Soapberries: Truly Natural Laundry Detergent
Caring for natural fabrics by truly natural means is easy with the right tools. While the shelves of your local health food store swell with new 'natural' detergent brands (read: questionably safe synthetic chemicals packaged in plastic with a green sounding brand name) competing for your dollar, the best natural laundry solution is completely compostable, has been growing on trees or underground around the world for millennia, and is still used as a primary laundry detergent by many cultures today.
Soapberries, also known as 'soapnuts', and other plants rich in natural saponins (soapy stuff) grow all over the globe, but Sapindus mukorossi are especially well-suited to our contemporary laundering needs. With a near-neutral pH of ~6, excellent surfactant properties, naturally occurring anti-microbial compounds, and no whitening agents, soapberries effectively remove oil and dirt on both plant and animal fibers from cotton to wool without altering their natural color or the colors of natural dyestuffs!
Because they're a completely natural product, freshness and sourcing can make a big difference in performance. High-quality soapberries for washing are whole, deseeded, and lustrous. They should have a nice waxy sheen, and still have some fresh softness to their body. If your berries have a completely dried out, matte, lifeless appearance, they've likely lost the best of their washing power too. Lower quality berries can still work if boiled to extract their saponin content, but won't perform as well by simply tossing them in the wash.
Our soapberries are directly sourced from Nepal (not through some third-party distributor hoarding dried-out berries in a shipping container in the desert somewhere - this is, unfortunately, quite common) where they're organically grown in their native habitat, and then are kept in proper storage conditions at Housework to preserve their freshness before being individually weighed and packed in undyed organic cotton bags to order.
We've personally used exclusively soapberries for years as our sole laundering agent on everything from clothing to towels and bedding, and even cloth diapers, and we're endlessly impressed by their effectiveness and simplicity of use: Simply toss a sachet of 4-6 soapberries into the wash, and go! They work with all natural fibers and water temperatures, but perform the best with warm to hot water, so if you're doing a cold wash that needs some extra kick, steep them in hot water for 5 minutes before adding to the wash - easy! In addition to being incredibly effective and simple to use, soapberries are such cleaning powerhouses that you can reuse the same batch up to 4x!
Outside the laundry room, soapberries are still used in traditional textile scouring and dyeing processes and for removing excess lanolin from sheep's wool throughout much of the Himalayas, and for general household cleaning and as a natural shampoo when boiled into a concentrate amongst converts worldwide. They are quite literally soap (saponins), miraculously contained within a fruit, so there are many uses beyond that if you get creative! We've heard of folks washing their cars with them!