If you use natural soap nuts for washing your laundry, you’ll quickly find that there’s a bit of a learning curve. Compared to pouring in a measured amount of liquid, dried fruit in a bag is a different system entirely!
It’s been over two years since I first tried soap nuts to wash our laundry, and although there have been bumps in the road as I learned the ropes, they’re still my number one choice, particularly because they’re SO frugal.
If you’re new to soap nuts, here’s the drill:
1. Count out 4-5 nuts (which are actually dried fruit that grows on trees) into a muslin bag – one should have come with your washing nuts.
2. Tighten the drawstring on the bag.
3. For hot or warm water wash, simply toss the bag into the bottom of your washing machine and fill with dirty laundry as usual.
4. For cold water wash, you have two options:
- Soak in a cup of hot water for about 3 minutes to “activate” the saponin (sudsing power) in the soap nuts.
- Toss in the bottom of your washing machine and run hot water until the bag is mostly covered. Sort your laundry (does this ever take less than 3 minutes?) and continue the cycle with cold water. Don’t forget to add the clothes.
5. When you move the laundry to the dryer, be sure to keep an eye out for the bag. It doesn’t seem to hurt anything if it goes through the dryer, but it’s annoying to lose it. This is one of the biggest changes from “regular” laundry detergent as far as your routine goes.
Soap nuts remain active with enough saponin, a natural surfactant, for about 3-7 washes. The frugalistas among you are wondering: “Can I go for 8? Do I have to keep track and toss them at 5 so I don’t have to redo a load and waste water?”
That, my friends, is what I’m here for today.
The instructions with my soap nuts said that if they feel slippery when wet, they are still active. I struggled with the subjectivity of “slippery.” Everything feels a little slippery when it’s under running water, don’t you think?
After communicating with the good folks at NaturOli, I like this way better:
The Suds Factor
When you first fill a bag with fresh soap nuts, run it under warm or hot water and squeeze and mash and rub the bag until the nuts are softened. You’ll see suds coming through the muslin. Those are active nuts.
You now have the secret to tell when to toss your soap nuts. (You can compost them, by the way.)
Just run the baggie under the water if you think you’ve probably done 3-5 loads and squeeze until you see suds. If it looks similar to those fresh nuts, you’re good to wash laundry. If you feel like you have to work hard to get suds or there just aren’t enough to make you happy, time to switch out the nuts.
Sometimes, I feel subjective about even this, so I just add a new nut or two, make sure I only use that batch 2 more times and call it “good enough.”
Now that you know the secret of the suds factor, if your laundry soap nuts do happen to go through the dryer, you can tell without question if you killed them or not. See? Learning curve. I never used to worry about killing my All Free & Clear.
If this all sounds like too much for you and you’d rather measure, pour, and be done, but you do like the natural eco-friendliness of doing your laundry with fruit that grows on trees, try the liquid made from soapnuts that NaturOli calls Extreme 18x.
Would you be okay with keeping a teaspoon in your laundry room? That’s the only change you’ll have to make if you try 18x, because in a regular washer, you only need a teaspoon (half teaspoon for HE washers!).
My mom prefers to avoid the bag-chasing routine and has a few bottles of 18x and a handy pump that measures the correct amount for her. She was just telling me that she’s so surprised how long her little stash is lasting her (she writes: two bottles of 18x per year…The pump is fantastic! One or two pumps supplies the correct amount…depending on the size of your load).
UPDATE: Great tips in the comments for strategies people use to keep track of how many loads, plus a frugalista who uses the spent nuts to make a “tea” for “one more load.” Thanks, KS community!.