Soap Nuts Beyond the Laundry Room – Part 3:
Getting the maximum benefit from your Soap Nuts by making your own Soap Nuts Liquid.
– “Good to the Last Drop!”
Having received numerous emails from folks feeling they’re not getting what they paid for due to some overzealous claims being made, it occurred to me that I can possibly turn this into a constructive post about getting the absolute most from whatever soap nuts you may have purchased. And this fits perfectly into the theme of this series of post: Thinking beyond laundry.
I fully realize that soap nuts most likely came to your attention as a natural alternative to commercial laundry detergent, but the bigger picture actually is optimization of the overall cleaning power contained within those soap nuts. In order to unharness all the benefits of the soap berry we need to realize that this cool new all-natural way to wash laundry is simply a beginning to their usefulness.
I’ve spent more than enough time already explaining why “number of loads” is promoted by some. It’s simply marketing, but worse than that, it’s takes our eye off the ball. Chemical free laundry detergent is only one of the plethora of uses. I deal with laundry here again, but mainly as only a prelude. The GIST of this post is what saponin offers us – and how we can maximize all the benefits it offers us. That’s a far, far bigger issue than how many laundry loads some given amount of soap nuts will yield. So, not only is that a flawed way to quantify soap nuts in the first place, it completely misses what’s truly important! What’s most important is that soap nuts produce saponin which is safe, all-purpose, non-toxic cleaning agent. It’s an all natural surfactant. It’s Mother Nature’s alternative to harmful sulfates that plague our homes and environment. Be it for cleaning laundry, floors, walls, windows, counters, carpets, chrome, jewelry, the car, or whatever…And we’ll definitely get to all the skin, hair and pet care uses another day. For now this post is going to offer a way for you to get the most out of them.
If you’ve been using soap nuts in the traditional manner (using a wash bag) you may very well have your own system of using them down pat. If so, great! Do whatever works for you. However given the number of emails I receive questioning their yields, it’s obvious that many still struggle with the issue.
And there’s very good reason to struggle with it: There’s a TON of variables when washing laundry.
So, let’s approach this “How many loads?” issue a differently. (btw: Where I’m going with this is something I’ve learned to do – and it works great for ME. Surely there’s other folks with different methods that work towards the same end. You do whatever works best for you, and best fits your lifestyle.)
The reality is that it’s just not necessary to struggle with trying to determine if we can get another load or two from soap nuts that have already done a half dozen good washes for us. Why even bother? All we need is a simple plan that eliminates the possibility of wasting them. Isn’t that a far better way to deal with the REAL issue at hand? Regardless of whether you purchased X number of loads or X ounces or pounds, let’s just get the most out of the soap nuts you did buy. In time, you’ll invariably figure out the smartest way to buy them. So, let’s focus on what you have – in hand right now.
First let’s identify some of the many variables we face (specifically when we’re only discussing laundry):
- The type of soap nuts, be them de-seeded, with seeds, mukorossi, trifoliatus, fresh, old, whatever…
- Your machine. A top loader, front loader, HE, standard, hand washing, or still using a washboard. (Hey, I just saw one in a store the other day.)
- A huge one: The cycles you use. That alone changes the number of good wash loads you’ll get DRAMATICALLY.
Now, let’s focus on the cycles for a moment. Consider all the huge variables the cycles entail.
- Are you using a presoak cycle? (btw: This is something I highly recommend using. Ever since getting in the habit of typically using the presoak cycle, I’ve gotten consistently better results regardless of other factors. Virtually all feedback concurs with me on this.)
- What cycles have you been using? Of course, your load sizes and degree of soiling are key to your selections.
Most machines offer a wide choice of cycles to choose from. My HE washer varies from a series of washing and rinsing cycles that equal in time from 18 minutes total to 56+ minutes. That’s a MAJOR difference. If I’ve been doing a bunch of small “quick washes” those soap nuts will last a LONG time. The simple math will yield me THREE TIMES the number of loads compared to a long “heavy duty” wash cycles. If I do four, five or six back-to-back “heavy duty” hour-long washes (plus presoaking each) those soap nuts are likely going to be “pretty much” used up. They may still be producing a good amount of soap when squishing the bag in my hand, but it’s mainly guesswork at this point.
What’s been happening during those washes? Your soap nuts are releasing their saponin all the time they are wet and going through the various cycles selected. The bottom line is simple: The amount of saponin released – and what remains – is mainly a function of what you’ve done (how you used them).
So, what is our one and ONLY constant? – The amount of saponin that our particular batch of soap berries contain.
As you reuse your soap nuts you are depleting them of saponin with each and every load. It’s the rate of depletion that’s going to vary from load to load. THAT’S the big unknown quantity, ultimately resulting in us obtaining four, five, six or twenty loads.
