500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Soap Nuts


Have you ever noticed that if you get commercial washing powder on wet skin you get a slimy feeling that’s impossible to wash off? It’s not hard to guess that the clever chemicals that make your whites whiter than white ain’t great for just about anything else in the natural world. If your clothing is not covered in cooking oil, mud, tomato sauce and grass stains etc. – ie you are over the age of 12, and continent, you don’t really need high temperatures and harsh chemicals, do you?

As all the water we use at Novy Mlyn is taken out of the ground and (eventually) returns to the ground, we don’t use any harmful cleaning chemicals in the house. Instead we’ve researched the alternatives (and use vinegar a lot).

After fixing the drainage from the house last week, we installed our (second hand, energy rating: A, Whirlpool) washing machine. We decided to order soap nuts as these are a natural product which will not contain the vile chemicals of commercial detergents – we ordered these from a seller on Ebay and so we needed to wait for a few days for them to arrive… too long to wait for our first wash so we researched a traditional washing soap recipe – a 100g bar of soap finely grated, a 50g packet of (inexpensive) bicarbonate of soda and a teaspoon of borax – makes enough ‘powder’ for several loads of washing. This worked well with the longer 40 degree cycles, but the soap remained undissolved on the 30 minute quick wash cycle.

Currently the washing machine drains into the bath. I was quite shocked with the amount of water used – 40 litres even with the 30 minute cycle, therefore we are reusing the water by draining it into the mop bucket to wash floors and flush the toilet.

So, we collected a kilo of soap nuts from the post office today – it cost 13.50 GBP including postage. They are waxy shells about the same size as marbles and a kilo looks like a lot. They smell peculiar… the instructions I’ve read say that your clothing won’t smell peculiar after washing – we’ll see later today. You use 4-6 of them for four washes, so a kilo should last the year… as long as we’re not left smelling odd! One inconvenience is that you have to pre-treat them if you are planning to use a 30 degree cycle – they need warmer water in order to activate the soapiness.

I pre soaked the 6 shells in a cup of boiling water for about 5 minutes, and put the water into the washing liquid compartment of the washing machine and the shells in the little cloth bag in the main drum with the washing.  The washing is now on the line – the sunlight itself acts as a natural antibacterial and bleaching agent.

Once you have used the soap nut shells 4-6 times you stick them on the compost heap. All back to nature and with clean clothes to boot.

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