For the greenest natural laundry detergent, either plant your own soap nut tree if you live in a conducive climate or buy soap nuts at health food stores or online.
Soap nuts, which are actually berries that look like nuts, grow on a Sapindus tree and contain saponin, an antimicrobial natural detergent, in the fruits. They release the most soap in hot water, so they will last longer in cold water washes. The nuts can be cooked in hot water to make a liquid soap, but the easiest laundry method is to put a mesh or cotton bag containing a few soap nuts in the washing machine and let the agitator motion bring out the soapsuds.
The positive attributes of soap nuts:
- they are safe for use on delicate fabrics like silk and wool
- they are a 100 percent organic environmentally friendly alternative to chemical detergents
- they are antimicrobial, biodegradable, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal
- they contain no chemicals, toxins, artificial dyes or fragrances
- they do not need added fabric softener
- they can be reused several times until they no longer suds up when agitated
- they are cost effective
- they naturally contain saponin which is the same ingredient made by detergent manufacturers for inducing water penetration in cleaning clothing
- they can be found growing in the wild, usually in calcareous woodlands, hammocks, and coastal scrubland frequently near coastal Indian shell mounds
- the trees grow best in full sun but are somewhat light shade tolerant and great for low maintenance landscaping
- established soapberry trees are very drought tolerant
- their flowers are fragrant and attract bees
- the seeds germinate readily and seedlings often grow under parent trees
- especially the Ayurveda of the Indian subcontinent use them medicinally for many purposes such as treating eczema, psoruasus, head lice, epilepsy, migraines, and anti-tumor medicine
- they were used as a cleaning agent by Native American Indians and are still used for this purpose in tropical countries
- jewelers use them to clean precious metals.
Read the Soap Nuts Pro website for a balanced view of some of the issues with soap nuts. They do not contain bleach. For certain laundry issues, they may need supplementing to meet cleaning expectations.
As to where they grow, Sapindus saponaria (also called soapberry, soapnut, Florida soapberry and tropical soapberry) is the scientific name of one soap nut producing tree which grows well in southern Florida, the Caribbean and into the Central and South American tropics. Sapindus marginatus (Florida soapberry), also called grows well from northern Florida along the Coastal Plain to South Carolina. Sapindus drumondii (western soapberry) is found in the southwestern United States and Mexico. The Chinese soapberry, Sapindus mukorossi, is imported from Asia. They all belong to the Sapindaceae family of over 150 genera and 2,000 species in both hemispheres’ tropics and subtropics. Genus Sapindus has about a dozen species alone.
Loads of Love offers a $1.00 sample size to see if they work well in your wash. Their soap nuts come from Nepal and have been deseeded of the interior black seeds which do not contain saponin, are said to be poisonous, and only add to the product weight.
The Load of Love website lists stores in Florida that sell soap nuts directly or you can order them online. It also answers soap nut questions, has an email contact link and their phone number, 561.246.4414. It has other uses for soap nuts including a recipe for making a soap nut solution for nail infections.When you buy from Loads of Love, you help feed people desperately needing food and clean water. There are several other sources of soap nuts when searching the Internet.
Watch the video on how to use soap nuts.