canadian company, I would be getting the Canadian buffalo berries.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, as their About page stated that their nuts were from the Himalayan mountains.
The quest for buying Canadian soap nuts aside, I was actually very impressed with how well they worked, and was even gifted a bag of soap nuts from the biggest Canadian distributor, Sinfully Wholesome for Christmas in 2021, so I thankfully have a lot of soap nuts to go through while I try to figure out another more natural, native solution.
Even though it was a sample box, the Eco Nuts Sample was a lot smaller than I thought it’d be. I had no idea how big the berries were, or how many I’d get to fulfill 10 loads of laundry (as the sample pack page said).
Turns out, 4 whole berries + 1 half and a mesh bag was all I apparently needed.
Now, I’m going to be honest, I ended up reading the FAQ page wrong at first, so my soap nuts didn’t last for 10 loads.
See, the way soap nuts work is that they have this thing called saponin in them, which is the part that makes them actually clean stuff. It’s also the thing we try to replicate when making man-made soaps. To get the nuts to secrete it, you have to agitate the nuts (or rub them together in your hands) and use some warm water to soften the hard exterior shell, so it can seep out.
Now, as someone who has a lot of dark-coloured clothes, I basically exclusively wash all my clothes in cold water, because using hot water a) is bad for them, since it could make the colours bleed, or shrink them, and b) uses unnecessary resources/heat and therefore, wastes money. (And let’s be honest, not many of us have ‘extra’ money to blow on something so small)
Anyway, so on the Eco Nuts FAQ page, it said that if you were going to wash clothes in cold water, you could still use the nuts, just that you had to make a sort of tea with them – put the nuts in the mesh bag, and then pour boiling/hot water on them, let them soak (to get the saponin out), then pour the ‘tea’ into the washing machine, then wash as normal.
The part of that I seemed to miss, was the part that said you’re supposed to pour both the tea and the bag of nuts in the washer, because they will still secrete some saponins, because of the agitation of the machine. So the very first load I did with them, I just dumped the tea in, and left the nuts out.
Soap nut ‘tea’, I used a chopstick as a stir stick.
Honestly though, I did it exactly the way I make tea, meaning I boiled water in my kettle, and immediately poured it over the nuts, so I think I took out all the saponins that were inside them. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but I think because I did this, I kind of screwed myself for the following loads.
The first tea I made, the colour was a dark brown colour, and it actually looked like I had made tea with them. The second tea I made, the water colour barely changed. And the third time I made the tea, it didn’t change colours at all.
Aside from that, when I made the first ‘tea’, I discovered that the nuts had a faint smell to them while they were soaking. It wasn’t a bad smell per se, but it also wasn’t good. It faintly smelled like clean laundry, but also had a… pungent-ness that definitely wasn’t apitizing. Which I guess is good, because even though they’re called soap nuts, you’re not really supposed to eat them.
Close up of a dry soap nut and the mesh bag, fresh out of the sample pack.
After washing my clothes as normal, using the tea, when I pulled them out to put the in the dryer, I smelled them, and they didn’t smell like anything. They didn’t smell dirty/unclean, but they also didn’t have that artificial ‘cleanliness’ smell that most detergents leave. They were neutral.
Some people may not like their clothes smelling like nothing, but honestly since I started this more natural living journey, I found it actually quite refreshing. I don’t know if it’s my mind playing tricks, or something that happens once you start cutting out a lot of man-made chemical products from your day-to-day, but I’ve actually notice myself becoming more sensitive to those chemical smells.
And the weirdest part is they never used to bother me before! I used to just smell the smell, and not the chemicals, if that makes sense. I used to find it pleasant, and now I just… don’t. Whether it’s laundry detergent, certain soaps and shampoos, dryer sheets, or aerosol sprays, they’re just not things I want around me, anymore. (Not that I wanted them around me anyways, but that was ‘just the way it was’)
The website also said that soap nuts had natural anti-static and anti-cling properties, so you wouldn’t need a dryer sheet when drying. I’d been not using dryer sheets for a little bit before that (I made some homemade ones and had been using those) so I didn’t bother tossing in a ‘regular’ (store-bought) dryer sheet, or a homemade one.
The clothes came out not static-y at all, but I don’t think this was more the material of the clothes I was washing, and not the soap nuts themselves, because on a later load, I did the same thing, and the clothes came out very static-y.
I only ended up using this pack of soap nuts for 4 loads of laundry, because as I said above, the ‘tea’ I made seemed to get much weaker after the 1st time. I still have the nuts and the bag, though. I was actually going to save them to do a comparison for this article, so you could see the difference between new and dried up soap nuts.
Soap nuts air-drying after being through the washer.
I say ‘was’ because while I can see with my eye that the nuts are a different colour, for some reason, the difference hardly shows up on my phone camera. I don’t know if there’s some colour setting I need to change, or if it’s just a lighting thing, but I couldn’t get a good comparison picture, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.
You can definitely tell the used nuts are a lighter when compared to not-used nuts. They most likely will also not remain whole by the time you’re done with them. Especially if making ‘tea’ with them, you’ll need to stir them around in the water to make sure the saponins are actually coming out. Submerging the nuts like this makes them soft, and thus more prone to breaking.
All in all, I definitely think soap nuts are a great alternative for people looking to change to a more natural laundry detergent/cleaner. I also think if you’re able to get your hands on some (sustainably, of course), you should definitely test them out for yourself!
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