I’ve never fully understood why people like the perfumed smell from commercial laundry soap. I get hand-me-downs quite often, and it takes a good three washings before the smell dissipates from the clothes. What exactly is going into your clothes that the fragrance lasts long? It just doesn’t seem natural. In the past I’ve used commercial laundry soaps but they have always been plant based with the ingredients listed and no warning labels. While they worked fine they can get expensive and I hate when the bottles got all gooped up on the outside and trying to rinse them out for the recycle bin was a nightmare of suds.
I’d read articles from people who made their own laundry soap so I tried it. The problem was that it is hard to find soap at the supermarket. They are all detergents. A true soap is oils and lye, that’s it. Read the list of ingredients on any bar soap and I’ll bet you can’t pronounce half of them. Besides that, they all contained fragrance, and I really didn’t want the smell. Since I make soap I decided to just use one of my own bars and see how it went.
While most recipes are for liquid soap that start by shaving a bar of soap and then adding it to water until the soap dissolved, I decided try a recipe for dry detergent consisting of soap flakes, baking soda and washing soda instead. After some time of using that concoction I decided that I didn’t like the way the clothes were coming out and gave up.
Still determined to find a better laundry solution I kept searching. I’d bought a copy Making It by Kelli Coyne and Eric Knutzen, and in it they devoted a chapter to laundry. Two plants that are mentioned in the book are Soapwort and Soapnuts, both containing natural saponins.
Soapwort is also known as Bouncing Bet or fuller’s herb. It was listed for use as a shampoo in the book and, while I tried it as a shampoo, I didn’t like the way my hair felt afterward so I decided to try it in the laundry. It worked fairly well, but I’d have to keep making a new batch and, while easy to do, it would be one extra task. In the laundry section, I found a page on soapnuts. I decided to give them a try.
I found soapnuts from Mountain Rose Herbs and, since I had to restock some other items, I added on a small amount of soapnuts to try. I have to admit I was really skeptical at first and didn’t hold much hope but they worked. I was pleasantly surprised to find they worked very well actually. I bought the whole soapnuts initially, although the second time around they were pieces and not whole. I like the whole ones better. I simply added five nuts to a small fabric bag and in the washer they go. I’d refresh the nuts the first wash of each week, reusing the same ones for a week's worth of laundry.
I saved the ones I took out of the bag in a jar on the kitchen counter. When I need to shampoo the carpet (which is about once a month), I take a handful of the used nuts and boil them in a pot of water. It makes a low sudsing soap that works great in my steam cleaner vacuum. The best part is that when I’m done they go into the compost bin, no messy bottles to clean up.