Soap nuts, also called soapberries, are the drupes (fruits) of one of several species of small trees that are native to India but now distributed throughout other temperate regions in the world, including North America. As the name suggests, the nut pulp contains a high degree of saponins and can be used to produce soap. Native peoples in both hemispheres have used soap nuts for thousands of years. They are still used today to make therapeutic body washes to treat various skin disorders and to make natural insecticides.
These little gems are fantastic to use to naturally clean anything from floors to laundry or the family car! They're not only an eco-friendly alternative to harsh detergents, but they're also extremely economical -- a single pound of soap nuts provides enough cleaning power to let you do a full load of laundry, every day, for an entire year. As an added bonus, soap nuts contain plant-based compounds with antifungal and antibacterial properties but are gentle enough for baby's things.
To use for the laundry, simply place 5 or 6 soap nuts into a muslin bag and toss into the washer with a full load of clothes. You'll note that there won't be a lot of suds produced. This is because there isn't any sudsing agent like sodium lauryl sulfate involved to produce a load of bubbles that television commercials have been telling us for decades is necessary to get things clean. (This means there won't be any residue left on clothes either.) You'll also notice that, in contrast to artificial fragrance, soap nuts yield a pleasant aroma reminiscent of apple cider. Also, you can reuse the same soap nuts (and muslin bag) several times! When they take on a grayish color and become very soft, it's time to replace them.
To make a simple cleaning solution for cleaning floors, countertops, bathrooms and other household purposes, combine 12-15 soap nuts in a sauce pan with 2 cups of filtered water and bring to a boil. Reduce to low, cover and let simmer gently for 45 minutes to an hour, or until they soap nuts become mushy and lose their color. Let cool, strain and transfer into the appropriate containers. For added cleaning power and/or scent, add a few drops of an organic essential oil of your choice to your final products. You can compost the spent soap nuts.
PS: Don't be concerned that these de-seeded fruits are referred to as nuts. Soap nuts are perfectly safe to use by anyone with a nut allergy because they aren't "true" nuts. In fact, they are harvested from specimens in the Lychee family of trees, which includes Goji berry (Lycii).