Soapnuts, sounds interesting doesn’t it. Well the name soapnuts is slightly misleading, as they should be called soap berried (and sometimes are). Sapindus is the technical plant name and it’s berries or drupes have large seeds and a thin fleshy outside; when the flesh is dried is called a soapnut. Sapindus grow on a variety of 12 different bushes and trees and have been used by Asians and Native Americans for thousands of years.

They exhibit anti-microbial properties. Soapnuts have gentle insecticidal properties and are traditionally used for removing lice from the scalp. They have been used as a treatment for eczema, psoriasis, and as contraceptive. But that is not why I am telling you about them. They are also used as – soap! In this case specifically laundry soap. The best thing is they are eco friendly, a re renewable source, you could grow your own if you wanted [Article on that coming soon], and obviously they are 100% natural!

So how do they work?
Soapnuts contain saponins which are a natural surfactant. A surfactant is a surface active agent and reduce the interfacial tension between oil and water by adsorbing at the liquid-liquid interface. So basically they allow the soap the do its job – all soaps on the market have a surfactant in them, this one just happens to be natural and all packed in one. So when a soapnut comes in contact with warm water it releases soap like suds and cleans your clothes. For one wash you place 6 – 8 soapnuts in a small mesh or cotton bag and add it to your laundry – inside the machine with the clothes. When the warm water come in the soap is released and your clothes are washed. When the rinse cycle comes (unless you do a hot rinse) the soapnuts become inactive due to the cool water. So your 6-8 soapnuts can be used 3 times, however if you wash at 90 C then they last just once. They have a potent smell when wet, however they leave your clothes smelling clean – and you can add some essential oil in the fabric softener slot if you want to have smelly good clothes! (Sidenote: white vinegar works as a great all natural fabric softener) Also, soapnuts work for color and white clothes – so you only need one laundry soap!

When you have used your soapnuts 3 times, they can then be composted (100% biodegradable) or can go in the trash. So if i did one load of laundry a week, that is 52 load of laundry a year. On this great site I can buy soapnuts for 50 Washes for just £7.14 (70 NOK)! That is amazing! What a money saver! We buy a box of laundry soap ever few months, and one just cost 50 NOK! Another good thing is that people who suffer from allergies to soaps generally are good with these. And since soapnuts are really not a nut – no worries for allergies to nuts.

How do I like Soapnuts?
I have been very pleased with them. I feel that my towels are softer – which is huge since we line dry! I also have done a test run with all our shirts that just stink (we all have them, don’t we) – and they actually came out with little stink (except this one shirt that is just hopeless), I am SO impressed. I found that there were not as many suds or bubbles as I am used to and was thinking that they might not work – but they did. I sat in front on my washer continually though a whole wash cycle hoping to see bubbles – I felt like that fish in Nemo or a little kid amused by a washer. But the first load I washed I never saw bubbles, but I assumed I was just never watching a the right time. So the next time I went in every few minutes while cleaning and cooking to check on the bubble status. They were just smaller bubbles, and not the ‘foam’ like bubbles we are taught means clean. I even did a smell test with Ole, I asked if thought it smelled. He said they smelled clean, but not scented. Sounds like a win to me.

In short, I will be ordering a year supply from Nigels – they comes in a reusable cotton bag! The soapnuts I have now are from a friend who was kind enough to give me some to test when she heard I was wanting to try them! (Thanks Celine) I am very pleased with them! I am thrilled to know that my clothes are not being washed in chemicals and that I am in turn not washing those chemicals down the drain and into the water supply. Also a soapnut tree lives aroun 100 years, it starts producing berries/nuts 10 years in and continues for the following 90 years! One good sized tree can produce 200 – 300 kilos of berries/nuts a year! WOW!

Usage Tips From Nigels Eco Store

What temperature?
We recommend washing your clothes at a lower temperature setting of 40 degrees to save energy.
If using Soapnuts laundry soap nuts washing at 30 to 40 degrees yields usage of 3 times the washes per bag. While washing at 60 degrees will yield a usage of 2 washes per bag of pods and for 90 degrees use once.

