About Soap Nut Powder: A metamorphosis in both personal and household cleaning has occurred over time. From ancient Ayurvedic shampoos and hair treatments to the best 100% organic modern scouring powder, soap nuts are making an indelible mark upon history. We are watching a worldwide paradigm shift towards effective, healthier and eco friendly natural soaps and cleaners in process. And it’s one P&G is not going to be happy about.
Powdered soap nuts (soap berries) have been used for literally thousands of years, being referenced in numerous ancient Hindu texts and in folklore. It’s simply dried soap nuts ground into powder. In Indian Hindi it is known as Ritha, (sometimes Aritha or Reetha). Specifically, it is the ground shells of the sapindus mukorossi fruit. Shikakai (literally “hair fruit”) is used similarly. Both are Ayurvedic ingredients used in soap and hair care, yet Ritha and Shikaki powders are derived from different plants. Their differences in benefits are far from clear. Much online information is convoluted at best, hence be skeptical of seller’s claims. Many will know less than you.
Put in a general historical context, these age-old powders are reasonable to be considered possibly the oldest lathering shampoos and soaps the world has ever known. Interestingly most folks today relate it to laundry products, but their origin and history is in most definitely personal hygiene – a long way from the laundry room.
As awareness of the benefits of saponin and soap berries have spread, interest in the powder form has likewise spread. Saponin alone will change much of what we do and how we think. For ages – long before 1837 when P&G was founded – man found in nature the means by which to resolve problems and improve our overall quality of life. The soap berry is a perfect example of this. Who knew that soap could be grown in your back yard?
As more people begin to see greater applications outside of laundry, saponin is poised to literally explode into numerous markets. We are merely getting a glimpse into what the future will bring. I predict that saponin will become a household word. Likely a new and catchier name will even pop up. Without doubt, soap nuts – in all their forms – will become part of our everyday life. It has for me. I use very few synthetically produced cleaners and soaps today. I don’t need them anymore. You’ll likely discover the same things as I did.
Back to soap nut powder: Ironically, I don’t see huge growth for the raw forms of soap berries in hair care in Western cultures due to its lack of convenience in use. However, I see major growth other markets. Once consumers realize its enormous potential and effectiveness across such a wide array of uses, its hard to imagine a health-conscious American household without it. Being chemical free and eco friendly make it a no-brainer. There’s few products with such broad applications. Consumer awareness is the key. And that’s what this post – this entire web site – is all about. Every day the word spreads further.
Hair and scalp care: It’s common to see powder used in esoteric circles of those making Ayurvedic treatments (often medicinal) – with emphasis on remedies for hair, scalp and skin problems. and hair restoration and regrowth. It’s also popular as an anti-dandruff treatment, and for the relief of itchy scalps. There is definitely a market for soap nut powder in hair care, but I see it more as a periodic treatment rather than a routine shampoo. Ease and convenience of use are the drawbacks for powder. As put by one from “The Long Hair Community Blog”, she referred to using Ritha and Shikakai in its traditional method as “a grainy mess.” We are accustomed to and want the benefits of saponin – but with the convenience of a ready to use liquid. I concur.
I will personally testify to the traditional “paste method” (directions below) being a refreshing experience. My scalp felt deeply cleansed, and I was left with a tingly-clean feeling. My only negative criticism is that it’s both time consuming – and very “messy”. Much more rinsing was required. The “tea method” is quicker and easier, but it was too watery and lacked enough lather for me. I use NaturOli’s EXTREME Hair liquid soap berry shampoo formulas which offer the benefits of saponin, plus other nourishing botanical extracts – and it lathers just fine. (i.e., It’s quick and easy to use.)
NOTE: I have no hair or scalp problems anymore, and don’t need to shampoo as nearly as often. I hear this comment from most users. My hair and scalp have been detoxed of all the old junk from traditional shampoos, and my hair is now healthier than ever. It took a few washes before my hair found its natural balance. I went from needing to shampoo almost daily to maybe twice a week now. That was remarkable.
