Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Soap Nut Saga

 When it came time to do my most recent batch of laundry, I decided to try out the new soap nuts (which Greg lovingly refers to as my "crazy nuts.")

As you can kind of see there, the actual nuts are wrinkly and almost hollow-feeling.

The instructions that came with the nuts said that, contrary to popular belief, it is possibly to use soap nuts with cold water. You just have to "activate" them by soaking them in hot water.

So I put the recommended 5-6 nuts into the little drawstring muslin bag they came with, put them in a Ball jar and poured it full of hot water. I then let the nuts steep for about five minutes. They felt kind of gushy inside their bag when I poked them, which seemed like a good sign, so I poured the entire thing into the washing machine, on top of the clothes.

I did a mixed load with some of my clothes, some of Greg's clothes, some t-shirts, some jeans, a couple dish towels, some socks -- the usual. And I decided to go big. Instead of filling my Downy ball with fabric softener (we dry out clothes on a line outside), I filled it with white vinegar, a tip I'd picked up somewhere in my online eco-friendly, homemade detergent travels.

The clothing came out scent-free, which was new. No clean laundry smell. It smelled like fabric and nothing else.

I hung it on the line and after a few hours it was dry.

Now I will say that I obsessively sniffed everything to make sure that the soap nuts had, you know, actually cleaned things.

There's no nice way to say that Greg, whose laundry I do when I do my own, can get a bit... manly. And by manly, I mean sweaty. After washing, the shirt (and in the second load I did, the undershirt) that he had been wearing for yard work the day before smelled like his deodorant at the armpits. It didn't smell like sweat or anything, but it wasn't as perfect as Tide usually gets it.

I tried a load of whites and a load of colors. The same results for both -- the sweaty shirt smelled like deodorant. Everything else, though, smelled fine, including my running clothes.

The vinegar did NOT get things as soft as fabric softener, either. But it's all wearable, and the clothes do soften up after a few minutes of wearing. Or you can pop them in the dryer for 10 minutes to fluff.

I think, for now, we'll adopt an all-of-the-above laundry strategy: whites (mostly socks and undershirts and towels) and super dirty clothes in Tide and colors in soap nuts. Or I might continue to experiment and try washing in hot water and see if that works better -- I suspect it might.

I'm still on the lookout for a good fabric softener solution though. I don't think vinegar is going to cut it.

But I'd rather be partially eco-friendly than not-at-all eco-friendly, right? Right.


  1. I gave up fabric softener (mostly because I have a cheap streak) and my conclusion is that it is a solution in search of a problem.

    In my experience, drying on a washing line only results in really crunchy clothes when they are exposed to direct sunlight.

  2. My clothes aren't crunchy or exposed to direct sunlight... they're just not that soft.

    I have discovered that shaking them regularly while they're drying keeps them from getting too stiff. Same theory as a tumble dryer, I suppose.