Can I use them in a cold water wash?
Yes, to wash in cold water, soak the nuts, while in their cotton bag, in a little hot water a few minutes to release the saponin (the soap in Soapnuts) then add the water to the wash.

How many should I use?
We recommend 6-8 whole pods or equivalent, but if your clothes are not very dirty and/or you live in a soft water area you can use up to HALF THE AMOUNT! Feel free to experiment.

Can I use less than the recommended 6-8 soapnuts? And can I use them more than 3 times?
We have found that people in soft water areas need only 3 or 4 pods, and can use them 4 times. Please feel free to experiment. Additionally, if your clothes are not very dirty or you are not filling your machine you can use less pods.

Can using Soapnuts reduce the amount of water used?
Yes it can! As Soapnuts are completely natural you don’t have to rinse them out as much (They are good for your skin and your clothes!) So, if your machine has a cycle that uses less water and a shorter rinse cycle, you can use this setting.

Will using Soapnuts prolong the life of my washing machine?
Yes it can! Chemical washing products can eventually damage the workings of your machine.

What happens to Soapnuts in the rinse cycle?
Saponin (the soap in Soapnuts) is only released in hot water and the rinse cycles are cold, so it’s fine to leave them in the machine during the rinse cycle.

Update (5 March 2011) – If you happen to get a seed in your bag, do not use it in the wash! Seeds can stain clothes. Also, I read this great article – and you should to if you are seriously interested in buying soapnuts. How to Buy Soapnuts

Shampoo & Conditioner

Goal #19 Completed: Make my own shampoo and conditioner

So if you have been reading along with my blog, you know I am trying to eliminate chemicals in my food and products, buy more local products, make what I can and cut down on my waste -specifically plastic. Well, shockingly one of the places you will find the most chemicals in your house is your bathroom.Lets think about it: toothpaste, mouth wash, scented hand-soap, shampoo, conditioner, special body wash, ex-foliation mask, mascara, foundation, eye shadow, perfume, ect ect ect. Well these are all things, well most of them, that we need to get through our weeks – however since we are not ‘eating’ theses chemicals somehow we have justified that they can have anything in them. In the US, the ‘cosmetic products’ are not regulated.

So the main thing in most commercial shampoos is sulfate -Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). So what is SLS? In short it is a surfactant and the lathering agent. Wiki says it is ‘SLS is a highly effective surfactant and is used in any task requiring the removal of oily stains and residues. For example, it is found in higher concentrations with industrial products including engine degreasers, floor cleaners, and car wash soaps. It is used in lower concentrations with toothpastes, shampoos, and shaving foams. It is an important component in bubble bath formulations for its thickening effect and its ability to create a lather.’ SLS is dangerous and has been linked with a carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane. This compound is irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract. It is suspected of causing damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. … dioxane can contaminate cosmetics and personal care products such as deodorants, shampoos, toothpastes and mouthwashes. And sadly in 2008 the Organic Consumers Association found dioxane in almost half of tested organic personal-care products. [thanks wiki]

In addition to SLS, conventional shampoos have a variety of other chemicals. Like Preservatives -They do this to prevent bacterial or other growth and to extend the shelf life – these preservatives have been speculated to cause hormone disruptions, allergies, and scalp irritation. Examples include: iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazonlinone and parabens. Then there are thickeners, stabilizers, ph balancers, colors (which are just for the looks, and we all know the dangers of say Red Dye 5) and fragrances (which can cause irritation and have there own set of dangerous chemicals they are made from).

Yikes, huh? Many of these have not been tested enough to even know what side effects could come from them in 5, 20 or 50 years. That is enough for me to want something natural. I don’t want to chance getting nerve damage, hormone disruption, organ failure or cancer from my shampoo. Also, many of these are in the ‘gentle’ baby products! Big name baby products have been caught having one more bad chemical – Formaldehyde. Ah! What are we allowing to happen to the babies – it is a no brainer to not allow your kid to bath in a carcinogen! Why are the Governments allowing this. However, the EU has stepped up and banned 1,4-dioxane in personal care products!

