All About Soap Berries
What are soap berries?
Soap berries (or soap nuts as the are sometimes called) are the dried fruit of the Sapindus Mukorossi, a tree found primarily in the Himalayas. The berries are grown and harvested organically, pitted, and dried in the sun.
How do they work?
The dried berries contain saponin which works as a natural detergent, great for folks with sensitive skin issues, baby clothes, and cloth diapers. They are a 100% natural, contain no harsh chemicals, and won't hurt your washing machine. They're low sudsing so they are great for high-efficiency (HE, or front-loading) washers.
Are soap berries different than soap nuts?
Nope, they’re the same, but soap berry is a more accurate (less confusing) name. With soap berries (or nuts) the nut is actually removed, leaving behind only the berry. When dried it looks kinda more like the shell of a nut than a berry, so that’s probably where the term nut came into play. But we like berry better.
Are soap berries safe for my machine?
Yes, and if you’re switching to using soap berries from more traditional detergents, they will even help clean your machine of any chemical residues from previous washing.
But I have an High Efficiency washer that takes special HE detergent...can I use soap berries in an HE washer?
Yes, soap berries are low sudsing so they are suited for use in high-efficiency (HE, or front-loading) washers. *A front-loading washing machine requires a special detergent, called HE detergent, to allow it to clean your laundry properly. HE detergent is unique because it doesn’t produce lots of suds like regular detergent does. Soap berries are naturally a low-sudsing product, with no added fillers, dyes or chemicals to create bubbles in the wash. But even without the bubbles, you will find that the soap berries will thoroughly clean your laundry.
How do I use them to do laundry?
You put about four whole berries (eight halves) into a cotton wash bag and smash it a few times with your heel, the family mallet, etc. That helps to expose the full nut to the water, without leaving lots of 'pockets' (like when you make mac & cheese with those little shell pasta and the powdered cheese gets stuck in there, you know what we're talking about). The saponin won't clump or anything but it's just better to break the nuts up a bit first.
Then, depending on if you have a front loader or not, you either toss the wash bag into the washer and run a bit of hot water onto them, or you put them into a cup or bowl of hot water for a minute or two while you load the laundry into the machine. Either way you'll want them to sit for a minute to warm up. It's not totally necessary but it helps to release the saponin. You’ll want to do this each time you do a wash, not just the first time you make the washbag.
After the initial soak, run the water warm or cold or whatever temperature you desire. It's also safe to add washing soda or oxy-clean or anything else you want as a detergent booster.
After that you just run the wash like normal. When it's time to put your items into the dryer you don't have to dig through all those wet clothes to find the cotton bag, it can go into the dryer. The soap berries were dried to begin with so it won't hurt them or impact their longevity.
After 3-4 washes you'll note by feel that the berries will have shrunk and be less springy. If you open the bag to look, the berries that are depleted will be thin and dry with no shiny pockets of saponin left in the center. You'll want to replace them at that point. The old berries are compostable so they can go into the garden if you wish.
What if I'm on a greywater or septic tank system?
Yes totally safe, they're antimicrobial.
Wait, what's that smell?
Soap berries are natural so there are no added fragrances, however they do have have a mild vinegar-like scent to them.
So will my clothes smell like that?
No, the smell doesn’t transfer to the water or clothes.
But I like my clothes to come out smelling like something.
If you prefer a fragrance you can add 10 drops of your favorite essential oil directly on the cotton wash bag before you toss it in the wash. But even if you don't your clothes won't have a bad smell to them when they're dry, they'll just smell like clothes.
Do I have to remove the soap berries during the rinse cycle?
No, the saponin in soap berries is released slower in cold water and most rinse cycles are cold (hence the warming step discussed above in the wash instructions). The saponin released in the rinse water acts as a fabric softener so your clothes are left very soft. Also in areas where water is scarce or in an effort to conserve both water and money, a growing number of people do not even rinse their clothes after washing with soap nuts. Since there are no chemical residues left in the clothes, they are left soft when washed this way.
Can I use soap berries on delicate fabrics?
Absolutely! Unlike regular detergent, soap berries do not have a high acid content, which means you can use them to safely wash delicate fabrics such as wool and silk. Their gentleness maintains the fabric structure of the clothes for longer.
Are soap berries able to maintain the brightness and whiteness of my clothes?
Yes. It is recommended, however, that whites and colors be washed separately. A little bit of eco-friendly laundry bleach (washing soda) added to the wash cycle also helps to keep fabrics white and bright. *You will not however have the ultra bright white glow that comes with some traditional consumer products. Those actually add a dye to your clothes that reflects ‘invisible’ UV band light back at your eyes, giving a impression of brightness. It’s a neat trick, but it means having this UV dye against your skin 24/7, which isn’t the best.
Are soap berries able to soften clothes or do I need to add any fabric softeners?
No, soap nuts will leave your clothes soft and fresh without the use of any fabric softeners.
Are soap berries safe for people with sensitive skin?
Yes. Because they are natural and chemical free, they are gentle on both your skin and your clothes. Soap berries are recommended for sensitive skin, allergy and eczema sufferers because they do not have harsh chemicals or scents that are known to aggravate these conditions.
Are soap berries safe for my baby’s laundry?
