Should I Use Soap Nut Liquid or Soap Nut Powder? What Produces the Best Laundry Results?

Use of soap nuts date back to antiquity, but modern manufacturers know little to nothing about them. Hence, don’t expect to find a machine with a soap nuts compartment for quite some time. So, where does that leave us? The answer is very simple: Use of our common sense. All that is required is a basic, understanding of how your washing machine and soap nuts work. Armed with that fundamental knowledge, you will find all you answers.

During a recent trip to look at new washers and dryers, I must admit that they appear to be quite complex, but appearances are just that. The fundamentals are still similar to that 20-year-old Maytag.

An important aside: Ironically, if we would have ever been taught the real science of washing and cleaning laundry we could use that 20-year-old Maytag and get fabulous results without ever using a drop more water than absolutely necessary. We have been trained to wait for “somebody” to come out with a better way so we can PURCHASE that better way. In essence we are trained to be dependent on businesses to offer “push-button” solutions. That is exactly how big business wants us to think. Of course there are better energy saving engineering in most new machines that is great. However, I believe that we finally are beginning to realize that if we use our brains and learn more, we can stop waiting for the next best solution to be SOLD to us. Knowledge is power. We can make big strides without spending an extra dime. There is truly a great deal to know about effective cleaning and washing that most of us simply do not know and have never been taught – or taught properly. The Internet and information age are going to change many routine and everyday ways we do things in our lives. The future holds many age-old fundamentals that will be rediscovered. The time is coming when less money and resources will be wasted on needless things, and those resources will be rerouted to development of products that will genuinely improve the overall quality of life. The recent economic downturn coupled with the green movement has provided VERY good reasons to take a second look at how we live our lives. That “second look” is very likely to evolve into an entirely new era for mankind. A very interesting thing about knowledge – when you get a little, you want more.

Getting back on track: There are more bells and whistles in the new machines. There are some extra features and cycles available. Some of them can be very useful. Keep in mind that we must simply think a little differently and make adjustments for proper use of soap nuts. Experimentation is always helpful. From household to household there are variables. Some are environmental. Some are due to our personal habits. Regardless, we are all different and we do things differently. Finding our own personal BEST way is a function of thought and such experimentation.

Soap nuts are available in liquid and powder forms in addition to their raw form (right off the tree). The liquids and powders can be made at home or specific formulations can be purchased from a handful of developers. That makes usage much more similar to using standard and HE detergents, and therefore much simpler. However, note that the manufacturer of your machine has written instructions based upon typical store-bought detergents and additives (chemical, natural or somewhere between) not soap nut detergents. And once you are using soap nuts, it is a new ballgame. For example: the fabric softener compartment. It is simply not needed at all anymore. (That is going to make some companies unhappy.) Some other compartment will prove useful.

Now stick with me on this for it is very important: If you have a high efficiency (HE) washer that requires HE detergents, soap nuts in ANY form are ideal when used properly because they are naturally low sudsing. They blow away every HE detergent on the market. If you have a standard machine, they are still ideal. Many people get confused at this juncture. What you must realize is that suds are not required to clean. Nor are they a barometer for evaluating the cleaning that is occurring in your washer. That is one of the biggest myths regarding detergents and soaps. Folks like to see suds. Rather than looking for suds, pay attention to how dirty the water gets. THAT is telling you something. Regardless of machine type only two things are required for effective typical washing: 1) A surfactant to lessen the water surface tension allowing it to break up and loosen dirt and grime. 2) Adequate water flow. That is it. So, try not to get hung up on the whole suds issue. Let the end result speak for itself.

Given the above, now let us get to the nitty-gritty of using soap nut liquids and powders. The variables here (aside from amounts to use) are primarily the concentration of the liquid, and/or the fineness and potency of the powder. If you are making your own liquid then the potency of saponin in the liquid will vary depending upon how you make it. You will have to experiment again. Be certain to strain your own liquid extremely well, to avoid clogging anything (a coffee filter or muslin fabric straining is a good idea).

If you are using a typical soap nut based liquid detergent (such as Cleannut, Maggies, or Terra) they will be used very much like all other liquid detergents (use a little more or a little less depending upon the machine type and load size. As always water hardness is a big factor here. If you have hard water use a little more. Anywhere from a half-ounce to one-ounce per load is normal. There are only a handful of brands out there currently and they are typically bottled in 32 or 64-ounce jugs similar to nearly most commercial brands, although a soap nuts / saponin base is utilized. Note: In my drilling for ingredients, I could not find one that gave provided complete and full disclosure. It seems to get tapped danced around with generalizations and the “what it does NOT contain” approach. Various enhancers or fragrances are used in all. In personal testing these seem to suds in more similar fashion as non-soapnut detergents. That indicates that sudsing agents are being used. However, as a professional formulator and product developer, be assured of this: citric acid will not be a sufficient preservative for a botanical liquid. Period. So, who knows what they contain?

