Somehow we’ve got to get clean. We must clean our hair, our hands, and our bodies. We have to wash our clothes, our bed sheets, and our carpets. Daily, we wash dishes, pots, pans, and cutlery. At the root of nearly all of these endeavors, we find soap.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much investigation into soap to learn that much of what is available on the market is not animal-friendly. Not only do many big-name laundry detergents come from companies that test their products on animals, but many also include fats made from animal tallow. This is all without considering the fact that there are many compounds like parabens and phthalates that are neither good for people nor animals.
There are lots of DIY solutions to help with this issue: Recipes for all-natural laundry detergents, homemade body washes, easy hand cleaners, and even dish soap for the kitchen. By all means, these are great, but they are still largely reliant on buying ready-made castile soap. That can all change with a fruit known as the soap nut.
What Is A Soap Nut?
Soap nuts, also known as soapberries, come from a shrubs and trees that are in the lychee family. All in all, there are about five plants that provide these foamy fruits. Essentially, the soap nut — little spherical fruits about half an inch or more across — contain an element, saponin, which is what creates the suds in soap. Saponins are created in the lye-fat reaction in typical soap making. In other words, finding a plant that can provide saponin on tap is pretty cool.
While this is exciting information to newly learn, it’s nothing new at all really. People have used soap nuts for thousands of years. Luckily for us, in this day and age, when we are recognizing that some of the old ways might have been better (cleaner, cheaper, more environmentally friendly) than what’s currently being done, soap nuts are still around for us to take advantage of.
How to Use the Soap Nut
Like any DIY project, there are some things we’ll have to do. To harness the power of the soap nut, it’ll take a few tools: a cloth net or bag with a drawstring to close it, a measuring device of some sort for liquids, and a pot in which to boil water, possibly a spoon for stirring. For making soap nut liquid, the goal of this whole thing, we’ll also need roughly ten soap nuts and eight cups of water. Then, it’s time to get to work.
Just do this: Put the ten soap nuts in the bag, draw the string, and tie them in. Put them in pot and cover them over with eight cups of water. Bring that all to a boil. Boil the mixture vigorously for about half an hour, during which time the water will transform into a thickened, yellow-brown liquid. That liquid is what we are after.
From there, it’s easy to transform soap nut liquid into all of the aforementioned soapy products that have come to be part of our daily lives. Just add a drop or two of whatever essential oils smell right, and the mixture can be used for body wash, shampoo, laundry detergent (some folks just put the bag of soap nuts directly in the washer) and so on. With a little added vinegar, it becomes anti-bacterial, and what more do we need?
Where to Get Your Soap Nuts
Let’s go ahead and say that the all-natural, animal-free part of soap nuts is pretty amazing and deserving of acknowledgment. However, we would be remiss not to appreciate the economic aspect of soap nuts. For those who have the plants — they grow in warm and tropical environs — the fruits are absolutely free. For the rest of us, they are crazy inexpensive: about a dollar for every ten.
Soap nuts are easy to find! For those in the right climate, such as Los Angeles, soap nut saplings are possible to buy, but be warned that the trees grow to be enormous. Lastly, for those just after ready-made products to sample, check out Maggie’s Soap Nuts, NaturalOli or Eco Nuts.
Lead image source: Lisa Brewster/Flickr