Absolutely! Soap nuts are 100% natural and hypoallergenic, and they do not contain added chemicals or fragrances which can often lead to skin irritation in babies and others with skin sensitivities. Soap nuts are especially effective for washing cloth diapers. If you are using commercial detergent to wash your cloth diaper, the fabric is likely becoming more and more clogged after each wash. Commercial detergents leave a residue on the diaper, as they don’t rinse completely. This residue can cause loss of absorbency and even diaper rash in little ones with sensitive skin. That’s why soap berries are an ideal solution for washing cloth diapers.
Are soap berries (or nuts) a problem if someone is allergic to nuts?
No. Soap berries (or as some call them, soap nuts) are not nuts. They are a fruit with a pit, like an apricot. The pit is removed and the fruit dried.
Why don’t I see suds in my washing machine?
Soap nuts are totally natural, which means that there are no commercial foaming agents or unnatural chemicals added. Those chemicals, which are commonly used in commercial detergents, aren’t actually necessary for your clothes to be cleaned well. The suds just give the consumer the impression that something is happening. Soap nuts don't create all those suds but still wash your clothes very effectively.
Does it matter that the berries are in pieces and not as a whole?
No. Actually it is better if the berries are in smaller pieces, easier for the saponin to get out into the water.
Do soap berries have a shelf life?
No. They do, however, need to be stored properly in an airtight container or bag. If they are left open, they absorb moisture and become dark and sticky. This does not effect the product or its cleaning capabilities. They will still wash brilliantly.
Why do people claim that soap berries are water and energy saving?
Commercial detergents need to be rinsed out of the clothes completely as they leave a soapy residue. Since soap berries are a 100% natural product with no soapy residue, you can reduce the machine rinse cycles, hence saving valuable electricity and water.
Are soap berries effective for really dirty laundry?
Yes. Although you may need to reduce the quantity of laundry in the machine to give some room for the clothes to move freely. The addition of washing soda to your wash cycle will help.
Other Ways to Use Soap Berries:
Soap berries are very versatile! You can use the liquid form for many things other than simply cleaning laundry.
How to Make Soap Berry Liquid
Boil approximately 12-15 whole soap berries with 6 cups of water for 30 minutes. When it is boiled down, you will have about 4c. of liquid left. When cooled, remove the soap berries, and pour it into an airtight plastic or glass jar. It is better to make the liquid in smaller batches as it can spoil. If necessary, you can always cut the recipe in half. Experiment with making liquid to see if you prefer a more concentrated version, using 3 cups water instead of 6 cups. Some prefer the concentrated solution for hand-washing and use as a shampoo. *You can also freeze it in ice cube trays. Depending on the size of each ice cube, use two or three per load of laundry. If each ice cube holds about 1 tablespoon, use two ice cubes.
Here are some ideas of what soap berry liquid can be used for:
Remove chemicals from your produce
Wash chemical sprays and pesticides away with this simple mixture of soap nut liquid and water. In a bowl, add 1/2 cup of soap berry liquid to 2 cups of water. Soak your fruits and vegetables in the mix, or pour it into a spray bottle and spray them instead. *Always rinse food well before eating.
Plant wash and pest repellant
It’s important to clean the leaves of your houseplants, because dust on their leaves blocks sunlight and reduces the plant’s ability to photosynthesize. Mix 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons soap berry liquid in a clean spray bottle. To wash plants, spray the leaves and then wipe them clean. Even works to repel common houseplant pests. Spray plant thoroughly and generously, covering all surfaces, including the top of the soil. Allow to air dry.
You can make your own soap nut Shampoo using soap berry liquid. This solution will leave your hair feeling soft and clean. Mix some soap nut liquid with a bit of your favorite shampoo (at approximately a 10/1 ratio with the soap berry liquid forming the bulk of the mixture). Use the mixed solution to wash your hair. If your hair feels slightly more stiff than normal once it’s dry, use less soap nut shampoo next time. In this case, less is more – cheaper, too! It has also been known to help in the removal of head lice because of its gentle insecticidal properties.
Spray it onto your hands and then rub onto bare arms, legs or face. Safe and gentle to use for babies and children.
Liquid Hand Soap
Fill a regular or foaming pump bottle with the liquid and use to wash your hands. It will not create tons of lather like traditional soap, but it will still get your hands clean. Also consider adding some tea tree oil to make your hand wash a tea tree soap.
All Purpose Cleaner
Keep it in a spray bottle and use to clean the bathroom, kitchen, floors etc. Add a few drops of essential oil if you prefer a different scent.
Steam Cleaning Spot Treatment
Add 3 tablespoons of soap berry liquid to 1 gallon hot water and use in a portable steam cleaner. Great for getting out urine smells and stains.
Window and Glass Cleaner
Fill a spray bottle with 2 cups of water, 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon soap berry liquid. Spray and wipe windows or mirrors clean. Polish with a dry cloth or newspaper.
Fill the soap dispenser with the soap berry liquid. Make sure to scrape the dishes clean first. Add vinegar as a rinse agent, and your dishes will come out sparkling clean!
Soak your jewelry in the soap berry liquid for a few minutes. Use an old soft toothbrush to gently remove debris. Rinse with clean water and polish with a dry cloth.
For Your Pets
Add soap berry liquid to a spray bottle or foaming pump bottle to wash your pet's fur. It will leave the fur soft and manageable. Also spray directly onto your pet's fur to help repel mosquitoes.
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