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Meet Soap Nuts, the Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent Alternative

On a scale of crunchy to careless, I like to think of myself as an eco-conscientious middle. It’s not like I make my own hemp milk or anything, but I do try to take small measures to be a little kinder to the environment (like recycling, giving up plastic straws and bringing my own tote bag to the grocery store). So when I heard about an eco-friendly and chemical-free laundry-detergent alternative, I was intrigued. Here’s the dirt on soap nuts.

The first thing to know is that despite their appearance, they’re not actually nuts. Instead, they’re berries from the Sapindus Mukorossi tree (a plant that’s native to the Himalayas) that contain saponin, which has natural cleansing properties. This means they’re perfectly safe for nut allergy sufferers. Even better? Because soap nuts are all-natural, they’re also great for sensitive skin (hi, that's me).

Using soap nuts is easy, and you can buy them from your local health shop or online. To use, just chuck a couple of the berries into a small fabric or muslin bag (the ones that I bought from Amazon came with the bag) and add to your laundry load. Then run the machine as usual (don’t expect to see any suds, though—there’s no actual soap in there). When your cycle is finished, remove the bag and let the berries air-dry until next time. Yep, you can re-use the berries until the shells become soft or discolored (mine work for five to ten washes, according to the packaging). And because the shell is 100 percent biodegradable, you can just toss them into your compost when you’re done, thereby cutting back on landfill. (Insert smug face here.)

But do they work? Honestly, I was skeptical and figured that after trying the soap nuts, we’d probably have to re-wash our laundry with our regular detergent. Spoiler: No re-washing was necessary.

We ran two tests—one load of mildy dirty clothing and another with stained sheets (seriously, when will I learn to stop applying body lotion in bed?). And with both cycles, we were pleasantly surprised. Items came out fresh and clean—including our sheets that were grease- and stain-free. The clothes didn’t feel quite as sterile as with our usual detergent but I had no problems folding everything up and putting it back in the drawer. Where the soap nuts beat out detergent, however, was in softness—both the clothing and sheets felt fluffier (the berries are milder than most detergents meaning that fabric takes less of a beating).

So, are we total converts? Kinda, sorta. I’m not ready to forgo my regular laundry entirely but I would definitely add soap nuts into my monthly rotation. That’s partly because of the results (according to reviews, the berries aren’t great at tackling your all-white load) and partly because it doesn’t quite make sense cost-wise. Using soap nuts works out to about 60 cents per load compared to our usual 30 cents per load.

A few other things to keep in mind: The berries work best in hot or warm water, which some eco-warriors might find wasteful. And if you’re used to having a scented detergent (which I’m not), then you might find these results a little lackluster. 

But as an easy way to be a little kinder to Mother Earth (and my skin) every now and then? I’m in. 

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