Sarah mentioned soap nuts in the www.network54.com/Forum/217936/thread/1192444011/last-1199785991/Homemade+Natural+Shampoo thread. Having only heard of them before and having decided to try and become greener in 2008 I thought I'd give them a try and ordered some from off line. My order arrived today, which is timely as I need to do a wash. The soapnuts look like a cross between a chestnut and a rosehip and have a rather pronounced smell of vinegar!
The instructions say to place 8 soap nut shells in a small cloth bag and add to the washing machine. It further states that the soap nuts can be used up to 3 times at lower temperatures. But you're advised to used a fresh batch for heavily soiled items. When they've have no cleaning power left you just put the soap nut shells on the compost heap!
There are several types on the market, I got Sapindus mukorossi, which is better known as the Chinese Soapberry. The soap berry contains saponin, a natural detergent which is used to clean clothes and the nuts are quickly becoming popular as an alternative to manufactured, chemical soap powders and detergents amongst the environmentally friendly people. They're said to be safe for washing silk, woollens and other delicate fabrics. How they cope with stains and ground in grime is yet to be tested.
The fruits of Sapindus muorossi have a slightly irritant effect on the mucous membranes. Whilst the fruit of the Soap Berry (Sapindus saponaria) contains an irritant sapintoxin which can cause a rash or blisters to form on the skin
Sapindus muorossi is used medically as an expectorant, emetic and for treatment of excessive salivation, epilepsy, chlorosis, and migraines. Soap nuts are among the list of herbs and minerals used in Ayurvedic medicine, and are used as a treatment for eczema, psoriasis, and for removing freckles. Soap nuts have gentle insecticidal properties and are traditionally used for removing lice from the scalp, I'll try making a spray for the roses and see what effects that has come the summer as well. They have antimicrobial properties and are beneficial for septic systems and greywater.
I'll post more about their cleaning power and how good I think they are when I've tried them out, will also use the homemade lavender vinegar to have a total eco friendly wash and see if it will be a good substitute for fabric softener. Watch this space.....
Okay, I've done the first wash and I was expecting some kind of suds, like with soap powder but then I did some more research and found out how soap nuts work. Apparently the natural saponin in the soap nut shell works as a surfactant, making your water "wetter" and allowing it to penetrate the fibres of your clothes. It then works away at the dirt and grime on the dirty clothes and the surfactant holds on to the dirt, keeping it in suspended in the water until it's drained away, taking the dirt with it. I used 9 soapnut shells and did a 40 degree wash, and it did come out clean, it smelt clean but neutral, no artificial soap powder smell (I forgot to add the lavender vinegar!) so no floral herby smell either!
I've read reports that soapnuts work on stains such as grass, ketchup and blackcurrant juice, I had some items with ketchup and dried blood on them and I have to say I was dissapointed because it didn't bring those stains out. Although I've since read if you pre-treat the stains with something like ecover laundry bleach, or add a little to the wash. Or soak the item in white vinegar for an hour before you wash the stains will come out (don't use malt vinegar as it will generate its own set of stains!) cider vinegar is also good to use as well.
The washing isn't dry yet, but it did feel softer than washing done using soap powder. It's claimed that you don't need any fabric softener with soapnuts as the clothes come out soft anyway. I'll see how they feel when they're dry. I'm not sure that I can use the 9 soapnuts again, they seem to be all out of the soapy feel they had before the wash. The cynic in me is wondering if the cleaning came just from using water and nothing to do with the soapnuts? Do we really need anything but water after all? I mean before soap and soap powder was invented to make our lives easier (allegedly!), women used river water and a stone. The way to test that is to do a water only wash and see the results?!
The jury is still out here! I have to say I'm not 100% convinced yet, but I'll definately use them again and try them at different temperatures. Will also try making a soapnut cleaning solution with the ones I used in the washer earlier. Has anybody else used them and if so how many soapnuts do you use, were you happy with the results etc? I'm really interested in these as they're plant based, better for the environment, not too expensive, biodegradable and the cotton bag they come in is recyclable
Re: Soap Nuts Update
February 10 2008, 1:11 PM
I'm still trialing the soapnuts and I'm about to make a decoction of yukka root (Yucca filamentosa) and also soapwort root (Saponaria officinalis), I'll then mix the three decotions together and see which gives the best cleaning results. Whilst looking into alternative herbal cleaners I just came across the following in regard to Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)...