At some point, your soap nuts will become ineffective for cleaning. It’s inevitable. Sooner or later they “run out of gas”. Unlike an engine though that just stops all of a sudden, soap nuts are gradually becoming less effective. We can’t pinpoint some event horizon upon which we know they won’t do a good job (or even “as good” of a job) on the next load. What will that next load be? Will it be just a small “quickie” wash, or a mountain of filthy jeans from last weekend’s camping trip? The cleaning power required to do one as opposed to the other is A LOT.
It’s due to ALL of these variables that it’s downright foolish to use any “number of loads” methodology as a way to quantify soap nuts. It will be different for everyone, and how long they’ll last is going to vary almost every laundry day.
With all this said I’m leading to one viable solution: We simply draw a line as to when we “reload” our wash bags. Underscoring the “BEST WAY” to use soap nuts is the maximization of the saponin within our soap nuts, extending their usefulness, and getting the most bang for our buck. That’s our goal.
Now, let’s just back up to when we are a load or two prior to our soap nuts running completely out of gas. If you’ve been using soap nuts for very long at all, you’ve probably already realized that even when nearly spent (i.e., they’ve lost most of they color and have become mushy) they still hold a lot of saponin in them. However, efficiently getting that last bit of saponin out of them requires more than our washing machine is capable of doing well. It requires a different technique to extract the remaining saponin - and it’s very simple. Make a liquid.
So, regardless of where you have decided to draw the line simply save up all those used, questionably good and/or nearly spent shells. We are going to get a lot more use out of them later. I’ve found that simply putting them in a open jar, plastic container or cloth sack works fine. We want them to dry out. So, make sure to use something that’s open-air or that breathes - not something air tight. If not permitted to dry out, you’ll end up with a yucky mess over time. Simply trust me on this one: The saponin doesn’t evaporate, only the water and moisture will. The dried up shells will last indefinitely. Once dried, then go ahead and seal them up however is most convenient. I guess alternatively freezing would work fine, too, but that seems like more of a hassle to me than anything.
After you’ve built up a little stash of your “used” soap nut shells, it’s cooking time. Just boil, simmer and strain. It’s that simple. And you’ve now made your own soap nut liquid that you can use to continue using to wash more laundry, or if like me, have a list of other cleaning chores lined up before I boil up a batch – And you’ve just made an awesome all-natural cleaner ready for whatever task is at hand!
Some quick directions: Add soap nut shells to plain tap water in a stew pot or similar. The ratio will determine the strength of your liquid. (Leave the seeds if your soap nuts have them. They neither help nor hurt anything when making liquid.) Bring to a boil. The liquid will suds up a lot – and quickly, so keep an eye on it. Simmer a long time – until the shells have become virtually white or colorless. Target getting your liquid to a strong tea-like color. Just experiment. Don’t expect it or try to get it to thicken. It will be watery. Allow to cool and then strain. Use the liquid however desired. If kept at room temperature, use within a few days. Refrigerate to extend its shelf life. The liquid may be frozen for use at a later date. (Some folks makes ice cubes. That’s a clever way to use to keep some handy for washing laundry or a small cleaning job.) Compost or mix all remains in soil. Water yard or plants with any old liquid. Your plants will love it! Absolutely nothing is wasted.
I won’t get into any more specifics of how to make soap nut liquid here. And of course there are alternative ways. You can hardly do anything wrong, and you’ll learn very quickly as you experiment a bit. I’ll only add that simmering a long time works great – especially since our objective is to squeeze those precious last drops of saponin from every soap berry. Keep in mind that we’re not making EXTREME 18X here, so try to make only as much plan to use soon. It will have a limited shelf life. For those of you wondering if you can if you wanted to try, without serious commercial equipment you really can’t. You just end up with a messy soap berry soup. I’ve tried. It goes way beyond just cooking. Be content to make something 1, 2, 3 or 4X tops.
I like to spray and water plants (indoors and outdoors) with whatever I may have left after my cleaning work is finished. The totally spent shells end up in the soil of houseplants or my yard. Plants just seem to love both.
So, there you go. There’s no need to wonder or guess – you’ve got a viable plan to use those soap nuts that are questionably still effective for doing another laundry load. Interestingly, you’ll be amazed at how much more saponin can still be obtained from those soap nuts that otherwise might not work great in the washer anymore. Regardless of what you have, you’ve maximized your cleaning POWER!
As I stated before, laundry is only the beginning. It’s merely the tip on an iceberg. As I look about my house there are very few commercial cleaners under the sinks or cluttering cabinets anymore. It’s important to reiterate what the “Green Dot Awards” jury stated in 2009 about saponin: It is “possibly the most significant green innovation in history for everyday household cleaning needs.” - Not once did they even mention laundry!