Soap Nuts: A laundry detergent that grows on trees

Soap nuts

Soap Nuts or Soap Berries, also known as Reetha, are golden hued berries that grow mostly in the Himalayan region of India and Nepal. Traditionally Soap Nuts have been used for their medicinal, cleansing and conditioning properties (your grandmother would have mentioned the goodness of these it for long, healthy hair).

The Soap In The Nut:

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Soap nuts contain ‘saponin’ (soap like component) and are Mother Nature’s gift of a non-toxic cleanser to us; making them a perfect replacement to the chemical detergents that we currently stock. The saponins are surfactants that naturally clean and remove stains from fabrics just like their chemical counterparts. Simply put, they are eco nuts that are a great replacement for regular soaps. 

Some Benefits:

  • 100% Natural: They are berries growing off a tree (like lychee). So, they are also called organic soaps.
  • 100% Biodegradable and Eco-Friendly: Once they have been used, the seeds can simply go into your compost. The water from the wash using Soap Nuts can be drained into soil, without it having any harmful effects.
  • Sustainable: They are a renewable resource and can be grown organically.
  • Consume lesser water and energy: Since they are easy to rinse off, they consume less water and you can use shorter cycle lengths with your machine.
  • Highly effective yet gentle: They are gentle on the fabric and skin but are great cleansers, making them safe to use even on your delicate clothing.
  • Fabric softeners: They are also fabric-softeners, which keep the clothes soft and fresh (they were traditionally used for washing woolens like sweaters).
  • Hypoallergenic:
    • Soap Nuts are allergy-free; they leave behind no residue, thereby making them perfectly safe to be used for those with sensitive skin and even for baby clothes and diapers.
    • Though they are called nuts, they are literally berries, making them perfectly safe to be used by those who have nut allergies.
  • Reusable: Each berry can be used around 4-6 times before you discard it, making it easier on the pocket as well, when compared to detergents.

Using Them:

There are two main ways of using the Soap Nuts:

  1.  As a whole: Get some Soap Nuts aka Reetha (500gms is good for a start). Owing to its popularity, it is now be easily available. Deseed the nuts (if they aren’t already), put about 4-5 in a muslin wash bag, tie it up and put it in your machine – directly in the drum. Be sure to do this, to avoid them from leaving fragments all over your clothes. Once done, keep those Soap Nuts in a container and use them 4-5 times before you discard them.  You can tell the soap nuts are done when they look greyish and are falling apart.
  2. Soap nut liquid detergent: Deseed the Soap Nuts (15-20) and put them in approximately 500 ml of water to boil. Boil for roughly 10-15 mins or till you reach the desired consistency. Mash the shells of the Soap Nut to get the maximum out of it, strain and keep in a bottle. Use as per need basis – when using it for the washing machine, put it in the liquid dispenser section. The liquid detergent can also be used for dishwashing.

If going to the local market, picking up Reetha and deseeding them isn’t for you; you could order them online. There are multiple brands online selling ready to use Soap Nut laundry detergents (whole and liquid).

Hope this adds some excitement to the otherwise boring chore of laundering. Do let us know how the Soap Nuts fared with you :).  We sure can’t wait to try them and do our bit for a greener planet.  

Photo credit: Timo Kirkkala via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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