Sunday, January 1, 2012

Soap That Grows on Trees

Money doesn't grow on trees, but when I found out soap does, I realized I was throwing money away.

There are various species of soapberry (aka soap nut) trees that grow around the world. The most commonly known species is the Sapindus Mukorossi, which is native to parts of China, India, and Nepal. There are also other species native to parts of Southern North America. These non-edible berries are sun-dried and stored to use for various cleaning uses stated below.

Soapberry (Soap Nut)

Soapberries contain a substance called saponin, a natural foaming surfactant and detergent. When the saponin is released into the water, its surfactant properties free dirt, grime, and oils from clothing, thus it is a wonderful 100% natural laundry detergent.

Soapberry Seeds
The seeds do not contain saponin but may be used to plant a soapberry tree. According to Mountain Rose Herbs, using soapberries that still contain the seed release more saponin when using in the washing machine because the seed provides a light "beating" action or agitation against the shell, thus causing more saponin to be released into the wash water. Other sources state that the seeds are useless unless being used for planting purposes and when purchasing soapberries with seeds, you are getting less soapberries due to the weight of the seeds. To date, I have only had experience with soapberries that have been deseeded, so I have no personal input here.

Due to the powerful, yet gentle cleaning power of soapberries, they can also be used in the following ways:

Dish soap (Hand-washed or Dishwasher)
Hand soap (Preferably with a foaming pump)
Hair & body wash
All purpose household cleaner
Pest repelling pet shampoo
Plant wash & pest repellent
Mosquito repellent
Jewelry cleaner
And more....

I have personally experienced soapberries as a laundry detergent for clothes and cloth diapers, dish soap and surface cleaner. I plan to further experiment with soapberries for its other cleaning uses, but I started off with only a 1/2 lb bag from NaturOli, so my initial experimentation was limited by quantity.

I used 5 soapberries in the provided muslin wash bag. I re-used my soapberries no more than 2 more times before I felt they were ineffective. However, some people are able to use them up to 5-7 times. Although inconvenient to some, I prefer putting my soapberries directly into my HE washing machine instead of in the bag. It seems the saponins release better that way. Alternatively, if I don't want to go searching for soapberries after the wash, I also got great results by putting them in the larger storage muslin bag that the soapberries shipped in, which allowed the soapberries more room for agitation. If you choose not to use a bag or some of the soapberries come out of the bag during the wash and accidentally end up in the dryer, they will not be harmed and can still be re-used, given that they have not been used to their max and still have saponins.

The soapberries definitely get clothes clean! When I test out a new laundry detergent, I go for the "stinkies" (work socks, underwear, etc) and give them a good sniff. Soapberries do not leave any smell, just clean. (Tip: If you would like a natural scent to your clothes, put some lavender, or other fragrant flower, in one of your muslin wash bags and throw it into the dryer.) Soapberries are not stain removers, so pre-treatment of stains is still necessary. I do not currently have a natural stain-removal method than I am fully satisfied with. However, sun bleaching is amazing at getting out stains, but I have to use an indoor clothes line (which can also be used outdoors) with plastic clothes pins because I do not have a balcony/patio, which doesn't lend me the full benefit of sunlight, given that my sunlight is restricted by the window.

My ultimate test for laundry detergent is when I use them on cloth diapers. The list of detergents I have tried on my cloth diapers can be found on my Cloth Diaper Essentials post. Whenever I try a new detergent on my diapers, they all seem to work the first few washes, but by the end of the week, as soon as my daughter pees, there will be a very strong ammonia smell. I honestly expected this to happen with soapberries...surprisingly it did not! Not only were my diapers super clean, they were super fluffy and soft! Soft diapers is not something I normally experience without the use of Ecover Sunny Day Fabric Softener (my natural fabric softener of choice). I have very hard water, water that has a high mineral content, which makes cleaning clothes more difficult and makes them stiff and hard as opposed to soft water.

Please note that I use 100% cotton diapers. If you use diapers that are not 100% cotton, soapberries may not be effective in thoroughly cleaning your diapers. Read more about cloth diapers.

Dish Soap
This is the tricky one. To use soapberries as dish soap, it is recommended that you make a soapberry liquid. I read many articles stating that you take about 15-20 soapberries and boil them for 30-60 minutes in about 6 cups of water, which would yield about 4 cups of concentrated soapberry liquid. I did not find this method effective at getting all of the saponins out because I was able to boil the soapberries 1-2 more times and there was still more saponin. Plus I wasn't fond of the smell of the soapberry liquid so here's what I can up with for my All Purpose Soapberry Liquid.

I soaked a pot of burned chili in my soapberry liquid. Now this chili was burned until it was as black as coal. It's ok, laugh at me...I reheated some chili on low in a small pot for some grass-fed beef hot dogs that the kids and I were eating. I forgot to turn off the stove and the chili slowly but surely burned to a hard black crust. My husband was sure that we were going to have to throw this pot away, but he was fortunately mistaken. Within minutes of soaking this pot in my soapberry liquid, I was able to wash all the chili residue away and wash the pot as usual. The pot looked as though nothing had ever happened and not a bit of the burned chili was left. Amazing! 

Ever left an empty bowl of oatmeal or grits in the sink for a few hours? You know those stuck on grains are always a pain...Not for soapberries! I was wiping away my bowl as if there had been nothing but strawberries eaten out of it. These are more of my reassuring experiences that let me know soapberries are definitely doing their job, even when I can't see the bubbles. Who needs bubbles when you have soapberries that clean this well? ;-)

As I continue to experiment with soapberries and their wonderful array of uses, I will continue to share my experiences here.

In the meantime, see What's New or check out my Products page. Enjoy!

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