The industry says that they believe that these trace amounts will not harm you – and maybe such is true if you only used said product one in your life and no other products. But we use them everyday with many other products that also have trace amounts. So this is why I have decided to make my own shampoo and conditioner – I am not going to take the chance of not knowing what is in my products. The ingredients I am using have been around for ages, and if you were to take them ‘apart’ you could eat them all. There are many no ‘poo campaigns going on around the community – a few different methods. Some are just to use the conditioner, others are ACV and baking soda and some are using bar soaps. I am choosing the ACV and baking soda route.

So here is my ‘journal’ so to speak of the first few weeks:

Wash 1-3. I washed only with ACV (apple cider vinegar).. it was diluted in a 1 to 10 vinegar water ratio. I tried to see how little i could use this time – forgoing the baking soda – to spend less and waste less. Firstly, I have never been able to brush my long fine but thick hair so well before in my life! This looked like it might be a miracle way to wash my hair. The first time I let my hair air dry.. but it was terribly oily.. I know they say that there is a ‘breaking in’ period, so the next time I dried it – my logic was that it might evaporate some of the oil 🙂 Sadly my hair was still oilly, the roots only were though – the rest was great! Really great! So my third was I doubled up and washed twice – this did make it a tid bit better – but I still did not feel that I could go to work with my hair like this..

Wash 4. I decided that I needed to try the baking soda wash. I added 1 tablespoon baking soda to a 500 ml bottle, then added water. I know the baking soda to water ratio is suggested to be higher – but baking soda is not super common in Norway. When I washed with this and rinsed with the ACV water – there was a definitive improvement. But not enough. My hair was good for a few hours.. but then got ‘chunky’ – you know when your hair is oily and separates itself in to large strands, almost like dreads. So since I have always had some of the worlds most oily hair I decided that I should work this out so I did not look like my hair was wet – when it was just oily.

Wash 5. I decided to add more to the equation to help. I took a 500 ml bottle, added 3 tablespoons baking soda, one teaspoon of oil and one teaspoon of Dr. Bronners. So then I topped it off with water, gave it a shake and then tested it. I used about 1/4 to 1/3 of the bottle plus the ACV rinse, and the results were great. My hair is not oily 3 days later, brushes through great and feels so incredibly soft. At this point it is my plan to stay with this. It still is costing next to nothing to make – yay! Since I don’t wash my hair everyday.. then I think that I can just make a new batch every week or so – and it is so simple to make.. it is not like I will have to slave in the kitchen for hours to get it.. maybe 2 minutes.. more like 45 seconds though!

At the moment I have ‘my shampoo’ in a reused plastic body wash bottle and my conditioner in a spray bottle. I would like to find a non plastic way to go about this – but glass is dangerous in the shower and I have yet to find a stainless steel container that would work – but I am on the lookout! So what do you think? Do you have plans to rework your hair care?

[top photo via]

UPDATE: I am now using the baking soda mix and acv wash just every other weekend. I have some ‘baby powder’ to sprinkle in if it starts to get oily – which is also great to help styling it!

UPDATE MARCH 2011: I am no longer washing my hair with ACV and Baking Soda. While it is a great way to clean you hair, I still wanted to go more natural. Read all about it here.

Alternative to Teflon – Ceramics

Teflon and non-stick pans release toxic perfluorochemicals when heated. So basically, the plastic layers that are coating the pan are slowly breaking away from the pan and coming up in the steam – where you are breathing them in, ekk! I always remember Mema telling me growing up that they were bad, and at the time I did not care to much – however, now it just freaks me out! So in my attempt to be better to the environment and my health – I am on the hunt for an alternative. I have two non-stick pans that I am needing to pitch, and need to replace – I only need to replace one though.

