Organic Soap Nuts
What is a soap nut?Soap nuts are known world-wide by many names such as soapnuts, soapberries, washing nuts,
soap nut shells, wash shells, soapberry nut husks and many more. Soap nuts are simply the dried shells (or husks) from
the soapberry (or soap berry nut). These berries are the fruit from a unique tree species. The shells contain a
substance called saponin that produces a soaping effect. Saponin is a 100% natural alternative to chemical laundry
detergents and cleansers. It can replace many chemical detergents such as those containing sodium laureth sulphate (SLS)
that are becoming well known by consumers for being a skin irritant and health hazard.
Soap nuts have been used for centuries throughout the world as a laundry detergent, as soap for personal hygiene, and
as a cleanser with many other uses. It is most commonly used in India, China, parts of Europe and numerous countries
in the eastern hemisphere. There is even a species, Quillaja Saponaria (called a soap bark tree) that grows in South
America. Only in recent years has the soap nut and its many benefits made its way to the United States.
The Trees and the Soapberry Nuts: Sapindus (the botanical name) is a sustainable agriculture and forest product.
In many ways it is similar to an olive tree. There are several common varieties of the soapberry tree. Sapindus Mukorossi
and Sapindus Trifoliatus are the primary sources for the soapberry that has become know as the soap nut. They are both
of the family Sapindaceae, and the genus Sapindus. The botanical name is derived from the Latin words, sapo (soap) and
indicus (Indian). Based upon it's high amount of 'soap' content and consistency, the highest quality soap nut is Sapindus Mukorossi,
which grows primarily in northern India and Nepal. It grows uncultivated in poor quality ground and helps fights erosion,
particularly in the Himalayan foothills. It also provides needed income to the local population. It's a relatively hardy
tree as it is resistant to diseas and insects. The trees grow 30 to 60 feet in height and begin flowering and bearing
fruit after about 9 years. It blooms with small, white grouped flowers in spring and early summer and is harvested once a year
during the fall season. The soapberry fruits (the soap nut) are round, yellow berries that become gummy, reddish tan and wrinkled
as they ripen. It's appearance is somewhat like that of a date. The tree synthesizes its own natural saponins, (soap) which coat
the shell of the fruit. Soap nut trees will produce fruit (soap nuts) for about 90 years.
Local farmers and families harvest the prized soapberry fruit after it falls from the trees. The seed is removed from the shell
(or husk), and the shells are dried in the sun using absolutely no chemical processing. No commercial manufacturing processes are
required in any way for the soap nut to become effective. The soap nut shell is not altered in any way. Hence, soap nuts are absolutely
100% natural, un-modified dried fruit shells. Note: The actual nut (or better yet, seed) does not release saponin, so it has no
cleaning properties. It is removed and used for planting new trees, and is sometimes used to make necklaces or other jewelry.
How do soap nuts work?
The name "Soap Nut" is misleading because it is actually the shell that works. The soap nut SHELL contains and releases the saponins
(soap) when it comes in contact with warm or hot water. (See directions for use in cold water.) Agitation further releases these
saponins. The saponins then circulate as a natural surfactant (surface active ingredient). They break down the surface tension between
water and oil in the wash water reducing the surface tension of the water aiding it in freeing dirt, grime and oils from clothes.
This is essentially the exact same fundamental principle that applies to how most detergents and soaps work. It's simply not achieved
by the use of synthetic chemicals.
The name saponin is derived from the Latin word 'sapo' which means soap. There are many plants around the world that are saponaceous
(meaning that they contain saponins) but only a few, are known to produce appreciable amounts. This is why soap nuts are so very
special in their ability to be an effective cleanser - directly from the tree. Sapindus mukorossi trees have been found to produce
the highest and most consistent quality soap nuts. Ready for use directly from harvest, extraction of the saponin
from the soap nuts requires nothing more than putting them directly in the washing machine in warm water. Drawstring bags are used
to contain the soap nut shells, and the shells can be reused until their saponin content has been depleted. Because that the saponins
are naturally a low-sudsing detergent, they are ideal for high efficiency (HE) washers and even carpet cleaners.
Not all Soap Nuts are alike:
If you are like us... You are probably a little confused about what to expect from using soap nuts. Discovery is part of the experience
and the joy. Finding your own personal 'best method' is part of the journey into changing from chemical to natural products.
When we first started looking into soap nuts we had lots of questions.... How many loads will five soap nuts yield? What color of soap nuts is best?
Is a large soap nut better than a small one? Are whole nuts better than pieces? Are sticky soap nuts better? How long will they last?
How long do I boil them when making liquid? And on, and on, and on... Not one of these questions has a single definitive answer.
You may have an answer that is specific to the soap nuts you are using and your specific washing conditions, but your answer will be only that -
your answer. Even our answers are only guidelines and recommendations. They will not be the exact answer for everybody, but they will provide
a place to start.
We carry only high quality soap nuts of the Mukorossi variety that grow primarily in the northern region of India and Nepal.
We do this for only one reason. The Mukorossi tree tends to produce fruits of consistently high saponin content. That is what is most important.
However, as with any crop of nature, growing seasons can vary each year based on climate and specific weather conditions.
In addition, the fruit is harvested after falling from the tree. The seeds are removed by hand. They are sun dried in the open air.
There will be various sizes, colors and conditions of the shells harvested from the exact same tree and harvest. Just as not all apples,
oranges, grapes, etc. from the same harvest have the exact same color, size and taste, not all soap nuts from the same growing area will
look and feel exactly the same.
Soap nuts are a 100% natural resource and there are different species. Not all apples are the same... Soap Nuts are no different.
They are a fruit, hence there are many factors (aside from species) that affect its appearance, condition, effectiveness, and how it works
for individual users. Consumers also vary greatly in their washing conditions and habits. Hard water, soft water, water temperature,
large loads, small loads, amount of water used, efficiency, type and age of washer, packed loads, loose loads... the list goes on and
all are user variables. We provide basic guidelines for use, but when used in their traditional and most common shell form, there will be an
element of experimentation. We do greatly reduce the inherent variables of soap nuts via strict importation criteria, species selection,
and hand sorting procedures so you are assured of consistency in quality.
We are sure you will find that soap nuts work - and work very well. Use our basic guidelines, have fun and enjoy the learning experience.
You will quickly realize just how simple they are to use. You will also find what methods are best for you and your home.
Soap nuts make for another very simple transition to a healthier way of life.