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The Cleaning Berry (Posted On: Sunday, April 11, 2010)

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As consumers become more eco-conscious, use of harmful products like laundry detergents is sure to change. And while it’s difficult to rid daily use of cleaners and harsh soaps completely, it is possible to diminish use. One way is to use alternatives that are environmentally friendly. In the case of laundry detergents, look no further than soap nuts.

What Are Soap Nuts?
Soap nuts aren’t technically nuts. They’re fruit, taken from the soapberry tree (Sapindus mukorrosi). In appearance, they’re similar to the lychee nut, yet they’re not grown for consumption. Thanks to their high concentration of foaming “saponin,” soap nuts are used throughout the world as cleaning agents.

Harvested in India and Nepal, soap nuts have been used for centuries in Southeast Asia and for decades in Europe. In the past decade, it has made its way to North America, where it has been recognized as a natural, potent cleaning alternative to the harsh chemicals common to detergents and household cleaners.

What Is Saponin?
Saponin is the chemical compound that makes soap nuts “sud.” When met with an aqueous solution, the naturally-occurring saponin produces a foam-like substance -- the same kind of reaction detergents aim to create with their lab-created surfactants. This solution can be applied to most any purpose, but most commonly, it is used for laundry. Indeed, soap nuts and their dose of saponin have emerged a legitimate green alternative to commercial detergents.

Soap Nuts as Detergent
You may be wondering “how” soap nuts are used to clean laundry. Are they processed into powder or liquid? Can they be used as is? Can they be used more than once? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding “Yes.”

As research on soap nuts continues, new ways of using the fruit will surely surface. However, as of now, soap nuts are most often used in their dried-fruit form. The fruit is harvested, de-seeded, and then dried in the sun, leaving behind the hardened shells -- which can be soaked, crushed, and recycled.

What You Get: Dried soap nuts come bundled with a muslin bag, which holds the nuts during the wash cycle. The bag is reusable and also replaceable with household items like any drawstring pouch or even, a sock. So long as the cleaning properties of soap nuts can be released into the water, any breathable “bag” will do.

The demands of your laundry will determine the number of soap nuts you’ll need. Hard water will need more soap nuts and soft water will require less. A good rule-of-thumb is:

• 3-5 soap nuts per large load
• 2-3 soap nuts for a small to medium load

It’s important to remember that soap nuts react to warm/hot water. Therefore, if you’re using soap nuts for a cold wash, you may want to soak them in a hot bowl for a few minutes first, before tossing the entire solution into the wash.

Think of soap nuts as a recipe. Though a recipe may provide measurements, oftentimes you may change it to better fit your taste. The same can be said of soap nuts and the needs of your laundry. With experience of use, you’ll find the right soap-nuts combination to work with your wash loads.

In addition to the dried-fruit form, soap nuts are also available in powder form and can be easily transformed into a liquid. For the latter, simply boil the soap nuts, strain the concentrated water, and administer in a spray bottle or foaming pump.

Soap nuts can also be used as:
• All-purpose cleaner
• Steam-cleaning spot treatment
• Liquid hand soap
• Body wash
• Shampoo
• Jewelry cleaner
• Window cleaner
• Vegetable wash
• Pest repellant

For its primary function as a laundry detergent, soap nuts works with most any fabric -- from delicates to wool to hardy fleece. It’s versatile, adaptable, and effective.

Environmental Benefits for Soap Nuts
The most exciting aspect of soap nuts is the fact that they actually work. When tested, the nuts have held up to the scrutiny. And, in a time when many of us are looking for ways to minimize our negative impact on the environment, soap nuts have arrived just in time.

Being 100% natural, soap nuts are gentle to clothes and the skin. They’re also hypoallergenic and safe for the environment. Runoff to streams remains a major environmental problem, and the chemicals used in commercial detergents have impacted plants, animals, and entire ecosystems.

Alternatively, soap nuts are natural and biodegradable. The water runoff from their wash cycles is safe and afterwards, the used nuts can be returned to the Earth as compost.

For more information about Soap Nuts and to find out how you can buy some visit the Earth Berries website or call 705.888.0014.


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