NaturOli EXTREME 18X is very different. The same little more or little less principle still applies as with all, but this is a VERY highly concentrated (18X factor) soap nuts detergent. You will typically use only a half to one TEASPOON per load. No kidding. If you are using a top loader you can simply pour it directly into the water in the basin. That’s a no-brainer. If you are using compartments as with most front loaders just dilute it in an ounce or two of water (whatever amount you typically use). Then use that diluted liquid exactly the same as any other detergent. You are probably best to start with a teaspoon and then cut back and compare. Overcome that feeling of needing more – and let the end results speak for themselves. This is where concentrated takes on an entirely new meaning. It is actually more of a pure soap nut extract. The largest retail size is an 8-ounce bottle that will have as much or more cleaning power than the 32 or even 64-ounce jugs. I know, it’s tough to grasp that, but that is only because of the brainwashing factor again. This is, hands down, the greenest detergent and cleaner out there. There is no laundry soap on the planet with a lower carbon footprint. Why do so many companies ship all that water anyway? What a waste of energy and resources!

For that totally pure, unaltered, “soap nut clean and fresh” laundry result, you will be happiest with the purity of the soap nut concentrate (extract). The end results are as close to using raw soap nuts as I have found. It contains no essential oils that can leave residue and cause “wicking” of the fabric fibers, plus it is totally unscented. It has a 100% Complete and Full Ingredient List spelled out: Pure Saponin Aqueous Extract from 100% Sapindus Mukorossi Soap Nuts, Vegetable Glycerin, Olive Leaf Extract (olea europea leaf extract), Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate as preservatives. The preservatives are well-studied food and cosmetic grade preservatives that will ensure a long shelf life and are rated as very low hazard by the Safety in Cosmetics database. The glycerin and olive leaf extract are well known for their benefits for skincare, hence make a nice addition if any of the soap nut soap remains in the fabric. If you desire a scent I recommend using an absorbent cloth with a little of your scent of choice and tossing it in the dryer. Use more or less as desired. The oils will not impact the cleaning effects when used in such fashion.

If you are using powder poured directly in with your laundry, you want it to be as fine as you can possibly get it (dust like is preferred). You may not get an adequate release of saponin for a laundry load from a course grind and a short wash cycle. In this scenario it is best to use a fine powder, or put it in a wash bag or similar carrier for multiple loads, but be sure to pre-soak it first. This will allow the course ground soap nuts time to become well saturated. Approximately a half-ounce of very, very fine, quality soap nut powder (added directly in with your laundry) will wash only one load. The powder will be flushed out during the rinse and then out the drain. This is the least economical method of using soap nuts, for one-half ounce of quality soap nuts such as mukorossi contains enough saponin to wash five loads or more. A course grind in a tightly tied wash bag will be work for multiple loads and be more economical.

In either case, if you are adding salts, water softeners, potassium sorbate (oxy-bleach basically) or any other cleaning boosters, that’s all totally fine (part of the fun of experimentation, too). That goes for liquids, too. Since ground soap nuts do not entirely dissolve as commercial detergents do, it is not recommended to use compartments at all. Depending on how your machine functions, the powder may not receive a sufficient water supply, plus it could cause clogging. I do not recommend using powder due to these variables. It is also not as economical for more saponin ends up down the drain than when using other methods. It does make for an awesome scouring powder though.

You just have to experiment and let the results speak for themselves. Back to the suds issue, do not use suds as a barometer to gauge results. Results are determined when your laundry has dried. Does it look and smell clean and fresh? Is it soft and absorbent? This is where you gauge results. This is where it counts. I had to laugh one day as a woman explained her first experience with soap nuts. She said, “I felt like I was just washing in water.” But stood in amazement at the dirtiness of the water coming from a “not all that dirty” load of laundry. She was astonished at how fresh, clean and soft her laundry came out. (She’s another one who will never look back.)

There is no rocket science here. Most of this is good, plain, old-fashioned common sense. The only real hurdle is changing the way we think, and some old habits. Good results are what we are striving for. It may take a couple loads to dial in the best results for your particular scenario, but you will soon know exactly what to do. If you have a pre-wash and a main wash cycle, simply use the soap nut liquid or powder as your owner’s manual suggests.

It is noteworthy to point out that with soap nuts you really don’t need a second rinse cycle unless your laundry is very dirty. In most cases, that SECOND rinse is to help flush out all the chemicals in the fabrics. Since we aren’t using chemicals with soap nuts it is no longer needed. It becomes a matter of choice, not necessity. So you do have an opportunity to save quite a bit of water. That’s a nice plus.

I hope this has helped you. It is actually hard to really do something very wrong when using soap nut liquid or powder. If you are not satisfied with the results, take a look at what you did and make some adjustments. If you have very hard water then you will typically need to use more than average amounts. Once again, let the final results be your finished laundry. Once you have dialed in what is right for you, your laundry will be clean, fresh, soft and absorbent – unlike you have ever experienced before. If you are like the vast majority, you will never want to use anything except soap nut detergents again.

Founder of NaturOli, a respected formulator of natural skin care products, soaps, detergents, and cleansers, plus distributor of soap nuts. Corporate mission: Setting New and Higher Standards Today.

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