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What are Soapberries?

Soapberries have very round, very black, very hard seeds. They are proportionally quite heavy, making up almost half of the total weight of a soapberry pod.  Soap nuts, also called soapberries, are the husks (pericarp) of the fruit of the tree called Jaboncillo in Central America. The active ingredient in soapberries is saponin, which is a natural, fully bio-degradable hypoallergenic, low-sudsing cleaner. Saponin works as a surfactante, separating dirt from your clothes in the same way as other soaps. 

Using soapberries as a laundry soap frequently helps those with sensitive skin or chemical soap related allergies.  They are great for baby clothes, including cloth diapers.

Seedless soapberries are not just for laundry, but  can be used for a wide variety of cleaning needs from skin care, to household cleaning and beyond. 

Is this for real?

It is fair to assume that a person who has never tried soapberries will be a bit skeptical.  There must be a downside, right?  Are you serious?  Some people are going to decide that soapberries aren’t their “cup of soap”, so to speak and that is fine. The idea of washing your clothes with seed pods takes some getting used to. There are some legitimate questions that you might have about soapberries. These are good questions that are worth answering.

What about soap allergies?
Soapberries are hypoallergenic and are very popular with people who have problems with most soaps.  Soapberries have no chemicals that provoke allergies and don’t tend to leave a residue that might be a problem.  I have never heard of anyone who has had a problem using soapberries.  But, to be on the safe side, if a person is very allergic to a lot of things, then the same precautions used before trying any new product are a good idea.  In our experience people who have allergies have found relief by using soapberries.

Do they spoil?
Soapberries are a natural product, with no preservatives.  They will keep for a long time as long as they are kept dry. I have some that are more than two years old that work just fine. But, it is important to keep them dry before using them and allow the pouch to dry out between wash days.  If you let them sit in moisture, they will eventually get moldy.  If you make the liquid cleaner from the berries, it will get rancid after a few days.  It will keep a bit longer in the frig. If you want to keep the liquid for any length of time, the best idea is to freeze it.  You can do a load of laundry with an ice cube or two of soapberry liquid.

What about the smell? 
A soapberry can smell a little vinegary.  Some seem to have a bit more odor than others. Some don`t seem to have any particular odor at all. The important thing is that they don`t leave any odor on your clothes.  Your clothes will just smell clean.  For some people that is a problem, because they like their clothes to have a bit of fragrance.  Some people like adding fragrance so that their cloths smell like something. You can add scent if you want, but a friend tried adding just a bit of fabric softener to the rinse cycle and that seemed to do the job.  You don’t need to add fabric softener because the soapberries act like a natural softener in the rinse cycle, but if you want a fragrance, that is a simple solution.

How many do I use?
The biggest problem we often we have had with soapberries is deciding how many to use and how long to use them.  Most sources suggest 6-8pods will do 3-5 loads.  That is a good place to start, but the truth is that it depends on several factors; how hard your water is, if you use hot or cold water and the quality of the berries.  Washing with soapberries is not an exact science.  A little experimentation will help you know how many to use and when they no longer are releasing those wonderful little saponins and ACOGs that wash your clothes.

Can I use less water?
If you want to use less water in a regular washer you might wonder how well soapberries will work. Soapberries in the little pouch need three things to work well, agitation and good water flow.  It is important to not overload the washer. You don`t need an exaggerated amount of water, but if the clothes are packed too closely together, the berries can`t do their job.  If conserving water is very important to you, then you might find it interesting that the low-sudsing quality of soapberries means they do not leave a residue and some people don`t find they even need to use the rinse cycle.

What if I have an HE washer?
If you have a high efficiency washing machine you might wonder if soapberries will work for you. Soapberries in a pouch work great in HE washers.

I keep losing the little pouch!
This seems to be the worst problem that people have with soapberries.  They like how they work but it is frustrating to always be looking for that little bag.  It will sometimes go through the dryer before it is found.  The best solution that I have found is just to have two little pouches.  If you lose track of one, then just use the other.  The first one will show up when you pull the clothes out of the dryer, if not before. Sometimes it is hard to remember how many times you have used the berries.  Since it isn’t an exact science, a bit of guess work is just fine. They will look a bit grey when they are ready for  composting.  The bottom line answer is that if the biggest problem that you face in the day is inding your soapberry pouch, you have an awful lot to be thankful for. 

Getting Started

There are a lot of ways to get the benefit of the cleaning power of soapberries. To get started, here are a few easy ways to use them. You will find what best fits your needs and no doubt discover many more uses than are listed here!

Laundry: Place 5-6 soapberries in a small  reusable cotton or mesh bag (a sock will work), tie closed and place in washer to wash a load of laundry. The berries may be reused for up to 5 loads of laundry and do not need to be removed for the rinse cycle. When the shells appear mushy and gray, they can be composted. One half tablespoon of soapberry powder can be used for a medium size load of laundry and 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the soapberry liquid can be used for a load of laundry. When hand washing, place the berries in a cup of warm water for a few minutes before adding the bag to the wash water. Agitate clothes briefly and allow to soak for one hour.  The soapberries have an odor slightly like vinegar, but will not leave any odor on the clothes you wash in them. If you desire to have a fragrance, you can add an essential oil.

To make a general purpose cleaner: place the equivalent of 12-15 whole soapberries in about 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes. When cool, compost the shells and store the liquid in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The liquid can be used as a general purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, or hand soap. You can make a powder soap by grinding the desired amount of soapberries a coffee grinder.