If I did have scalp problems, I’d reconsider the hassle and time factors of the paste treatment for its exfoliating ability, plus experiment more with the tea as a periodic treatment. There are a few common methods and techniques depending upon your personal issue(s). If you have dandruff, flaky/itchy scalp, or even hair-loss problems the rub-in paste method is likely best (at least to initially help the problem). For this method, combine powder with water and to form a paste which is massaged into the scalp. It is deep cleansing and the most purifying method. In rubbing/working the paste a light lather will develop. The “tea” method uses the powder with hot water to brew the tea which is then poured through the hair and on the scalp when cooled. You simply have to evaluate your hair / scalp condition and experiment. There’s no one use that’s for everyone.
Scouring powder / surface scrub / multi-purpose household cleaner / dish wash: This is where I see use of powder excelling to tremendous heights. The benefits are undeniable, and frankly there are very few good “green” products currently in this product space. In India, a new company named Kyra Sustainable Goodies recently launched with two products: 1) a natural laundry detergent powder, and 2) a natural dishwasher powder. They are the first company I’ve found in India with entirely non hair-care related uses for soap nut powder. More will follow suit to be sure.
Can you imagine how much toxic chemical scouring powder is sold in the US? I don’t have the numbers, but I’m sure it’s staggering. Knowing that we have an effective, totally sustainable, and 100% chemical free alternative to Comet Cleanser is absolutely remarkable. Why isn’t everyone using it? There’s only one reason: People don’t know about it. Granted, Comet and Ajax type cleaners are very cheap. But after a consumer realizes that the active ingredients are akin to commercial chlorine cleaners, one may think twice about cleaning the kitchen sink with it. The product labels devote more words to the “hazardous” characteristics and precautions than its benefits. That’s pretty scary.
Given soap nut powder’s slightly abrasive yet soapy nature, scouring powder is my most common use. I haven’t used a traditional scrub (i.e. Comet or Ajax) ever since first using it. Rubber gloves aren’t required anymore. Its gentle, non-toxic and chemical free. It doesn’t eat your skin away like a pool cleaner! It’s great for toilets, sinks, tubs, tile, porcelain, grout, etc. Use exactly like you’d use its chemical equivalents. You may need to use a bit more elbow grease at first for there are absolutely no toxic chemical foaming agents. This may vary depending upon the purity and quality of the powder. The more pure, the better – and this applies to all potential applications.
Laundry usage: Soap nut powder works very well for high efficiency washers. The saponin releases faster than using the berries. Powder also makes a good stain remover for heavier colored fabrics and stains. It’s especially effective for spots and stains if moistened and gently rubbed into the affected area. For laundry, my personal favorite still remains EXTREME 18X and homemade liquid as they reign supreme for HE and front-loaders, and are so easy to use.
When using soap nut powder, do NOT use more than required. You don’t need an ounce or big scoops to do a load. I typically use a level teaspoon for an average HE load. If very soiled, I’ll use two. Using too much is wasteful (as discussed elsewhere here on SoapNuts.Pro). Used properly it’s still very cost effective. If half ends up down the drain before releasing all saponin, well, your money goes down the drain, too. Rule of thumb: Use LESS than you think you need. Use more only if you’re not happy with the results. Keep it simple.
Homemade detergent recipes: For you with DIY homemade laundry soap recipes, powder may just be your ideal missing link. It’s the surfactant (what creates the soaping effect that loosens the soling from the fabric). Many DIY recipes don’t utilize a good surfactant, and the difference can be major. It’s better than common soap shavings BY FAR. Regular soap shavings leave a soap scum that you do NOT want in your washer – especial with HE machines. Soap residues are highly problematic for new high efficiency (HE) units – usually resulting in their top problems: nasty odors, fungal mildew and mold.
Pet grooming: Whether dogs, cats, horses, or your hairy critter friend of choice, powder has many benefits. Skipping the obvious (organic hair/fur and scalp/skin cleansing), the saponin has inherent insect and pest repellent properties. You can give your pets a chemical-free washing, while helping to minimize fees, flies, ticks and other nasty buggers, too. Plus, you’ll enjoy your pet’s beautiful new coat – without an annoying scent. That’s a big win-win and win!!!
Camper’s soap: Just as all forms are ideal from an ecological perspective, powder has extra benefits at times. The mild abrasiveness (exfoliation) aids in many types of cleaning – from dirty skillets to deep personal cleansing the ground-in dirt and grime from your outdoor adventures. Personally, I can’t think of a more convenient eco-friendly way to scrub off the dirt (or smelly fish slime) than shaking a little powder into my wet hands and washing up – without concern about pollutants. That’s fantastic! Once again, the mild pest repellent properties of the powder’s saponin pays obvious extra benefits, too.
Brushing teeth: I had to add this because it’s more common than you think. Many swear by it. Some mix it with baking soda and a little peppermint oil for taste! I’m going to reserve commenting for I don’t use it for such. When I do, I’ll let you know what I think. I see no reason to think it wouldn’t work perfectly fine. I just haven’t tried it.
- When buying powder, be aware that fillers can be used which will degrade its effectiveness. Low quality powder can be made using inferior species of soap berries (i.e., trifoliatus or saponaria) or whole soap nuts – including seeds, stems, leaves, etc. plus an array of cheap additives. All can be ground up to make a powder. Once ground there’s no easy way to tell the quality difference without having both side-by-side and actually testing them. Without doubt in my mind, poor quality powder will end up on the market – exactly like we’ve seen happen with the berries and likely worse. There’s few retailers of powder. The well established US companies are selling high-quality grades.
- Look for “ground from mukorossi shells”, “no fillers”, etc. in descriptions to help ensure getting high quality. Price is always a good barometer. You typically get what you pay for. Powder isn’t cheap – and is certainly more costly per ounce than the raw berries. Just use common sense and good judgement before buying.
- Can you make your own soap nut powder? Yes, but it’s trickier than you may think. The shells must be very dry, or you’ll end up with lots of sticky chunks. A good, fine sifter is a must. A common internet myth is that soap berries should be moist to work best. This is totally wrong. The only difference is WATER content. The all-important saponin does NOT evaporate. I guarantee you that. And when buying by weight (as you should be), more water equals more weight. Frankly, it takes years using soap nuts to find those ideal balances. Sometimes there’s just no simple answers to questions with many variables. Being moist aids in the quicker release of the saponin when used raw, but that is quickly remedied by a little pre-soaking. I don’t use the raw berries much anymore (too much hassle), but when I do I keep them just slightly tacky. That’s it. But even “tacky” is far too wet to make powder from. Allow them to become very dry first. You want them dry (think of them kinda’ like coffee beans). Imagine the clumpy mess you’d have trying to grind wet coffee beans…
- Hence pure soap nut powder (with no fillers or additives) is VERY potent. When grinding you’ll create a lot of airborne powder (especially if making a bunch) that’s unpleasant if inhaled. A face mask of some kind is also a must. I recommend simply buying it pre-made. You can get sizes from a few ounces to many pounds. Even if using it for numerous applications, a pound or two of quality powder will last a VERY LONG time!
- Use powder with an extra degree of care. The very fine powders I’m accustomed to using will irritate eyes and sinuses if inhaled. It’s far better than inhaling toxic, chemical scouring powders in this regard, but this is simply a notice. A user wrote me after dumping out two pounds to fill small jars. She took no precautions, and was sneezing all day. If handling large amounts, do wear a mask and some eyewear. Don’t rub your eyes if your fingers are coated with it. A personal experience: Kinda’ humorous now looking back, but I had such a situation first hand. The only difference was that I was bagging up 1200 pounds of pure bulk soap nut powder! I learned my little lesson the hard way!
CAUTION: Don’t miss the updated post about China-grown soapberry seller(s) found in violation of U.S. Federal law, USDA regulations – and carrying a high risk of contamination. Many grandiose claims, and statements of being tested safe are made – however none (not a single one) has ever been substantiated. Online and third-party availability only. No address or phone is provided for the seller. The berries are characteristically soft, slimy and oily while having a dark reddish purple to black color (like old, dirty motor oil). Commonly noted is the scent of petroleum. Best to return (if possible) or discard in an environmentally friendly fashion.
(See full post in left-side column for the latest info.) – Just say “NO” to China-grown.