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Soap Nuts FAQ

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Soap Nuts FAQ

What is a soap nut?

Soap nuts are known world-wide by many names such as soapnuts, soapberries, washing nuts, soap nut shells, wash shells, soapberry nut husks and many more. Soap nuts are simply the dried shells (or husks) from the soapberry (or soap berry nut). These berries are the fruit from a unique tree species. The shells contain a substance called saponin that produces a soaping effect. Saponin is a 100% natural alternative to chemical laundry detergents and cleansers. It can replace many chemical detergents such as those containing sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) that are becoming well known by consumers for being a skin irritant and health hazard.

Soap nuts have been used for centuries throughout the world as a laundry detergent, as soap for personal hygiene, and as a cleanser with many other uses. It is most commonly used in India, China, parts of Europe and numerous countries in the eastern hemisphere. There is even a species, Quillaja Saponaria (called a soap bark tree) that grows in South America. Only in recent years has the soap nut and its many benefits made its way to the United States.

The Trees and the Soapberry Nuts: Sapindus (the botanical name) is a sustainable agriculture and forest product. In many ways it is similar to an olive tree. There are several common varieties of the soapberry tree. Sapindus Mukorossi and Sapindus Trifoliatus are the primary sources for the soapberry that has become know as the soap nut. They are both of the family Sapindaceae, and the genus Sapindus. The botanical name is derived from the Latin words, sapo (soap) and indicus (Indian). Based upon it's high amount of 'soap' content and consistency, the highest quality soap nut is Sapindus Mukorossi, which grows primarily in northern India and Nepal. It grows uncultivated in poor quality ground and helps fights erosion, particularly in the Himalayan foothills. It also provides needed income to the local population. It's a relatively hardy tree as it is resistant to diseas and insects. The trees grow 30 to 60 feet in height and begin flowering and bearing fruit after about 9 years. It blooms with small, white grouped flowers in spring and early summer and is harvested once a year during the fall season. The soapberry fruits (the soap nut) are round, yellow berries that become gummy, reddish tan and wrinkled as they ripen. It's appearance is somewhat like that of a date. The tree synthesizes its own natural saponins, (soap) which coat the shell of the fruit. Soap nut trees will produce fruit (soap nuts) for about 90 years.

Local farmers and families harvest the prized soapberry fruit after it falls from the trees. The seed is removed from the shell (or husk), and the shells are dried in the sun using absolutely no chemical processing. No commercial manufacturing processes are required in any way for the soap nut to become effective. The soap nut shell is not altered in any way. Hence, soap nuts are absolutely 100% natural, un-modified dried fruit shells. Note: The actual nut (or better yet, seed) does not release saponin, so it has no cleaning properties. It is removed and used for planting new trees, and is sometimes used to make necklaces or other jewelry.

How do soap nuts work?

The name "Soap Nut" is misleading because it is actually the shell that works. The soap nut SHELL contains and releases the saponins (soap) when it comes in contact with warm or hot water. (See directions for use in cold water.) Agitation further releases these saponins. The saponins then circulate as a natural surfactant (surface active ingredient). They break down the surface tension between water and oil in the wash water reducing the surface tension of the water aiding it in freeing dirt, grime and oils from clothes. This is essentially the exact same fundamental principle that applies to how most detergents and soaps work. It's simply not achieved by the use of synthetic chemicals.

The name saponin is derived from the Latin word 'sapo' which means soap. There are many plants around the world that are saponaceous (meaning that they contain saponins) but only a few, are known to produce appreciable amounts. This is why soap nuts are so very special in their ability to be an effective cleanser - directly from the tree. Sapindus mukorossi trees have been found to produce the highest and most consistent quality soap nuts. Ready for use directly from harvest, extraction of the saponin from the soap nuts requires nothing more than putting them directly in the washing machine in warm water. Drawstring bags are used to contain the soap nut shells, and the shells can be reused until their saponin content has been depleted. Because that the saponins are naturally a low-sudsing detergent, they are ideal for high efficiency (HE) washers and even carpet cleaners.

