Friday, July 21, 2017

Soapnuts - the magic super cleaner every household must have!!

The humble Soapnut (also called Reetha /Boondikottai /Kumkudukaya /Antuvalakay) can be one of your most useful and go-to natural ingredients in your household cleaning mission. Growing abundantly in the Himalayas (and Nepal) and some parts of South India/Karnataka, it is easy enough to source these days given the increase in interest around chemical-free living. Typically retailing at INR 100 - 150 (wholesale prices fluctuate from INR 40 - 60 - 80) (in Bangalore/Chennai), it can really replace most, if not all, chemicals at your home, especially if used in combination with Bio Enzymes. Let me quickly outline how you can use these magic super cleaners for your everyday household cleaning requirements along with few other questions you may have on this nut.

1. What exactly are Soapnuts?
They are the fruits of the Sapindus tree (Sap meaning Soap in Latin and Indus referring to their native India). There are multiple species/sub-species of this tree. In India itself, there are two different species/sub-species that produce two different looking fruits.

2. How are they useful in cleaning?
Soapnuts have a high amount of "surfactants" (the chemical compound good at removing dirt) in the form of naturally occurring saponins in their fruit pulp. If you are familiar with the structure of soaps, you will know that a soap compound has two ends - one tail end that repels water (and attracts dirt) and one head end that attracts water (making them water soluble). Soapnuts have these compounds naturally. So it is this property of them that makes them great for removing dirt. Plus, they are all natural to boot - meaning they decompose back into the soil quickly leaving minimal environmental impact unlike chemicals produced in laboratories such as detergents and shampoos.

3. How do Soapnuts look?

A freshly harvest Soapnut - Observe how they are clumped up

Two different types of Soapnuts found in India (after drying) - the one on right is the South Indian variety and the one on my left hand is the Himalayan variety
4. Is there a difference between the quality/effectiveness of these two varieties?
In my experience, absolutely not. The Himalayan ones look better and are bigger and are more appealing to our senses. The South Indian ones don't look so neat but they pack quite a punch in their cleaning abilities. While the Himalayan ones are bit costly this side of the Vindhyas (considering they have to be transported so far from their origin), the South Indian ones are available at a bit lesser price here making them economically more feasible. Also, the South Indian ones are easier to soak and smash - the Himalayan ones take a bit longer to get soaked.

5. Why should I use Soapnuts and why not my detergents?
Good question! Your detergents and most other cleaning products that you have at home are made of synthetic chemical compounds that have a high amount of toxins along with all the good things they promise you that gives them the cleaning power you need (and let's not forget the wonderful oh-so-clean fragrance). These synthetic compounds, in addition to being harmful to you personally in terms of the ill-health and side effects they cause, are also damaging to the environment and the water bodies and the living beings present in the water bodies. Some of these toxins could be formaldehyde, diethanolamine, alkyl benzene sulfonates, ethylene oxide, Sodium hypochlorite, 1-4-dioxane, Benzoxazolyl, Phosphates and so on and so forth. Really, you don't need to kill a lake full of fishes to get the dirt-free clothes or home you desire. When there is an all natural alternate way, which is also harmless to our fellow living things (not to mention to us as well), why not adopt that method? Soapnuts are the wonderful things God created to give you this option.

6. Okay, great! But how do I use Soapnuts???
That's an easy one. There are so many different ways you can use Soapnuts depending on the amount of time and energy you have to spend on your cleaning mission. Here are a few ways to use Soapnuts:

Option 1: - Using Soapnuts as-is - The easiest and quickest way
  • Take about 10-12 whole Soapnuts (can be deseeded or with seeds; this measurement is for 6-8 kgs of clothes)
  • Put them inside an old sock and tie the mouth of the socks tightly such that no Soapnuts can escape
  • Simple throw in this sock along with your wash load and run the machine on full soak cycle. Pls put it along with the clothes and not in the place provided for detergents. It's not a problem if the sock stays till the drying cycle is complete. 
  • Optionally, please add 100 ml of Bio Enzyme for disinfecting and softening the fabrics. Especially, when you have a lot of whites, Bio Enzyme is good to include. 
  • After removing the clothes, remove the sock with the Soapnuts as well and keep it out to dry. 
  • You can use it for one more time before opening up the sock and discarding the used Soapnuts. The Soapnut peels can be thrown into your compost bin while you can save the seeds for making seed bombs or other activities or simply throw them into an empty plot. Alternatively, you can use the Soapnut peels to wash your vessels as well. 
  • Please note that when using Soapnuts, you should not overload your machine. Also, when you have really dirty clothes, please pre-soak the Soapnut sock in hot/warm water for 15 minutes and then add the tea of Soapnut along with the Soapnut sock into the machine.
Option 2: - Soapnuts Liquid
  • Take about a 100 grams to a quarter kilo of Soapnuts. Soak it in 1 litre water for 30 minutes.
  • Heat up the water for 10-15 minutes till the water turns completely dark and the Soapnuts release all their surfactants. 
  • After the solution cools down, smash the Soapnuts in hand and ensure all the juices are extracted
  • Let it sit overnight
  • Next day morning, filter out all the solids. The resulting liquid is your All natural laundry liquid.
  • You will need to use it up in 1-2 days. Or simply refrigerate it and use it as and when you need it. You may also prepare a large batch and freeze it. 
  • For about 6 kgs of laundry, you will need 100-150 ml of Soapnut liquid. 
  • The filtered out pulp can be used once or twice more to extract more Soapnut liquid. Once completely used up, they go to your compost bin.
Option 3: - Soapnut powder
  • Buy Soapnut powder. It's not very easy to powder them yourself at home so pls don't try. 
  • Take about 2-3 spoons of Soapnut powder for about 6-8 kgs of laundry. Put the powder inside a thick cotton cloth/bag (NOT SOCKS) and tie the mouth tightly 
  • Simple throw in this sock along with your wash load and run the machine on full soak cycle. Pls put it along with the clothes and not in the place provided for detergent. It's not a problem if the sock stays till the drying cycle is complete. 
  • Optionally, please add 100 ml of Bio Enzyme for disinfecting and softening the fabrics. Especially, when you have a lot of whites, Bio Enzyme is good to include. 
  • After removing the clothes, remove the sock with the Soapnuts and discard the Soapnut powder into your compost bin. 
  • Beware of the cloth bag coming apart and the powder spreading across all your clothes. It's extremely difficult to clean up. 
  • Also, the powder MAY dull your whites over time. If that happens, you can wash the Whites in hot water and Soapnuts.
7. How do I use Soapnuts for my hair?

