When it comes to skin, I'm pretty sure I have what you'd categorize as a "hide" as opposed to actual human skin.
From years of running around sans sunscreen in the hot Texas sun, picking at every pore, scab, and cuticle all over my body, and attempting to DYI wax every hair at one time or another from my person, most of my skin/hide is pretty hardy. Aside from my flaky, greasy scalp (seriously y'all wash your hair backward
like Alison says), and my irritable face-skin, I could probably scrub my body with Comet and vodka and come out the better for it. NOT A RECOMMENDATION, DON'T DO THAT.
My husband on the other hand, has delicate, cherubim skin that flares up at the first sign of dyes, perfumes, or fabric softener.
When we first started doing our laundry together, while I grabbed my go-to Tide for dark colors and Downy dryer sheets at the time, he reared back like a demon to holy water and presented me with his unscented, hypoallergenic, one step away from just water, detergent. Goodbye dryer sheets.
After a few months of doing our laundry with his boring, cardboard clothes-making detergent, something had to change. Our clothes, while clean were hard, rough, and staticky.
I missed my fresh scented clothes. I missed my clean clothes that smelled like "clean clothes."
I don't know about you, but one of the greatest pleasures for me in life is burying my face in a hamper full of warm, clean laundry, that smells like it was licked clean by fresh mountain air. Our clothes smelled like boredom.
So I set out on a mission, to find a way to do laundry without causing my husband's nether regions to puff up like a toaster pastry.
My ultra-glamorous laundry nook in my building.
I tried almost every "all natural," "chemical free," "made by monks in Tibet" laundry detergent but none of them fit the bill. They either didn't clean our clothes properly (we're a stinky pair), or they continued down the path of jeans that could exfoliate your skin down to the bone with just an normal day's wear.
Not to mention that very often SOMETHING in many of these "natural" detergents still irritated my husband's skin. I'm sure there are good ones out there, I found ones that I certainly liked, but the holy trinity of cleaning power, softness, and allergy freedom still alluded us.
Then, on a whim, while skulking around some natural hippy-dippy website, I found soapnuts.
They are pretty much exactly as they sound. Little nut shells that when exposed to water, release a natural detergent. They are environmentally friendly, compostable, and even reusable. So aside from the novelty of using a sachet full of nut shells to wash my clothes, the crunchy eco-warrior in me perked up.
Plus they were supposed to be super gentle and safe for most people with allergies. (Of course, everybody's different, and anybody can be allergic to anything -- bananas, right here -- so I don't really believe ANYTHING is totally hypoallergenic.)
No need for laundry softener, dryer sheets or bleach. Soapnuts lift dirt and keep it from redepositing on clothes just like any other detergent. Clothes come out smelling fresh, naturally.
So we thought we'd give them a try.
I ordered some organic soapnuts from a company called Bubble & Bee
. They come in a little burlap bag with two small reusable muslin pouches in which to tie up your soapnuts for washing.
Following the directions, I put about seven large shell fragments (they say fragments are better because you have more surface area of the nut to contact the water), put a few drops of lemongrass essential oil on the pouch, and tossed it into a medium sized load of laundry with cold water.
Then I waited.
As the machine started to scrub our clothes, I couldn't help intermittently lifting the lid to see if anything was happening. I saw a pleasing murky color to the water, and a few fine suds. Okay, so it was doing something.
It looked something like this:
According to the Bubble & Bee website, the soapnuts work because:
[They] contain natural components called saponins. These saponins act just like soap. The saponin molecule has one end that combines with water and one end that combines with oil, so it's able to lift up dirt and grime off clothes and keep it suspended in the water.
This all sounded good, but not one to trust every crunchy website I come across (let us not forget the homemade honey-hair gel incident of 2011), I was still skeptical.
When the wash cycle was finished and the machine was still, I opened the lid and stuck my head in. Hmmm. Fresh. Quite fresh.
I've heard that sometimes there can be a slight vinegary smell to clothes after they have been washed with soapnuts, but I detected nothing. It might have been the lemongrass essential oil I added, it might be because my smell-buds are dead. Either way, so far so good.
I lifted my laundry into the dryer and set them a-tumbling. If our clothes came out fresh and soft, the battle would be half-way won.
And fresh and soft they did come out. Now, if you're used to fabric softener, dryer sheets, the whole rigamarole, soapnuts are not going to get you there. You have to remember I was used to washing my clothes with what seemed like liquid rocks.
That night was the big test. My husband put on his freshly cleaned, fresh smelling, and pleasingly soft pajamas and climbed into bed. No itching yet.
By the morning, and through part way through our lazy afternoon, there was still no itching, no toaster pastry crotch in sight. Soapnuts for the win.
We've been using soapnuts for a few years now. Sometimes for extra dirty loads, I'll toss in two pouches of soapnuts and some baking soda, just for good measure. They haven't failed me yet. The pamphlet that came with the soapnuts says that you can reuse them up to three times, depending on how hot the water is. I typically don't go more than two times on loads of average filth.
When I'm finished with a bunch of soapnuts, I'll typically just throw them into my neighbors compost pile, or toss them into the grass. One bag of soap nuts costs $9.99 at Bubble & Bee and lasts approximately 25 loads.
I have to admit, I've never used soapnuts on really disgusting laundry mishaps. When our cat revenge-peed on our sheets, we took them to a laundromat and used a hypoallergenic detergent from there. I'm not sure how soapnuts would handle cat pee AKA the Tears of the Evil One. I'd be willing to try.
Are soapnuts for everyone? I'm not sure. If you want your clothes strongly perfumed, or you need to get really nasty stains out, a simple wash with soapnuts might not cut it. I pre-treat bad stains with a stain stick then either hand scrub or if needed, I use a bleach alternative in a separate load. But for you eco-conscious and/or sensitive skinned folks, soapnuts can be a great find.
And honestly, like I said before, I like the novelty of using a handful of nut shells to do my laundry. Watching them suds up is like magic to me. I don't miss dryer sheets, and I have my face full of soft, "clean clothes"-smelling clean clothes back.
Have you ever tried soapnuts? What was your experience? Do you have sensitive skin? What are your favorite skin-safe laundry detergents?