Sometimes the best innovations come direct—from nature that is. Our lifestyle team at Live Creative has been trying out soapberries (AKA soap nuts) as a climate positive laundry detergent. One of us loves them and the other is still on the fence.
Sapindus Mukorossi is the name of the tree soapberries grow on. While it takes 9 years for the tree to begin growing fruit, once it does it an be harvested for an amazing 90 year lifecycle. Plus, the nuts can be harvested 6 months out of 12, yielding a lot of nuts.
Grown in Nepal in the Himalayan mountains, soapberries are proving to be an economic lifeline for over 300 extremely poor, rural families. “Grow Nepal” is an NGO working on the ground to plant over 2000 soapberry trees every year. Through an associates and trading membership program, Grow Nepal hopes to sustain continued growth of their soapberry plantations.
Sustained growth of the soapberry economy creates a trifecta of positive impact: Local communities thrive, carbon is sequestered and deforestation is reduced, and as this market grows fewer chemicals, plastics, and waste (soap nuts are 100% backyard compostable) will be used to clean our laundry.
But do they actually work?
Soapberries are certainly a no mess option, as you simply place 4-6 soap nuts in a small cotton zipped bag and pop them in the washing machine. The same soap nuts can be reused 3-4 times, making this not only a chemical free, zero waste option, but an affordable one too.
When agitated in water, the soap berries release natural saponin, which is a natural cleaner that works as a surfactant, breaking the surface tension of the water to penetrate and release dirt from the fibers of your clothing.
This research on naturally soiled cotton fabrics that investigated the primary and secondary washing effect of soap nuts at different temperatures (60 and 90 °C) found “good washing performance of soap nut shells evaluated through primary effect was obtained especially at 90 °C”.
This study “establishes them as a potentially safe and eco-friendly source of saponins for processing cotton fabrics”. Some say that soap nuts need to be activated before use by soaking them in a cup of hot water before adding them to your cold-water wash cycle. A high spin is recommended to ensure agitation. You may also need to use a hot water cycle.
The Choice website tested soap nuts and found that they were no more effective than washing your clothing in plain water. The website’s review of soap nuts, which can be found here, scored them an overall score of 42%. However, the method used is questioned by some, as the study used only cold water and a front loading washing machine—both of which proponents of soap nuts argue were the reasons for the poor results.
In conclusion, the most effective method for using soap nuts seems to be in a top loader on warm/hot to get a good clean, however, use for deeply soiled items the results remain poor.
Our team is still testing out soap nuts on various settings and temperatures, but do let us know if you try them and what you think. Who knows, perhaps we’ll figure out an innovation that “unlocks” the saponin in the berries when on cold to save energy. Then again, if our energy source is renewable, why not choose hot and let the berries work their natural cleaning magic?
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