A great opportunity to reduce the chemicals in my life came in the form of soap nuts (actually berries, it is the fruit from the tree). For about a year I was making my own detergent to wash my clothes with which was way better than the mysteriously scented one from the store (I have never smelled Sunshine that smelled like that! Who even has a scent called Sunshine?) But one of the ingredients was grated soap. At that point in time I was not making my own soap so I purchased a box of the recommended soap (8 bars, I only used one in the year that I was using this detergent) but I still felt that there had to be a more natural option, the soap bars were bright yellow! Enter Soap Nuts. In my humble opinion they are the bees knees!
A couple of times a year I make up a concentrated solution. I use 4 or 5 soap nuts per cup of water and simmer simmer simmer. I stir and squash them occasionally while they cook til the liquid is a nice amber colour. Strain it, then pour this liquid (over the next few days) into an ice tray. I store the ice cubes in a container in the freezer. I keep adding the ice cubes to the container as they freeze. Then I throw a few in to the washing machine when I wash a load of clothes. The shelf life without freezing is a week or 2 in the fridge.
You can put the soap nuts into a little muslin bag and put them in with your clothes in the machine without any of the making a concentrate steps. You can get 5 or 6 washes out of them this way, just allow the bag and the nuts to dry between loads so they don’t go mouldy. My washing machine only washes in stone cold water and not enough of the saponins come out of the nuts for it to be an effective washing solution for me. Hence the liquid concentrate.
I have been using this method for the last 2 years or so. I am happy with it. I put vinegar in the fabric softener compartment if I feel like it, a drop or 2 of essential oils if I am feeling really fancy, otherwise just a few of the soap nut ice cubes.
I purchased a 1kg bag approximately 18 months ago and this has kept me in clean clothes and is only about half empty. The bag cost $28 (just had a look at their website and it is now $35 for a kilo), I did not shop around to see if this is a good price. I think this is reasonable for potentially 3 years of detergent.
Apart from the bag that the dried soap nuts came in (a reusable calico bag but it did have a plastic bag inside that that actually contained the soap nuts) there is no waste with this detergent. I put the used berries in the compost bin. I feel that I could find either unpackaged (loose) soap nuts or one that does not have a plastic bag inside the external calico. That is a job for the future. The other thing to note is that soap nuts are not grown in Australia, these were imported from Pakistan. According to a few websites it is illegal to grow the tree in Australia. As they are dry I assume they are shipped not flown, for the time being this is good enough. I am half heartedly looking into the plant soapwort. To be honest I find the name off putting!
According to their website there are so many things you can do with soapnuts and I am severely under-using them. I am going to attempt to expand their role in my household.