I stopped using washing powder and fabric conditioner about three years ago. There were several reasons that I made this somewhat bold move. Initially I became curious about the chemical contents of common washing powders and detergents and their origins. Also, around this time, I became more and more aware of water pollution and considered the direct link between what we flush out of our homes and the impacts this has on our marine environments. I figured that I didn’t need to become a scientist or expert in chemical formulas to decide that there must be a more environmentally friendly product I could use to wash my clothes.

Another key factor in my curiosity around washing powders and detergents was that my partner was suffering for several allergies and I began thinking about how the household products that we used might have an impact on these allergies.

After a little bit of investigation online, I found a potential answer to all of my problems and as is often the case, it was an entirely natural product- Soap nuts.

Soap nuts are derived from the fruits of a deciduous tree species called ‘Sapindus Mukorossi’ which is native to India. The tree produces small black fruits which are encased in a shell, once dried these shells become what we know to be Soap nuts. The shells contain a natural chemical called saponin which is characterised for creating a soapy lather when combined with water. This is what makes Soap nuts an ideal replacement for conventional washing powders and detergents.

Soap nuts are entirely natural, can be organic and are completely compostable after use. They are also vegan and hypoallergenic which has solved our issue with allergies to washing powder. They are readily available to purchase from most health food/natural stores or from a variety of online sources. Soap nuts come packaged in several sizes, we tend to go for a 1kg bag which lasts up to around 300 washes. Currently I am using these ones from Ecozone

Soap nuts are super easy to use:

1

Take around 4-5 soap nut shells (you may need a few more in hard water areas) and place them into the cotton pouch provided with your original purchase of soap nuts or pop them in a tied-up sock!!
2

Put to pouch/sock into the drum of your washing machine with your laundry
3

Pop a couple of drops of essential oils into the detergent tray if you prefer scented clothes
4

Put your washing machine on your usual cycle- I recommend 30 degrees maximum
5

Unload and hang your freshly washed clothes
6

Use the same soap nuts for 3 or 4 washes and then put them in your compost or food waste

What’s not to love!?  I hear you cry….

I will tell you now that from my experience of using soap nuts, you may need to make a bit of mind shift in terms of what you consider to be clean clothes. Soap nuts do not have a very strong scent so by using them you will lose the pleasant scent that conventional washing powder brings, but in reality, that smell is completely artificial and does not actually determine the cleanliness of our clothes. However I still like my clothes to smell nice so I choose to add essential oils into my washing machine, I tend to go for citrus oils or something like tea-tree, but you could go for whatever you prefer such as rose or lavender oils.

If you are an avid user of fabric softener then you may also need to employ a mind shift around the feel of your clothes. Soap nuts purely have cleaning properties, but they will not make your clothes feel gloriously soft in the way that fabric conditioner does, but once you get used to this change its really not an issue. There has been quite a lot of research into the effects of fabric softener and detergents and their negative impacts on the life span of clothing which is another element to consider.

My final disclaimer is that I have only ever used soap nuts in my own household, which is formed of myself and my partner. We do not have babies, children or pets and neither of us participate in sports or hobbies that generate particularly dirty clothing, so we really just wash our clothes, bedlinen, towels and cleaning cloths to freshen them up after use. Therefore, I do not know how well soap nuts perform when tackling visibly dirty or stained fabrics.

Soap nuts work very well for me, and I certainly wouldn’t return to the washing powders and detergents that I used previously. I love soap nuts so much that I might even try and grow my own Sapindus Mukorossi tree!

If you have any questions, comments or tips on this subject please leave them below.

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