Soap Nuts

Washing Machines and Detergents in the Short-Term:

It's time to unravel the mysteries about how to use soap nuts (aka: soap nuts, soap berries, wash nuts, etc.) in your particular washing machine. The first thing we must note is that no washing machine of any kind on the market at this time addresses the use of soap nuts in either their design or owner's manuals. (At least that I could find.) Only Electrolux to my knowledge has a soap nuts washer on their drawing board. What will happen sooner is that soap nuts (saponin) based detergents that will be used in similar fashion to typical commercial detergents will become more readily available. That is the path of least resistance, and certainly will be how the water will flow.

For the traditional method of raw sop nuts in a wash bag, I suspect it will be many years before this is addressed in an owner's manual. (Or at least until Electrolux gets their prototype beyond the drawing board phase.) Let us not forget that there are relationships built between hardware manufacturers and detergent producers, which are quite similar to those between computer manufacturers and software producers. They need each other. Given that the fruits of the soap berry tree are not likely to be embraced by the makers of Tide, Gain, Clorox, Cheer, and the conglomerates that produce most of the products on store shelves anytime soon, the users of soap nuts are going to be left to information such as this for guidance.

Soap Nuts and Saponin - A Better, Greener Approach, Slowly but Steadily Growing:

Soap nuts are - by wide margin - a superior solution to many problematic issues facing our individual lives, homes and world, but they will likely remain relatively esoteric and obscure for some years to come. That's life. Why? Two reasons:

1) The money. The revenues generated by Tide alone dwarf the sales revenues generated from all the raw soap berries in the world. We soap nuts users will remain a minority for some time. Thank goodness for the Internet. It is a grassroots movement that has led you to here - not corporate advertising dollars. If it were not for the Internet, you would probably never have learned of the mile-long list of the benefits of soap nuts and saponin, nor would you be reading this article.

(It is interesting to note that the true founding father of introducing soap nuts in the US was an eighty-year-old gentleman by the name of Edward Moulie. As reported in 1921 by the Scientific American, "These nuts are altogether extraordinary." If there was an Internet in 1921, it is altogether possible that most of us would be using soap nuts today. More on this in another article.)

2) Consumer resistance to change. We have been essentially taught how to think in regards to cleaning. Untold billions have been spent on generations of consumers in order to accomplish this. Thinking outside the box is very, very difficult. Most of us already are well aware that change is one of the most difficult things we humans can do. Couple that with changing something as basic and fundamental as how we do laundry and house cleaning, change will be difficult in the extreme. To change, we will actually have to do things differently than our mothers taught us, and their mothers taught them. What we must realize is who actually taught them? To make this crystal clear, our mothers were actually never "taught" at all - they were "sold" and then "told" what to do. I think we all know who did the selling and telling.

Data Gaps and Where New Knowledge Initiates Change:

Use of soap nuts date back to antiquity, but modern manufacturers know little to nothing about them. Hence, don't expect to find a machine with a soap nuts compartment for quite some time. So, where does that leave us - particularly when you are trying to follow the directions in the owners' manual? The answer is very, very simple: Using our common sense. All that is required is a basic, fundamental understanding of how both your machine and soap nuts work. Armed with that knowledge, you will find your own answers.

During a recent trip to look at new washers and dryers, I must admit that they appear to be quite complex, but appearances are just that. All the fundamentals are the same as that 20-year-old Maytag. There are simply more bells and whistles, and they look a bit intimidating. Sure there are extra features and cycles available, and these can be very convenient. Simply keep in mind that you must think a little differently, and make the adjustments as needed to accommodate proper use of soap nuts.

The Different Ways to Use Soap Nuts:

Soap nuts are available in liquid and powder forms in addition to their raw form (right off the tree). The liquids and powders can be made at home or specific formulations can be purchased from a handful of developers. That certainly makes usage much more similar and therefore much simpler. However, note that the manufacturer of your machine has written instructions based upon typical "store bought" detergents and additives (be them chemical or natural or somewhere between) - but certainly not considering soap nuts. For example: the fabric softener compartment. It is simply not needed at all anymore. (That is going to make many companies very unhappy.) Some other compartment will prove to be useful. (More on that later.)

Soap Nut Liquids and Powders:

Let's address these first, given that they are the most similar to what we are all accustomed to. The variables here (aside from amounts to use) are primarily the concentration of the liquid, and/or the fineness and potency of the powder. If you are making your own liquid then the potency of saponin in the liquid will vary depending upon how you make it. You will simply have to experiment. Be certain to strain your own liquid extremely well, to avoid clogging anything (a coffee filter straining would be a good idea).

If you are using powder poured directly in with your laundry, you want it to be as fine as you can possibly get it (dust like is preferred). You may not get an adequate release of saponin for a laundry load from a course grind and a short wash cycle. In this scenario it is best to use a fine powder, or put it in a wash bag or similar carrier for multiple loads, but be sure to pre-soak it first. This will allow the course ground soap nuts time to become well saturated. Approximately a half-ounce of very, very fine, quality soap nut powder (added directly in with your laundry) will obviously wash only one load. The powder will be flushed out during the rinse and then out the drain. A course grind in a tightly tied wash bag will be fine for multiple loads. If you are adding salts, water softeners or any other cleaning boosters, that's totally fine (part of the fun during experimentation, too). Since ground soap nuts do not entirely dissolve as commercial detergents do, it is not recommended to use compartments at all. Depending on how your machine functions, the powder may not receive a sufficient water supply, plus it could cause clogging.

If you are using a highly concentrated soap nuts liquid, dilute it to the amount of solution your machine is designed to use (typically this is a couple ounces of liquid). Don't rack your brain trying to be exact. Hence, if the soap nut concentrate suggests one teaspoon per load, simply mix the one teaspoon with water until you've reached the desired amount of solution you intend to use. If you are planning to do many loads feel free to make up enough solution in advance. High quality concentrates may be diluted without loss of shelf life.

Most soap nut liquids are much like any other detergent as far as the suggested amount per load, however there are concentrated soap nut extracts that are literally "off-the chart". This is only common sense again: A soap nut formulator is by nature following a "greener path". It is only logical for such companies to strive to minimize the carbon footprint of their formulas. That is the truly green thing to do. (As an aside, I feel that such companies should be commended for walking their talk. That truly green path is certainly not the simple and easy one with the least resistance. Many obstacles are typically found. Innovation is the antithesis of "going with the flow.")

No machine is designed to use such highly concentrated detergents, hence if you are using the detergent compartment(s), simply dilute it as described above. Very, very simple, right? With front loaders you will usually use the compartments. With top loaders you can just pour the concentrated extract directly into the water basin as it fills so prior dilution is not required.

Isn't this easy? Plain old common sense again, right? There is no rocket science here. Good results are what we are striving for. It may take a couple loads to dial in the best results, but you will soon just "know" what to do. If you have a pre-wash and a main wash cycle, simply use as your owner's manual suggests.

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