There are again two ways to use Soapnuts for your hair.

Option 1:
  • Simply boil (after de-seeding) about 15 Soapnuts for 15 or so minutes till the water turns dark and starts foaming.
  • Cool the liquid.
  • Smash all the Soapnut pulp by hand and let it sit overnight.
  • Next day, filter out the thick Soapnut liquid and use in place of your Shampoo. It will lather well but if you have oiled your hair, it may take 1-2 attempts before you get the lather.
  • If the Soapnuts leave your hair too dry or frizzy, use it in combination with Albizia Amara powder for conditioning (called Arappu in Tamil or Chigare in Kannada)
  • You will need to refrigerate the remaining liquid as they can start fermenting in 2-3 days. Else, use them all up in the next 2-3 days.
Option 2:

  • Soak the whole /de-seeded Soapnut pods in a 10-25% Bio Enzyme solution (with water) for 1-2 weeks
  • Smash 1the pods well one day before harvest and let sit overnight.
  • Next day, filter out all big solids and seeds from pods
  • The Pulpy liquid is the shampoo. Store and use within six months. No need to refrigerate. 
8. Can I use Soapnuts for other household cleaning purposes?

Oh yes, you can make an All Purpose Cleaner with Soapnuts. Here's how:
  • Take 1 litre of plain water. Add about 25% of Bio Enzyme (after it becomes ready) and 25% of Soapnut (whole Soapnut with the seeds taken out). Let it soak for 1 – 2 weeks. Depending on the quality of the Soapnuts you have used and its freshness (year of harvest), your All-purpose cleaner will get ready in 1 or 2 weeks. Leaving it to soak for more weeks is also fine. After this period, smash the by now soaked to pieces soapnut and extract out all the pulp into the Bio Enzyme liquid. Remove all the seeds and solid particles and filter out the liquid. You will get a dense, opaque looking liquid with a clear liquid on top once it stands for some time.
  • 1. You can pour out the clear liquid and use as a laundry detergent for your washing machine as well as traditional bucket soaks. You can use this as a floor/bathroom cleaner as well for a quick wash. Do not use on marble though as Bio Enzyme might cause Marble to leave color/yellow. For Marbles, you can use a plain Soapnut liquid to wash floors (at high dilution with water as you don't want your floor lathering!!)
  • 2. You can use the dense part of the liquid as a Shampoo (we saw that above)
  • 3. The dense part is also a vessel cleaner. For cleaning vessels, you can dilute 1:5 or 1:10 ratio – or check what works best for you. Intense foaming is not an indication of cleaning – so don’t worry if it doesn’t foam too much though it will.
  • 4. The semi-clear liquid with a bit of pulp can be used as a hand wash. Remember that the Bio Enzyme is a mild antiseptic/anti-bacterial.
  • 5. For toilets, use the dense liquid – pour a sizable quantity (undiluted) all over the toilet surface and let it sit for 15-30 minutes. Scrub and wash.

9. Wow, so I can use it for washing vessels too?
Yes, you can (both the powder form as well as liquid form as well as the Bio-Enzyme combination). You can also make a dish wash powder with Soapnuts, Shikakai, Wood Ash, Salt and Albizia Amara.

10. Okay, I am a convert! What else should I know about this wonder nut?
Cool, that's awesome. I am happy! Here are a few things I can think of:

  1. Always try to buy that year's harvest for more effectiveness
  2. Store them airtight and dry.
  3. If you find the Soapnuts you have bought are still too fresh and sticky, please ensure you sundry them well for 2 - 3 days. Otherwise, they will tend to catch fungus/green mold and the whole thing will get ruined quickly.
  4. If you are a power user of Soapnuts, you will end up with a lot of Soapnut seeds. You can put them in your compost bin - so save them for your children to make seed bombs or to play with.
  5. You can reuse the grey water from your floor wash/laundry/dish wash after using Soapnuts as it is all natural and will not harm your plants.
  6. Soapnuts also make great pest control. So instead of using synthetic soap in your pest control measures for your plants where you are required to emulsify neem oil, you can use Soapnuts and neem oil. Just a Soapnut water soak once a week will also help you keep out mosquitoes and other insects from your lawns and gardens. 
I will update the above Q & A whenever I discover more uses for Soapnuts. Meanwhile, I truly hope you are able to make the switch to a chemical-free life as I have! 

  1 comment:

  1. Hi, can I add a few drops of an essential oil in the Bio Enzyme while I am making them?
    Second question, I only have the powdered Reetha, so how much do I use for 1 litre of water for hair, hand and body wash?
    Thank you.


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