by Gilly Brewster
(Los Angeles, California, USA)
We are all trying to save the pennies as well as take care of the environment, so being able to run an organic laundry in your own homemakes a lot of sense.
Nowadays, it is possible to buy energy-saving appliances and more natural detergents, but we should make the effort to save on these, if possible. One way is to ensure that we operate our washing machines on the shortest coolest programs, and avoid using the tumble dryeraltogether, drying our washing on a line in the garden whenever possible.
We can stop using fabric conditioner, opting for a capful of white vinegar instead, which has exactly the same effect but is cheaper and better for your appliance, as well as the environment. The one thing we think we cannot do without is detergent, but even that does not have to be full of environment-threatening chemicals, or cost a lot of money. Enter the humble but brilliant soap nut shell.
Soap nuts (Sapindus Mukorossi) are grown on trees in India and Nepal, and they are harvested from a sustainable supply in October each year. The inner nut is used in the pharmaceutical industry, but it is the outer shells we are concerned about here. They contain nature’s own soap, saponin, and have been used for cleaning in their native countries for hundreds of years They can be used in a variety of ways.
As a natural detergent in the washing machine, they are allergy-free and perfect for babies and people with sensitive skin; they can be boiled in water and turned into a liquid soap and shampoo; they can be used to remove parasites from pets, and will also prevent re-infestation, and they can be placed in a bucket of warm water and used to clean windows, cars, jewellery, and many other things
Soap nut shells are golden brown in colour, and very sticky to the touch, but they are simplicity itself to use. You simply place four to six of the shells into a little unbleached cotton drawstring bag, which is usually supplied with the shells when you buy them; if not, you can use an old sock. You place the filled bag into the drum of your washing machine, switch the machine on, and leave the saponin to do its job.
The clothes you take out of the machine when it has finished are clean and, just as important, soft to the touch. The shells have their own softening action so you do not need to add shop-bought softener. The water that has drained out of the machine will be friendly to the environment, because all it contains is the residue from the soap nut shells.
Whether line-dried or tumble-dried, the clothes will be easier to iron, too, saving even more precious energy. After each wash, gently squeeze one of the shells with your fingernails and, ifyou see the white saponin oozing out, it means they still contain enough for another wash. Once all the saponin has been used up, the shells become a darker brown, but they still haven’t finished being useful; just throw them onto the compostheap, where they will rot down, providing even more benefit to the environment.