Xtrema's Line of Products

Still not convinced that non-stick should be avoided? EcoBold says it best, “Why is Teflon bad for you? Teflon non-stick pans are made with a chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), in between others, which is known to increase infertility and some scientists say it may be more harmful to the environment and human health than DDT, a pretty impressive record to break. It is said that when a Teflon pan reaches around 446F it starts to offgas toxic particules, at 680F it releases six different toxic gases, two of them are carcinogenic, another two are global pollutants and one is MFA which is a chemical that’s lethal to humans at low doses.”

So an alternative: Xtrema which is handmade using natural gas, clay and water. Xtrema is a ceramic non-stick and comes in many options; such as, pots, pans, caserols, and skillets. It can withstand 2700 F, Steel can melt at 2200 F – so it is tough – it is also Non-Scratch and has a Non-Toxic Ceramic Glaze Surface. It can go in the dishwasher, oven, microwave, BBQ grill, freezer and be on the stovetop! Since it is ceramic it holds heat longer, which should help with cooking time and the electric bill. Best of all, there are NO LEACHING CHEMICALS OR TRACE MATERIALS – that means no harmful gases coming from it or contaminating your food! So I am ordering a new skillet!

Castile Soap

Goal #21 completed: Wash body with pure castile liquid soap

There have always been a few things that bothered me when it came to cosmetics and cleaning products. One of these was that I felt my skin never was clean with my bar of Irish Spring soap or my Dove body wash. Growing up I was always trying out different things, partly because as a teen I needed a soap that would clean my skin well so I would not be smelly hours later. For the longest time I just used a bar soap, and it just made my skin fell icky but I thought this was just the way it was going to have to be. However I was wrong.

At some point in late 2006 or early 2007, someone introduced me to pure castile soap – particularly the crazed Dr. Bronners brand. Now if you have ever picked up a bottle of this soap and seen the writtings, you will know what I mean by crazed. Dr. Bronner was abit of an odd ball hippie environmental world peace take me to your leader kinda guy – BUT he makes one hell of a product. The first bottle I had was the 32 oz. Eucalyptus Liquid Soap, it is highly concentrated… so seriously just a few drops gets the body clean. That 32 oz. bottle lasted over a year – now that is a bargin! Never before had I felt that my skin was this clean. On Dr. Bronner’s site they explain it as ” A combination of organic extra virgin coconut, olive, jojoba and hemp oils, together with pure essential oils, creates a unique soap that cleans effectively without being aggressive and produces a velvety-lather that leaves the skin silky-smooth and refreshed.”

The “Eucalyptus opens your pores and clears your sinuses while enveloping the body in its warm invigorating vapors. All oils and essential oils are certified organic to the National Organic Standards Program.” The Eucalyptus soap is my favorite to have in the winter – it really is a great help opening up the nose and feels very refreshing. It can do this because the soap is made of Eucalyptus Oil, Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Hemp Oil and Jojoba Oil citric acid (natural and protects freshness) and Tocopherol (which is vitamin e and a fat-soluble antioxidants) – these are all natural!! I find that since the soap cleans my skin but is not to abrasive and allows some of my skins oils to stay.. I am not having dry itchy skin and don’t feel icky 5 minutes after I get out of the shower. All the different ‘flavors/scents’ are the same type of ingredient line up! I personally love the tea tree oil!!

Dr. Bronner’s also boast that his soap is 18-in-1, that besides washing your body it can be used as shampoo, toothpaste (if you do this use bar not liquid), laundry detergent, dish soap ect ect. In the past year or so they have taken the ‘uses’ off the label, they were not able to do this when Dr. Bronner was still alive. The soap, if bought in bottle, is packaged in 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles (even though I would like to avoid plastic, this is a better route – and I only buy one a year). All the soaps are Fair Trade and Organic. I have been so overly impressed that I have not uses anything else to wash my body since back in 2007. Have you ever used Pure Castile Soap?