Not all Soap Nuts are alike:

If you are like us... You are probably a little confused about what to expect from using soap nuts. Discovery is part of the experience and the joy. Finding your own personal 'best method' is part of the journey into changing from chemical to natural products. When we first started looking into soap nuts we had lots of questions.... How many loads will five soap nuts yield? What color of soap nuts is best? Is a large soap nut better than a small one? Are whole nuts better than pieces? Are sticky soap nuts better? How long will they last? How long do I boil them when making liquid? And on, and on, and on... Not one of these questions has a single definitive answer. You may have an answer that is specific to the soap nuts you are using and your specific washing conditions, but your answer will be only that - your answer. Even our answers are only guidelines and recommendations. They will not be the exact answer for everybody, but they will provide a place to start.

We carry only high quality soap nuts of the Mukorossi variety that grow primarily in the northern region of India and Nepal. We do this for only one reason. The Mukorossi tree tends to produce fruits of consistently high saponin content. That is what is most important. However, as with any crop of nature, growing seasons can vary each year based on climate and specific weather conditions. In addition, the fruit is harvested after falling from the tree. The seeds are removed by hand. They are sun dried in the open air. There will be various sizes, colors and conditions of the shells harvested from the exact same tree and harvest. Just as not all apples, oranges, grapes, etc. from the same harvest have the exact same color, size and taste, not all soap nuts from the same growing area will look and feel exactly the same.

Soap nuts are a 100% natural resource and there are different species. Not all apples are the same... Soap Nuts are no different. They are a fruit, hence there are many factors (aside from species) that affect its appearance, condition, effectiveness, and how it works for individual users. Consumers also vary greatly in their washing conditions and habits. Hard water, soft water, water temperature, large loads, small loads, amount of water used, efficiency, type and age of washer, packed loads, loose loads... the list goes on and all are user variables. We provide basic guidelines for use, but when used in their traditional and most common shell form, there will be an element of experimentation. We do greatly reduce the inherent variables of soap nuts via strict importation criteria, species selection, and hand sorting procedures so you are assured of consistency in quality.

We are sure you will find that soap nuts work - and work very well. Use our basic guidelines, have fun and enjoy the learning experience. You will quickly realize just how simple they are to use. You will also find what methods are best for you and your home. Soap nuts make for another very simple transition to a healthier way of life.

Using Soap Nuts

Washing laundry with soap nuts:

It doesn't get much more simple - Doing laundry can even be fun! Most laundry detergents on the shelves of our supermarkets contain numerous chemical substances, synthetic dyes, fragrances and fillers. These chemical substances are effective in deeply penetrating our clothes - cleaning, sanitizing and scenting them. However, these same chemicals build up in our clothes and linens and transfer to our skin, leading to short term and/or long term skin troubles for some individuals. They break down fabric fibers and fade colors and they are harmful to our environment. Soap Nuts are simply a natural solution.

The following list is simply very basic directions. Only your imagination will limit what soap nuts can be used for. It is note-worthy to mention that for centuries many Eastern cultures have earned a reputation for producing some of the finest of fabrics and jewelry known to the world. Saponins (soap nuts) played a role in the care of these ultra-fine creations. We encourage you to write us with your own 'recipes', and we will gladly share them.

Basic Laundry Directions:
The most simple and common / traditional method of washing laundry with soap nuts is by using the raw nuts in a drawstring bag, and simply tossing the bag in with your laundry. The soap nuts can also be used to make a 'tea', a fine soap nut powder or concentrated solution. All forms and methods work great.

SOAP NUT SHELLS (whole and pieces):
Warm or Hot Water Wash:
Put 4 or 5 soap nut shells or equivalent pieces, about a half-ounce, in cotton or muslin drawstring bag and tie bag securely. (we us a double knot) Toss in washing machine before you add your clothes. Remove from washer at end of the wash to dry (leave soap nuts in bag). Re-use 3 to 7 times. (you will get more uses from warm-water wash, and less uses with hot-water wash, as soap nuts release more saponin the hotter the water that you use.) The soap nuts are no longer effective when they become thin, mushy and very light tan or gray. If you are in doubt, simply run the bag under some warm/hot tap water to moisten the nuts. Squeeze the bag with your hand several times, and you will see a light sudsing.

Cold Water Wash:
Simply make a cup of soap nut 'tea' by soaking 4 or 5 bagged soap nuts in a cup of very hot water for approximately 3 minutes. Pour both the soap nuts liquid and bag in wash. Remove from washer at end of the wash to dry (leave soap nuts in bag). Re-use 3 to 7 times. (again, you will get more uses from warm-water wash, and less uses with hot-water wash, as soap nuts release more saponin the hotter the water that you use.) Again, the soap nuts are no longer effective when they become thin, turn soft, mushy and very light tan or gray.

