When I started thinking about ways in which I could replace nasty chemicals in my home, clothes washing wasn't an area that seemed immediately easy. Sure there are products like ecover that claim to be gentler on the environment, but I was never quite sure exactly how much so, and what exactly they were made up of and what effects those ingredients had, and so on...
So, when I came across this post over on the ever-informative Tiny Choices, I was pretty excited. It sounded almost too good to be true - a natural and compostable product that will wash just as well as detergent?! (Soapnuts grow on trees in Nepal and India, and produce Saponin, a natural detergent which can be used for all kinds of cleaning purposes.)
So, I had a quick look around for a UK seller and found Soapods selling on Amazon. I've now been using them for a month or so and am happy to report they really do work - and well! The little nuts themselves don't have the most pleasant smell in the world, but the washing (washed on 30C) is clean and smells super fresh - B was impressed at how fresh-smelling his stinky sports gear came out.
They're super easy to use too - you just pop them in the little cotton bag (see pic) and put them in the washing machine with your clothes. (NB make sure you tie it up properly otherwise there are little bits everywhere on your clothes! Same problem with string bags - don't do it!)
The only slight problem I've had is with storage in between washes. The leaflet advises keeping them in a closed container with a little water, if you run more than one wash a week. I found on one occasion however, this invited some nice mould to grow on my little cotton bag, so have taken to leaving them to dry out instead.
The instructions advise using for three washes, but advice I've read elsewhere suggests running the bag under a little water and rubbing it to see if it's still slippy and sudsy to see if they've still got the cleaning power. Using this technique I've had no problems and think I will get a lot more use out of a £5 bag than I would out of a £5 bottle of liquid detergent.
Apart from the fact that the water you are washing away should be less toxic and the production process is certainly going to be a lot greener, soapnuts are also compostable. (I am a little ashamed to admit that currently we don't compost our green waste - we live in a flat with no outdoor space, and though I have been researching indoors composters and seeing if I can find anywhere locally I could freeze waste and take it to, and asking the Council for help, so far I still have not found a solution. I will attempt to up the ante on this and report back at a later date...)
The only slight drawbacks then, in a green sense, are the plastic packaging they come in (my package is shown in the top pic) and the shipping from India to UK.
How excited was I then, to find out today that the native Horse Chestnut also contains saponin, and is a potential soapnut equivalent!?!? See this thread on the Money Saving Expert forums for more information. When it comes round to conker season, I am definitely going to be collecting me some free natural and local detergent and trying that out!
Another option to keep it local and free, is to grow your own soap nut tree. An account of how to do so from someone who's had success in this feat is here: http://exeterra.blogspot.com/2007/08/how-to-grow-soap-nut-trees.html . You just need to watch out for stray seeds in your soapod batches to get going. Awesome!
Have you tried soapnuts yet? How do you find them? And I'd be really interested if anyone's tried horse chestnuts or growing their own?!...