Soap Nuts: Natural Detergents
Soap nuts are not nuts, they are fruits or berries from the Sapindus Mukorossi trees which are primarily found in India, China, Nepal, and Indonesia. They are commonly known as soapberry, washberry, and Chinese soapberry.
Soap nuts naturally contain soap. When they are dried, the shells crinkle up and look like nuts. Perhaps this is how they have come to be known as Soap Nuts, Wash Nuts, and Ritha Nuts. Sometimes they are also called washing nuts, wash shells, soap nutshells, soapberry nut husks, and Ritha nutshell.
The Soap nut trees are from the genus Sapindus, a sustainable agriculture and forest product. There are different varieties of soap nut trees. Sapindus Trifoliatus and Sapindus Mukorossi are the primary sources of soap berries. The soap nuts from the Sapindus Mukorossi is considered the premier variety among the soap nut trees because it contains high amounts of saponin.
Saponin is the natural active cleaning ingredient or the natural soap which are found in the shells or the husks of the Sapindus Mukorossi berries. Saponin is the compound that is responsible for the soap nut’s foaming ability, and cleaning properties. The tree produces the natural saponin which coats the shell of the berries.
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The berries from the Sapindus Mukorossi are harvested after they fall from the tree. The seeds are removed and the shells or the husks of the berries are dried in the sun. When the dried soap nut shells come in contact with water, the saponin is released and suds are produced. For centuries, the soap nuts have been used in India and some Asian countries to clean their clothes, to clean their precious jewelries and ornaments, and to wash their bodies and their hairs.
Saponin does not create suds in the same way that commercial detergents do. They are low-sudsing laundry detergents but they can clean laundry effectively and thoroughly even without the bubbles.
Soap nuts can be the answer to the search for a sustainable, 100% natural and eco-friendly product to replace the commercially manufactured detergents which may contain chemicals that are harmful to the consumers and the environment.
Today, when many people are gearing for a greener lifestyle, the use of soap nuts as laundry detergents is a good way to support a green living environment. It helps reduce the amount of toxic soap residues in the clothing which may come in contact with the skin on a daily basis.
Most commercial laundry detergents in the market today contain some toxic chemicals which can be dangerous as these chemicals can be absorbed through the skin into the blood stream. These toxins may also become airborne and inhaled into the lungs. The continued use of detergents with toxins can be a harmful on people’s health and on the environment.
Soap nuts are considered as a natural cleaning agent without chemical additives, without toxins, and without artificial perfumes. Soap nuts are the ultimate natural soap and laundry detergent.
They leave the laundry fresh and clean. They are gentle, mild, and non-toxic. They are the environmentally friendly alternative to chemically-laden commercial detergents.
Saponin naturally softens fabrics so there is no need to use a separate fabric softener or fabric conditioner. The laundry comes out soft and clean. Soap nuts do not leave soap residue on clothes and the colors are preserved.
Delicate fabrics such as silk and wool can be washed with soap nuts because of its gentle cleaning effect. It also helps to naturally reduce static cling. The soap nuts are great for washing babies’ clothes and cloth diapers. They clean, deodorize, and soften the cloth diapers so they are gentle on babies’ bottoms.
Since they are free from fragrance and are hypoallergenic, they are ideal for sensitive skin, and for people with allergies. Since saponin can deter the growth of most fungi and bacteria, soap nuts are naturally antibacterial and antifungal.
Soap nuts are easy to use and they are reusable. Just add 6-8 soap nuts in a cotton wash bag, tie the bag, include in the laundry and wash as normal. The same nuts can be used up to 4 more times or even more. They are also 100% biodegradable. The soap nuts can be composted after they are used up.
Soap nuts are not only for laundry detergents but also good for body wash, hair shampoo, and multi-purpose household cleaner. A soap nut shampoo cleans the hair and makes it strong and healthy. It does not irritate the scalp.
The soap nuts can also be used to wash the dishes, to clean cars, furniture, and glass surfaces. They are also safe for pets.
Uses of Soap Nuts in Ayurveda
The traditional system of medicine called Ayurveda lists the soap nuts as among its popular herbal medicines. They are used in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema, excessive salivation, head lice, migraines, chlorosis, and epilepsy. They are considered as emetic, expectorant, and contraceptive. When used as a body wash, soap nuts can repel insects because saponin has insecticidal properties. Soap nuts are a popular ingredient in Ayurvedic cleansers and shampoos.
In Ayurveda, the soap nuts are used in many medicinal preparations which make the soap berries 100% digestible. The soap nuts are rich in iron and are often used to treat anemia. In the hands of an Ayurvedic practitioner, soap nuts can treat chlorosis, and epilepsy. It promotes blood circulation to help patients with low blood pressure, and as an expectorant, soap nuts are used to relieve lung congestions. The Ayurvedic medicine also uses soap nuts to ease childbirth because it is a sedative to the uterus. Soap nuts can also be prepared to treat paralysis, cholera, and diarrhea. It also aids in digestion, and is considered an effective anti-venom.