Hand Wash:
Add about 2 Tablespoons of soap nuts liquid (below) to wash water and stir, or make a tea with your soap nut muslin bag. Hand wash as usual.
Powdered: Put 2 - 3 tsp soap nuts powder in wash water. Wash as usual.

Important points about Soap Nuts:

- Effectively clean laundry - leaving it softer and fresher that you may have ever experienced
- Anti-microbial properties. Removes microbes from laundry
- Natural anti-fungal properties
- Hypoallergenic. Most allergic reactions to detergents are due to the chemicals and fragrances in them. - Soap Nuts are great for removing odors!
- Mild and gentle on fabric structure and colors
- Low sudsing: Good for all washers. Excellent for high efficiency (HE) washers
- Eliminates the need for fabric softeners
- 100% biodegradable
- No animal testing
- Requires no manufacturing processes. No chemicals or fossil fuels needed to produce Soap Nuts
- A primary product from a sustainable source
- Does not pollute our water systems
- Good for septic and grey water systems
- Environmentally safe
- Natural product with basically an endless shelf life
- Since Soap Nuts are primarily a resource from only emerging nations, increased demand will provide an additional needed economic stimulus, plus it will encourage increased planting, growth and farming.
- Virtually un-tapped potential for eliminating most harmful chemicals from the market and from our homes!

Making Soap Nuts into Powder or Liquid:

Not only are powdered and liquid forms nice for laundry, but the list of other chemical products that can be replaced by soap nuts is long and getting longer every day.

POWDER: Place soap nuts in a blender or coffee grinder. Grind to a very fine powder for laundry. (coffee grinders tend to grind the finest powder - this may require a couple grindings, removing the un-ground pieces and grinding again) You may also want to make a courser, more abrasive grind for scouring and scrubbing needs. Store in an airtight container. Shelf life is indefinite as long as the soap nut powder is stored in a cool dry place.

LIQUID: Place 12 to 15 soapnuts (about 1.5 ounces) in about 6 cups of water. For best results, bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour. You will know that you have fully extracted from the soap nuts when they turn very light tan or gray and are mushy. Allow to cool and strain. The ratio of soap nuts to water, plus 'cooking' time will affect the liquid's concentration and potency. Experiment until desired results are acquired. There is no wrong way of cooking them into a liquid. Liquids will vary accordingly. Store the soap nuts liquid in an airtight glass jar. As with other botanicals, the infused soap nut solution is best stored in a cool place away from direct sunlight. This 100% pure soap nut solution has absolutely no preservative of any kind so it will have a limited shelf life of several days. It should be refrigerated to extend its shelf life. This is typical of virtually all water-based botanical solutions. We also offer Extreme 18X Soap Nuts, which is a soap nut liquid with specific natural preservatives that greatly extend the shelf life, yet are still safe and chemical free. For the make-at-home solution, simply don't make more than you'll use in a few days.

- Soap nuts will last longer using warm vs. hot water.
- Soft water may require less soap nuts. Very hard water may require more.
- There is no need for fabric softener. Soap nuts leave your cloths soft.
- Soap nuts have a distinct odor, similar to vinegar when they are dry and more pungent when wet. Soap nuts do not smell pleasant; but amazingly your clothes smell clean and fresh after washing with soap nuts.
- If you like scent, you can add 10 drops of essential oil on the cotton bag before tossing it into the machine.
- Soap nuts will not remove heavy stains - as with any detergent, pre-treat stains with a stain remover as you normally would.(we have found soaking stains in a soap-nuts bath works wonders!)
- If clothes are very dirty, do half size loads instead of full.
- If you like super whites, you can add oxygen bleach to the load.
- Soap nuts perform better in a less than full load. (though we tend to load our machine!)
- There will be very little suds. No suds actually means no commercial foaming agents or chemicals.
- Soap nuts are wonderful for washing cloth diapers. Unlike chemical detergents, they will not clog the fabric causing the diaper to loose its absorbency and they will not cause diaper rash. In addition, soap nuts will clean and remove detergent residue from diapers.

