Soapnuts, also called soapberries, are fruit that date back to ancient India and China. The pulp of the fruit contains saponin, and therefore has excellent cleaning abilities. Saponin is a natural surfactant, which is the ingredient in soap that separates the dirt and oils from your clothes.
A number of varieties of soap nuts still grow in India. Twelve species in the Lychee family, Sapindaceae, including both evergreen and deciduous species of shrubs and trees, produce soapnuts/soapberries. As soapberries begin to grow, they are smooth and pale green in color. As they begin to ripen, they wrinkle and become a golden yellow or brown.
There are many reasons to consider using soapnuts as an alternative to chemical-laden laundry detergents. Soapnuts don’t contaminate our water table. They are paraben-free and hypoallergenic, making it a perfect solution for people with skin sensitivities. And did I mention it’s easy on the wallet? You can reuse the same soapnuts up to 10 times, depending on the hardness of your water – so a medium-sized box ($11.99) can wash about 100 loads of laundry. That means soapnuts will cost you about 11 cents per load. Oh, and I didn’t mention my favorite part: soapnuts contain a natural fabric softener, meaning you can ditch those horrible synthetic softeners while you are at it, if you haven’t already.
You use about five soapnuts per load, putting them inside a small muslin pouch before adding them to your washing machine. Continue to use the same soapnuts in your laundry until they begin to turn to a grey mush that resembles parchment paper. Also, you can safely use soapnuts with oxygen bleach. And if you have a particularly stinky load of laundry, you can add some white vinegar to make sure everything comes out smelling fresh.
Soapnuts aren’t just for laundry—you can use them to make natural all-purpose cleaner for the home, as a base for homemade beauty products, as a natural jewelry cleaner to remove tarnish, and even as an anti-microbial for septic systems. Soapnuts are also a popular ingredient in Ayurvedic treatments for eczema and psoriasis. And because they have gentle insecticidal properties, they are traditionally used for removing lice from the scalp in India. Soapnuts are also used in holistic spermicidal preparations, as the soapnut water extract significantly inhibits the sperm’s motility, or ability to maneuver toward the egg.
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