When our children were infants and toddlers, I used to use Dreft to wash their clothes and cloth diapers. For the rest of the laundry I used the cheapest detergent and softener I could buy. What I didn’t realize is that all commercial detergents and softeners, especially those that are fragranced, contain petroleum-based products and emit toxic chemicals. Click the following link for a Science Daily article on the dangers of commercial laundry products. What’s worse is that the soap stays in the clothing. I once washed laundry three times without detergent and it came out “clean” just from the soap that had remained in the clothes (we had hard water which prevents the removal of soap during the rinse cycle; when we switched to a water softening system the installer told us to wash our clothes without detergent at first to get it all out. It still took three laundry cycles in softened water to get the clothes detergent-free). When your clothes smell like “Mountain Rain” you are rubbing petroleum chemicals all over the largest organ on your body: your skin!
Since discovering we have FXS / Autism in the family I have become a lot more cautious about trusting the cleaning companies to make safe products. Whether it is with store-bought food or commercial cleaning products, we are loading our immune systems with toxins. “Safe” levels of toxins are determined without knowing the overall exposure of each American to additional hazardous substances or his ability to eliminate them (those with compromised immune systems may not be able to do so at all). While exposure to artificial ingredients may not cause Autism, it can overload an already troubled system and make symptoms worse. In addition, many of the toxins in cleaners are carcinogenic, meaning that they increase everyone’s chances of getting cancer. Yuck.
So other than grabbing our washboards and heading for the river, what can be used to get clean, soft laundry that’s hypoallergenic and toxin-free?
Soap Nuts are hardened berries from the Sapindus Mukorossi tree and contain high quantities of the all-natural soap Saponin. I get mine from NaturOli. I ordered a 2lb bag of soapnut “halves” (the not-so pretty ones that work just as well and are cheaper) for $25: after nine months of laundry I am almost halfway through it. The best part? Soap Nuts replaces laundry detergent AND softener. Talk about saving money! How would you like to spend less than $12/year on laundry soap and softener?
UPDATE 06/30/2012: I am a proud affiliate of NaturalOli. Click on the banner below to check out what they offer; if you decide to buy something, I get a small return! Every little helps!
How to use:
Put five Soap Nuts in a small drawstring bag and throw into the washing machine before adding your clothes. If you want to use cold water, steep the bag in hot water to activate the saponin and then throw the soap water and bag into the washing machine. That’s it. You can throw the bag into the dryer if you don’t want to fish it out. You can use the bag about five times, depending on load size and water softness. When the Soap Nuts are used up they will get flaky and brittle (when dry). Put five new nuts in the bag and you will be ready for the next five loads, etc. But that’s not all…
How to re-use:
I save the used Soap Nuts from three loads (about 15 spent, whole nuts in total) and cook them in water in my mini-crock for about 8 hours on high (in about 2 cups of water). You can simmer them on the stove for a much shorter time (if you do that, add extra water halfway to dilute the soap content in solution so it can draw more saponin out of the nuts, as with osmosis), about two hours until the liquid reduces to a dark brown “tea” color. Store in a glass bottle in the ‘fridge (when it cools); since it is an all-natural product it will start break down in 2-3 weeks (UPDATE 06/30/2012: you can order their EXTREME 18X Soap Nuts Liquid–click on banner below–but be aware that it contains a small amount of two food-grade preservatives, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, which some sensitive individuals may choose to avoid by making their own as I do). You can give your super-spent Soap Nuts a second life in your compost pile, since they are a plant product.
This dark brown liquid (amber if you hold it to the light) is Soap Nuts Liquid. It has a myriad of uses; personal cleaning, household cleaning, and my favorite: the dishwasher!
All-Natural SAFE Dishwasher Detergent
Dishwasher powder is one of the most dangerous products in your house! Cancer patients are advised not to use it. No matter what rinsing aid you use, some of the toxins in the the detergent you are using are most likely residing on your “clean” dishes in your cupboard. Even store-bought “all natural” detergents may contain foaming agents that are hazardous.
I mix Soap Nuts liquid with baking soda until it forms a “gel” consistency suspension and dump it in the automatic dispenser. I fill the rinse aid compartment with White Vinegar. Good to go!
The only downsides I’ve noticed is (1) it has left a light brown residue on the plastic inside of my dishwasher door (it rubs off with vinegar and a washcloth); (2) the baking soda seems to etch glass at the same rate as the Cascade tabs, so no improvement there (It can also leave a baking soda residue if your rinse aid compartment is low on vinegar). On the up-side the homemade dishwasher suspension (1) is all natural and non-toxic; (2) cleans better overall than the Cascade tabs we were using ( I recommend rinsing first as neither product did well with dried-on or baked-on food); (3) We save $130/year on dishwasher detergent.
A word of caution…
All natural does not mean directly edible; in this case it means safe for your skin, nervous system, and the environment (it rinses well off dishes and is safe for kitchen surfaces too). Do not let your children get access to Soap Nuts or the concentrated Soap Nuts Liquid as the saponin in them could poison them if ingested in a large enough quantity (the nuts might pose a choking hazard too). Follow the company’s guidelines on Soap Nuts usage and you should be just fine.