Soap nuts chemical-free cleaning solutions

Rid your home and life of toxins! Many common household cleaners can be replaced entirely with the use of soap nuts. Saponin's inherent effective cleaning power, anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, odor-reducing capability, and natural gentleness combine to provide an amazingly safe yet effective cleanser for a multitude of everyday uses. Incredibly, the vast majority of highly toxic synthetic chemicals in our homes can be thrown away forever.

Certainly we've all heard the alarms of 'bio-hazard' in our head when we reached in to pull out our arsenal of cleaning solutions. Interestingly, it is quite difficult to find an image of cleaning products without rubber gloves in the picture. That is certainly a good thing. If it were not for gloves our hands would be a scary site! Household chemical cleaners can be both horribly damaging to our skin and highly toxic to our body. Soap nuts offer a chemical free cleaning solution.

The following is only a very short list of some alternate cleaning solutions that soap nuts will work great for. You will even notice hair care. If you can boil water, the basics of chemical free cleaning can be in your hands and at use in your home today!

For Household Cleaning:
Pour soap nuts liquid (above) into a spray bottle. Use full strength or dilute as desired. Use for sinks, counters, floors, etc.

For Windows and Glass:
Fill a spray bottle with about 8 oz of water. Add a half-ounce of soap nuts liquid (above) and a half-ounce of vinegar. Spray and then wipe clean with a dry cloth.

For Dishwashers:
Fill the dishwasher soap dispenser with soap nuts liquid (above). Wash as usual. Tip: For extra sparkle, add a half-ounce of vinegar to the rinse dispenser or during the rinse cycle.

For Hand Wash:
Add about 2 tbs of soap nuts liquid (above) to wash water and stir, or make a tea with your soap nuts muslin bag. Simply hand wash as usual.

For Steam Cleaning Carpets:
Soap nuts work exceptionally well in carpet cleaners because they are so low sudsing and odor reducing. Add about a quarter cup of soap nut liquid to hot water in the portable cleaner. Great for urine stains!

For Pets:
Same as above. Superb for pets! Your little loved ones will never feel and smell this fresh again! They'll appreciate it, too!

For Shampoo:
Use soap nuts liquid to shampoo hair. Leave in for about 5 minutes. Rinse as usual with warm water. If you prefer more suds, add a little of your favorite shampoo. (We know it's hard not to want more suds! Isn't it interesting that the chemical industry has taught us if it doesn't make bubbles, it's not clean?!)

Soap Nuts FAQ's

How many loads of laundry can I do with 5 soap berries? (soap nuts)
     Depending on the temperature of the water in which you wash your clothes, you can get anywhere from 3-7 loads out of 1/2 oz (about 5 soap nuts / berries). you will get more uses from cold or warm-water wash, and less uses with hot-water wash, as soap nuts release more saponin the hotter the water that you use. The soap nuts (soap berries) are no longer effective when they become thin, turn soft, mushy and very light tan or gray.

How long do soap nuts last?
     The dried soap nuts wil last until you use them all. They have an indefinite shelf life since they are simply the dried shell of a fruit. The 18x concentrated formula has a 2 year shelf life.

Can soap nuts be used in my high efficiency (HE) or front load washer?
     Yes. Because they are low sudsing they work very well in these washers. You may use 4 or 5 soap nuts in the wash bag or you can use 3 or 4 tablespoons of home-made soap nuts liquid in the detergent drawer. We also offer Extreme 18X, which is a highly- concentrated soap nuts solution. You will only need 1/2 teaspoon of this concentrate per load of laundry.

What happens if someone drinks the soapnut liquid or swallows a soap berry?
     Don't worry. Soap nuts are non-toxic unless you are a fish. Saponin has been used in highly-concentrated doses to kill fish. The saponin flows through the gills of the fish and enter directly into the blood stream. The only problem you may encounter is a possible stomach ache - your insides will receive a slight cleansing!

Are soap nuts safe for those with sensitive skin?
     Absolutely! Soap nuts are highly recommended for those with allergies or sensitive skin. They are 100% natural, free of synthetic chemicals and are hypoallergenic. Soap nuts are wonderful for use by those who are sensitive to the dyes, perfumes and chemicals used in most commercial detergents and cleansers. Most people who are irritated by such commercial products find soap nuts to be their ideal solution.