"In the past, Horse-chestnut seeds were used in France and Switerlan for whitening hemp, flax, silk and wool. They contain a soapy juice, fit for washing of linens and stuffs, for milling of caps and stockings, etc., and for fulling of cloth. For this, 20 horse-chestnut seeds were sufficient for six liters of water. They were peeled, then rasped or dried, and ground in a malt or other mill. The water must be soft, either rain or river water; hard well water will not work. The nuts are then steeped in cold water, which soon becomes frothy, as with soap, and then turns milky white. The liquid must be stirred well at first, and then, after standing to settle, strained or poured off clear. Linen washed in this liquid, and afterwards rinsed in clear running water, takes on an agreeable light sky-blue colour. It takes spots out of both linen and wool, and never damages or injures the cloth."
So I'll be experimenting with horsechestnut seeds as well to see what results I get! Has anyone else tried soapnuts yet and if so what do you think?
This message has been edited by DebsCook from IP address 220.127.116.11 on Feb 10, 2008 5:41 PM
Soap Nuts and other soapy things!
February 10 2008, 4:10 PM
Has anyone tried soapwort root. I would imaging you would need to put them in a bag as the soap nuts.
Later in the year I might try. They use it on tapestry don't they.
February 11 2008, 9:55 AM
The British Museum and the National Trust still use soapwort root today to clean delicate fabrics like antique lace and tapestries. Just adding the root to the wash won't be very effective, not unless you do a 'boil' wash, the root needs to be boiled to release the saponin and the solution applied after, I'm not sure what process the National Trust etc use, but I will try and find out.
To use soapwort effectively its best to make a decoction along the lines of a soapwort based herbal shampoo, pour 500ml boiling water over 25g of soapwort root, let it steep for 12 hours, and then boil the liquid with a lid on the pan for 15-20 minutes. Strain, cool, and store in fridge, it will keep for about a week, if you want to keep it for longer you need to add some form of preservative to the liquid, something like grapefruit seed extract for the purists who want to stay chemical free, or benzyl alcohol or potassium sorbate. Or use my soapwort shampoo recipe on the Homemade Herbal Shampoo thread http://www.network54.com/Forum/217936/thread/1192444011/last-1199785991/Homemade+Natural+Shampoo theres also some tips on how to usesoapwort shampoo within that thread as it doesn't work like shampoos most people are familiar with.
I'm going to try grinding down some of the dried soapwort root and adding some ground yucca root powder to some washing soda and laundry borax and see what happens. I reckon the dried root will keep for longer, and you should be able to just use a couple of scoops in the wash and I can add a couple of drops of essential oil to the wash if I want some perfume?
You can also use the fresh leaves of the soapwort plant, will give that a try later in the year, just noticed yesterday that the soapwort was re-emerging and last year I did nothing with it, the pink flowers smell wonderful though The decoction above can also be used as a hair and body wash, you can add a couple of drops of essential oil to make it smell better, lemongrass and lavender is a lovely combination, but you can experiment with your own favourite fragrance.
Apparently some of our native plants (UK) that are closely related to Soapwort contain useful quantities of saponins, these include Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Red Campion (Silene dioica) and other members of the campion family. So you could experiment with these plants to, I think the roots are the main source of saponin but it may be in the whole plant, more research required methinks!
I also found the following on the Plants for a future website http://www.pfaf.org "Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) is another UK native plant that has a report of being rich in saponins, the rhizome is used. This is just one of a number of uses for this ubiquitous weed; a glue can be made from the rootstock, the fronds are used as a packing material - it is excellent for lining fruit baskets where it repels insects and helps prevent rotting, a compost made from the fronds is excellent for tree seedlings. "
It's amazing, I'll never look at bracken the same way again, the more I read and learn, the more in awe I am about natural world and the world of herbs and their uses. I hope other people will have a try of some of these natural 'soapy' herbs and let us know what they think?
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