My two criteria for laundry detergent used to be: cheap and cleans clothes. This thinking was formed as a student who considered "I have £85 left this month" to mean "I have £85 left in my overdraft", and I always remember my old student-thinking before judging anyone out there who eats cheap junk in order to afford more Jägerbombs on nights out, because I've well and truly been there.
I've been living with friends since 2010 and we share cleaning products, so for a long time I was in the habit of shopping at Poundland and stretching my pennies so to keep my outgoings as low as possible. All this changed at Vegfest Brighton back in March, when a lovely Soapnuts vendor pitched his lychee-like magic shells to me...
Soapnuts are dried fruit shells of the Chinese soapberry. The Soapnutter man told me they've long been been used in Ayurveda due to their high soap (saponin) content, and that they replace regular detergent in the washing machine. They also replace fabric conditioner, as the shells have some sort of conditioning element (or at least lack the drying-out element of standard detergent). He raved about a whole host of different uses for Soapnuts, including gardening and pet shampoo - Crunch Betty has a comprehensive list of uses here if you're interested. I just wanted to try them out on my laundry, so I bought a box on the promise that they work out at around 4p a wash and was on my way, happy to now have less cash on me to spend on vegan junk food. (I later calculated 6-7p per wash, with a box priced at 6.99 and approximately 108 washes per box.)
Getting down to it
You take around 4 Soapnuts (some are in halves and broken bits), as below.
You stick your Soapnuts in a little tie-bag that comes with the pack.
You stick your bag of Soapnuts in the washing machine and press GO.
After around 4 washes, the Soapnuts will have shrivelled a bit and started turning a dull grey colour. Time to throw them away (or compost them, or use them as snail repellent. It's all on the Soapnuts FAQ).
I've used Soapnuts for every wash since Vegfest back in March. They leave clothes smelling clean and neutral, with no overpowering scent. I haven't been using a fabric conditioner, and, true to Soapnutter's word, my clothes haven't suffered for it.
I do want to mention water temperature: on one occasion, I had some heavier dirt and washed on 30°C as normal. The soiled areas came out half-clean and slightly hardened, so I washed again on 40°C and the problem was resolved.
In short, I'm a Soapnuts convert. Just like with the Giving Up Shampoo experiment, the appeal of Soapnuts was twofold to me - eco-friendly and cheap. I spotted Soapnutter at the Love Life Love Organic Show at the start of this month and thanked him profusely albeit briefly for introducing me to these little wonders... I didn't want to keep him from pitching to the next future convert.
Have you tried Soapnuts? Do you have any homemade detergent solutions that you swear by? Let me know in the comments or email me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading!