Monday, April 16, 2007

Soap Nuts

I bought some soap nuts from Lakeland just to try them out. They're dried seed pods that make a soapy substance when they get wet. If you squish the wet pods in your fingers and bubbles come out. You put a few nuts in a little drawstring bag in with your laundry instead of using detergent, or you can put a few of them in the cutlery holder of your dishwasher. You can also reuse the same nuts a few times, and when they are exhausted you can put them on the compost heap.

In the washing machine they seem to get clothes clean, but then again I learned that clothes get clean even when you put nothing in the machine - no detergent, no "eco wash balls", nada. Still clean. So that's what we usually do nowadays.

I also tried them in my dishwasher. Now I know that stuff in the dishwasher doesn't get clean if you forget the dishwasher powder. I've tried it and the dishes come out rather manky. I've been looking for a more natural alternative to dishwasher tablets/powder for some time and these seem to fit the bill. The dishes came out clean, I was pleased with the result.

On the other hand the soap nuts come all the way from India. It seems a bit daft to be really fussy about eating only local food and then use nuts from India to wash the dishes afterwards. I also can't find any information about the condition these nuts are produced in. Are Indian farmers grubbing up the crops that feed their own families to plant soap nut trees as a cash crop? If so, are they being paid fair prices for the nuts? Or are people raiding natural forests to harvest these nuts now that westerners are suddenly buying them? Just what does commercial soap nut production involve?

When this packet runs out, I don't think I'll be buying any more. Although I'd be interested in them as an alternative to dishwasher tablets, there are just too many questions about their environmental impact for me to feel happy about using them.

16 comments:

Gwyn said...

What a shame you can't find out info on them - I am having problems with bicarb not doing much of a job in the dishwasher - an alternative would be great!

Gid said...

I don't suppose you have soapwort growing nearby?.. if not, have you got a nice damp shady area in which you could plant some?..

Matron said...

Sounds really interesting. I am a big fan of Lakeland, haven't had anything I don't like from them. I was wondering if these soap nuts would be suitable to use as an organic insecticide? Sounds very similar to soft soap which I use on my brassicas. What do you think?

hb said...

I use Ecover dishwasher tablets. Not sure how much less damaging they are than 'normal'* ones though.

hb
* normal is not something you can readily apply to the multi-coloured techno wonders that have 4 different functions and a skin that knows how and when to dissolve. The work of the Devil I tells ye! Look at the red ball/eye in the middle - it watches you...

Bill of Ballaugh said...

Never mind the soap nuts, what about this dishwasher business? First, you buy a complicated metal/plastic (oil)/rubber/nylon (oil) machine with is concommitent use of oils and chemicals in its manufacture and transport; you then buy special chemicals, with their concommitent use of papers/chemicals/plastics in their manufacture, packaging and transport; you then put them into the machine, with its concommitent use of power and water. An awful lot of resources ande power used to clean your plates. What's wrong with one bowl, one bowlful of hot water and a little elbow grease? The water can then be used as an insecticide in your garden as you water the plants.

antipodesgirl said...

yes, I used soap nuts and realized 1) they don't really work that well, although the laundry is nice and soft afterwards and 2) I too felt they were not sound for their air-miles! I believe they are harvested from forest trees? At least some of them...mostly a woman's job but I bet they get paid next to nothing for it. As for the dishwasher argument, I use one because it uses less water than washing up by hand. I only put mine on every 2 days, for 4 people. That's 16 litres of water-about a large bucketful-much less than in your sink. But the detergent is a problem, for now.

amy said...

erm how about washing them by hand in the sink! dish washer lol o offence biut for some one so green you have alot of "modern technology" using alot of power and energy etc.
p.s was good seeing you the other day
x

delroy said...

"Are Indian farmers grubbing up the crops that feed their own families to plant soap nut trees as a cash crop? If so, are they being paid fair prices for the nuts? "

What possibly making money instead of living hand to mouth hoping there is enough to feed the family?
If the price isn't better than subsistence farming then they won't boter will they?

Moonwaves said...

I had the same questions about soapods (which I've been using and happy with to wash clothes for two or three years now) when I started to become more aware of issues such as airmiles etc. I emailed the organic shop I buy them in to query and as well as a reply from him, I also had a reply from the woman who runs the company who supply them after I posted that information on my blog. It's all at: http://livingthesimplelifeiwant.blogspot.com/2006/10/soap-pods.html

I was satisfied with the answers I got and have continued to use them.

Anonymous said...

My friends new born daughter Sadie was getting diaper rash pretty much daily and I happened upon Maggie's Soap Nuts at Whole Foods. I gave a few nuts to my friend and she told me that her babies rash cleared in a day. She is thrilled and has been recommending it to all her friends with babies. I myself use the soapnuts on all of my delicates and wool. I was relieved to find out that the nuts are gathered from the ground rather than harvested directly from the tree. Its difficult to find truly earth friendly products these days in a time when they are so desperately needed. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I've been using Maggie's Soapnuts also. They've worked really well, and I feel good that I'm not adding a bunch of damaging detergents down the drain into our ocean. I've also made a 'tea' out of the soap nuts and have used it as an all natural cleaner in a spray bottle. I've washed my dog with it,too... he doesn't seem to itch quite so much, as normal...Today I even washed my own hair with it. Usually, I need a conditioner to get out the tangles, but today, I didn't! You can find these at maggiespureland.com if you live in the US.

Ms said...

I've been doing a lot of research on them, but since they are rather new to the Americas and Europe information on if they are free trade or not seems a bit limited. But from what i have learned, depending on temperatures where you live a good alternative to buying them is to simply plant a soapberry tree yourself! I found mine on eBay last spring from the same place i started buying my soapnuts from: http://stores.ebay.com/Nine-Lucky-Stars

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Anonymous said...

The facts are more complicated than stating that the air miles for soap nuts are wasted. First of all, the miles are probably by sea and road, not by air. Soap nut trees grow in the wild and are beneficial to the environment. A soap nut tree can live up to a 100 years, and grow up to 20 meters tall. In the first 9 years the tree does not yield any nuts. After that initial stage nuts will grow yearly. Soap nuts were traditionally used for laundry and as shampoo by the local population in India Nepal and Pakistan. Currently the local use of soap nuts in Asia is decreasing, as (environmentally harmful) synthetic detergents are more and more preferred.

As they would have to wait 9 years for a first crop, there is no risk at all of poor Indian families planting soap nut trees for export, instead of planting other crops that could feed them within weeks or months. My guess is that the soap nuts we buy in the West are from existing wild trees. Chances are that the demand for soap nuts by a green-minded minority of the people in the West, does not exceed the decrease in demand for soap nuts by a growing group of a many times larger Asian population. Therefore I do not believe that, for the moment, my buying soap nuts in Europe disrupts the economy or the ecology of Asia, regardless of how well the harvesters of the nuts are paid. In the best case scenario, the Western demand for soap nuts prevents trees from being felled because they have become useless due to decreasing Asian demand for soap nuts.

That still leaves CO2 neutralization of the sea miles…1 kg of soap nuts washes 10 times as much as 1 kg of the laundry powder with European eco-label available here in the Netherlands. And surely a tree producing an almost ready to use detergent is greener than a factory producing a laundry powder with European eco-label? And then there is the waste water. I intend on using the soap nut waste water on my new vegetable garden. I am not sure I could do that as safely with eco-label laundry powder, as I do not know whether it is immediately biodegradable or first needs some time in sewage treatment or at sea.

The bottom line is that there are so many variables, that I don’t know what the bottom line is. So I chose tree over factory and nut-tea over water with white powder for my vegetable garden.

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