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"Hey lady, you wanna see my soap nuts?"

6 November 2007

Ever on the lookout for ways to reduce the family’s ecological footprint, a little while ago I ordered a bag of soap nuts.

What are soap nuts, you ask? This:

They are the dried fruit of the soapberry tree. They contain saponin, the sudsy cleansing agent that is found in several plants, including soapwort and quinoa.* You take about five soap nuts, put them in a small sack (a sachet-size sack), and toss them in your washing machine with a load of dirty laundry. Your clothes get clean, without artificial detergents, perfumes, or additives. We ordered a 1 kg batch for $30. You can use the same soap nuts for five loads of wash (the Web site where I ordered them says 1 kg would wash 200 loads of laundry, so about 15 cents per load). Thirty dollars didn’t seem too much to risk in trying out an eco-friendly product.

I’ve used them for the past two laundry cycles, so about eight loads’ worth (I switched out the berries after 5 loads – I am nothing if not a direction-follower), and so far, I am happy with them. The berries themselves smell slightly vinegary, but the resultant clean laundry just smells fresh, without a scent. That’s a big plus in my book. I do not understand our cultural need to layer on so many scents: laundry detergent, fabric softener,** dryer sheets,** scented soap, scented shampoo, scented conditioner, scented moisturizer, scented deodorant, topped off with a heavy spray of perfume/cologne/aftershave. Sometimes, I can barely breathe with the amount of mingled scents others waft around with them.

Zephyr doesn’t like it when we leave her alone (not a non sequitur, just give me a minute). When we came home from an afternoon out on Sunday, we found one of the duvet covers splattered with chocolate stains and a few empty fun-size wrappers. Zephyr clearly had gotten into the Halloween treats and had herself a little party. Bad dog!***

I washed the duvet cover yesterday with soap nuts, and this is how it came out:

Do you see any stains? Neither do I. The soap berries successfully passed the stain test! (Although I probably would still treat a stronger stain, like blood or tomato sauce, say, with detergent; but it still represents a significant reduction in the amount of detergent used.)

15 cents per load, no obnoxious perfumes or dyes, no phosphates, no petrochemicals, no plastic jugs or cardboard boxes wasted (the list can be endless…), made from a renewable source, and they are biodegradable (*sigh*, I miss my compost!). I definitely would recommend them.

(Oh, and the title of this post is an homage to my favorite stand up comedian.)

* In fact, when we shared a house with friends in California, we grew quinoa, and the Consort used the saponin we removed from the grain (it has to be removed in order for the quinoa to be edible – imagine getting a mouthful of soap!) to wash his hair.
** I don’t ever use this, by the way.
*** All I can say is, thank god we had closed the bathroom door and the trash can in there was not accessible to her!

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