What other uses are there for Soap Nuts?
     Soap nuts are superb for not only laundry, but can replace many cleaning products in the average home. From dishes to fine silks, soap nuts provide a natural effective solution. Saponin, the active ingredient in soap nuts, is a highly effective alternative to many common yet toxic cleaning chemicals. This includes cleansers for household and personal hygiene. The known cleaning properties are wide and diverse. Being so gentle, saponins are even excellent for shampoos and many other personal care products. Finally there is a good cleanser that will not leave your hands rough, dry and scaly!

Are Soap Nuts good for pets?
     YES! Many people use soap nuts liquids for bathing their pets. The odor reducing properties of the soap nuts make for a remarkably effective pet shampoo.

Are soap nuts good for washing cloth diapers?
     Absolutely! Commercial detergents and soaps contain chemicals that build up in cloth diapers. Not only do these chemicals break down the fibers of the material causing it to loose absorbency, but can also be irritating to your baby's skin. In addition, soap nuts are very effective at removing odors!

I see very little suds when washing with soap nuts, are they cleaning my clothes?
     Yes. Suds should not be equated to cleaning power. We have been brainwashed to think this way through decades of marketing. The foaming you see with most detergents is because of the chemicals and fillers used. Soap nuts produce very little suds, but they are still working very effectively. Your clothes will come out of the wash clean and fresh.

Does it matter that some of the soap nuts are pieces instead of whole?
     No. In order to properly inspect and sort to ensure the quality of your soap nuts, all very small pieces are removed. The select grade of soap nuts we offer is composed of whole nut shells and large pieces. Since agitation is a catalyst in releasing the saponin, small pieces will work fine and possibly even release the saponin faster. Do not hesitate to break up the soap nuts into smaller pieces if desired, or be concerned if they are broken up while handling. Soap nuts can be even ground into fine powder.

Soap nuts have a vinegar-like scent. Will my laundry have this scent?
     Amazingly, the scent of the soap nuts does not transfer to your clothing! clothes come out of the wash smelling totally fresh and clean. There is not even a trace scent of the soap nut itself. A pure soap nuts liquid will also have an unpleasant scent but it will not transfer to your laundry either. Nor will it leave a scent after other cleaning uses. If you prefer a scent, you can simply add a few drops of an essential oil of your choice to a damp wash cloth and drop it in the dryer. The scent of the oil will remain.

I use bleach in my whites. Are soap nuts a substitute for bleach?
     No. If you desire to bleach your whites, adding your bleach of choice will not affect the cleaning power of the soap nuts. If you are used to using bleach, you may want to try a load without it just to see if you will still need it. We sometimes use bleach, but many times we do not.

If the soap nuts stay in the wash through the rinse cycle, don't they keep releasing soap?
     No, not as long as you are using cold water in the rinse cycle. Soap nuts release very little saponin during the rinse cycle. This is why it is best to pre-soften soap nuts in warm water, use a cup of soap nuts liquid, or soap nuts powder if you want to wash in cold water.

Can you dry the soap nuts with the clothes?
     Yes you can. Throwing in the wash bag with the soapberries in it will not harm the clothes at all. Sometimes we can't find the bag in the clothes when we are putting them in the dryer so it will end up in with the clothes on accident. This does not hurt the soap nuts at all.

Do I use soap nuts in addition to my regular detergent?
     No, soap nuts do a great job of cleaning your laundry by themselves. They are a natural laundry detergent and alternative to detergents containing chemicals. Use of them with a chemical detergent would be negating their primary purpose and benefit.

Should I use a fabric softener or dryer sheets anymore?
     Normally there is no need, hence only if or when you feel the need. Soap nuts naturally soften your laundry and reduce static. We highly recommend using no additives at all. Due to certain combinations of fabrics and environmental conditions, sometimes additives may be desired, but the need will be dramatically reduced.

I'm allergic to nuts. Can I use soap nuts?
     Yes! Soap nuts are actually a dried fruit (not a nut) related to the lychee. Do not let nut allergies keep you from using soap nuts, soap nut powder, or soap nut liquid.

Is there anything that I should concern myself with in using Soap Nuts?
     As with a chemical cleanser, the only thing that we highly recommend is that soap nuts (in all forms) should be kept out of reach of children and pets. Soap nuts are not consumable and can be harmful if ingested. Given their date-like appearance in raw shell form, a bag of soap nuts could look like food to a child or pet. Given their absolutely horrible taste, it is quite unlikely that any child or even a pet would not literally gag at the taste, but we simply recommend using good judgment and common sense in the storage of them.

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