Soap Nuts and cloth diapering don’t usually go together, but today they do because I’m talking about hand washing for the 2018 Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Cloth Diaper Revival. This challenge helps showcase real solutions for parents struggling with diapering. Today’s topic of conversation is figuring out those hand wash routines.
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Last year I talked about how to rock your hand wash routine, and I figured, no need to repeat a topic. I’m going to share with you the information I scoured from the internet, Facebook groups, and general experience about Soap Nuts.
Soap Nuts (Sapindus) are actually a berry (lychee family) found in parts of Asia. They were a recent fad sweeping the laundry machines of North America as we lusted for a perfectly green, sustainable laundry solution.
Soap Nuts work because soap nuts release saponin which acts as a surfactant. Saponin is a naturally occurring soap substance similar to what is created when making soap.
Surfactants are needed in the laundry because it’s the surface active agent used to remove dirt from clothes and keep it from reattaching. There are many natural surfactants from Castile and vegetable-based soaps, animal-based soaps, yucca extract, soapwort, quillai bark extract and soap nuts.
Soap Nuts in Laundry
Soap Nuts are not generally recommended for cloth diaper laundry for many of the same reasons for many of the same reasons soap is not recommended. Washing modern cloth diapers in modern day washing machines requires a little punch. From my non-scientific, unofficial standing, that’s why detergent was created and why we need more than just soap.
Home made soap doesn’t count as detergent either. It’s just soap, water softeners, and maybe some pretty scents. This only makes soap work better in hard water, but doesn’t really give a cleaning experience.
Basically, the way clothes are agitated, the process that happens in the washing machine, and the complex multi-layered cloth diapers of the twenty-first century, you just need detergent to get modern diapers clean in modern machines.
Detergent is a chemical that is used to remove dirt/grease/grime from clothing. It is formed using surfactants, brighteners, enzymes, lipases, amalyses and/or perfumes. Many detergents have different combinations of these things which do a more efficient job at cleaning than just soap alone. Detergents work better in hard water but use synthetic and petrochemical-based surfactants.
Check out some science. Check out the Real Diaper Association.
The Cleaning Institute had an interesting history slide on soaps & Detergent.
Why Soap Nuts & Handwashing
I wanted to use something I could use while camping. Soap Nuts are frequently mentioned as one of the only eco-friendly laundry soaps that can be tossed on the lawn. As a natural occurring soap, soap nuts break down into just carbon, hydrogen, oxygen atoms at the end of the day.
I also just wanted to use a soap. Finding bar soap in Canada is limited and many of the brands suggested in the group aren’t readily found on my grocery store shelf. Not that soap nuts were easy to hunt down either. Last year, and the year before, I used detergent. I used my regular-old tide and my poor hands. I can still remember how my hands felt. I just wanted to wash my diapers without feeling like I was attacking my hands with chemicals. I wanted to wash my diapers like the grandmothers before I did.
How to Use Soap Nuts while Handwashing
Let’s just be honest, there isn’t a lot of information about soap nuts and cloth diapers and handwashing on the internet. Most of the soap nut companies have information on their pages, and reading through reviews, and customer commentary around the web, I gathered a little bit of information to get me started. I bought my soap nuts at Bulk Barn. Not knowing what I was doing I only bought 7.
- 4-5 soap nuts in a little cotton bag.
- you need hot water.
- you need serious agitation.
- you don’t need to rinse.
It’s only been a few days of handwashing with soap nuts but so far I’ve learnt that you’re not going to get any of the saponins out of the berries until you use hot water and a lot of agitation. You need to convince the saponin (which in the pulp of the berry) to leave the shell and do the dirty work for you. I’ve started to soak my nuts for a short period because it only takes 3-5 minutes to scrub down a load, I don’t find it is long enough for the saponin to release.
The nice thing about soap nuts is there is very little soap to rinse away and I just give the flats a quick cool rinse and call it a day.
Squeeze your nuts to see if they still have soap and can be used. Once they stop producing bubbles they are done and need to be retired. I only bought 7 assuming they would last much longer, but it appears nuts are only good for a few washes at a time.
Soap nuts are associated with soap scum. Soap scrum is the byproduct of using soap on laundry and appears to be a problem faced by machine loving individuals. Soap scum is mostly an issue in harder waters due mineral salts taking up the soap, but the process of hand washing, hand agitating, and squeezing, creates the general internet mom consensus of not being an issue.
Soap Nut Skeptics & Disappointment
Let’s be real, I was not going into this with high expectations. I mean, come on, can a nut really wash our clothes? But guys, there is some claim here. Once you get the nuts warm, and the agitation going, the bubbles come. It’s not just agitation bubbles but soap bubbles.
My flat cloth diapers have been pooped on. My flat diapers have handled toddler pee, and they don’t smell. So they must be clean?
Your diapers will be stained because you are using only soap. There is nothing added to remove stains or fight stains. Good thing it’s sunshine days because you wouldn’t even know there was a toddler morning poop on those flats.
I would not use soap nuts on my regular laundry because you need to use warm-hot water. Using warm-hot water is one of the biggest energy drains on the laundry system. Washing in cold is hugely valuable, and I don’t have the will power to make Soap Nut Tea every wash load.
Truthfully, I bought a bar of soap at the store because I’m not convinced these will hold up for the rest of the week. Day 4 is a little early to gauge on whether my diapers are clean. They don’t smell, but I’m also not sure if I’m just failing at life?
Soap Nut Conclusion
Don’t use these in your washing machine. First, there’s no way 4-5 soap nuts can produce enough saponin for an ENTIRE LOAD OF LAUNDRY. Second, your laundry machine needs detergent.
Do consider these for your hand washing routine. They are gentle on your hands, they seem to take the stink out, and no rinsing for days.
Don’t think this is going to be the golden answer for you. Truthfully, I’m thinking I might be able to do soap nuts 60% of the time, and then maybe a different detergent or soap product 40%. Or I’m wondering if I’m not getting my nuts agitated and soapy enough. It’s a tough call.
If you’ve used soap nuts cloth diapering please don’t hesitate to share your experience.
I believe cloth diapering has many different approaches and styles. I don’t believe in a one way to do it answer. There are many different ways that work for different people and being confident in that works. If they didn’t work tell me that too. I’m curious about soap nuts and I asked around, snooped around, and tried to gather what I could to share with you.