Natural Washing Solutions…Soapnuts, Homemade Laundry Powder, and Vinegar

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Homemade, Natural Washing Solutions

Yesterday I made up a new batch of laundry washing powder and realised I hadn’t done a cleaning post in a while so here I go…

As with all other cleaning products, we are conditioned to believe that we need to buy commercial washing powders or liquids to keep our clothes and laundry clean, free of stains, and smelling lovely.  Not only do these commercial products contain a plethora of chemicals which are harmful to the environment and humans, but the recent packaging ‘improvements’ now see so many of them in solid plastic tubs.  What was wrong with cardboard?!

Anyway, I tried various eco-alternatives before looking into homemade options and a friend referred me to a recipe at Being Creative to Keep My Sanity, which had been working well for her.

Looking at the ingredients I realised I had nearly everything I needed to make it but I was concerned about the inclusion of bars of Fels Naptha soap which is a tallow (beef fat) based soap with some questionable chemicals (or Zote as an alternative which is also not vegetarian, and neither of these are available in the UK/Europe anyway) and Oxyclean powder due to the plastic tub it is packaged in, so I decided to find alternatives for these.

For my first batch, I stuck fairly strictly to the proportions laid on in the tried and tested recipe which equates roughly to:

– 4 parts Borax
– 4 parts Washing Soda
– 3 parts Bicarbonate of Soda

I then added:

– 3 parts Laundry Bleach (which is a similar composition as OxiClean but in a cardboard box)
– 1 part grated vegetarian castille soap bars (or soap flakes which I feel is a lot simpler than grating my knuckles!)

Mix everything together in a big bowl (grating the bars if necessary) then store in a wide mouth jar, and use approx 1-2 tablespoons per load depending on size and how dirty the clothes are.  I’m in the UK where we only have front loading washing machines, so I just put the powder in the dispenser.  My first batch lasted me for months.

The second batch I made yesterday was far more slap dash and based on what I had left on my cleaning ingredients shelf.   The reality is that the borax, washing soda, and soap flakes are all good for washing laundry so a combination of these will always be good.  The bicarbonate of soda is also apparently good at stain removing.  So you can be pretty flexible with the proportions and leave out an ingredient if you don’t have it.  I barely had any borax left and know this can be a little more difficult to source so I just used what I had and may add some more in when I get it if I feel it needs it.

I order all my basic ingredients from Summer Naturals in the UK.  They have the largest bulk sizes and cheapest prices that I’ve found anywhere.  From what I’ve read on other blogs, in the US and other parts of the world you can find these items in supermarkets.

Fabric Softener

Now, what about softener?  Here in the UK, fabric softening liquid is the done thing and it was difficult for me to believe that I could get my clothes bouncy soft without it.   But I took a risk and followed the advice of countless sites telling me that white vinegar was all it would take and guess what, it worked brilliantly!  Use approx half a cup (1ooml) to each load or a bit more for extra softness/if you are line drying. Adding a few drops of an essential oil of your choice in with the vinegar will give you a hint of fragrance.  The vinegar will also help to soften the water and keep your machine free from limescale and sparkly clean.

If you have trouble with static in your dryer, just soak a rag in vinegar and add with a load of wet clothes and it should solve the problem.  No more dryer sheets needed.

I did my first Bikram Yoga class the other day.  Bikram Yoga, if you don’t know of it, is basically yoga in a room the temperature of a sauna, so there’s a lot of sweat!  Despite the fact that the class was a huge challenge for me in that heat, the one thing that I found most hard was the smell of the towels of the other members of the class.  As they sweated more and the heat increased, the towels started wafting odours of chemical-filled summer fields, ocean breezes, and all manner of other sickly floral smells – which made me sneeze!  I’m so happy that my clothes are now fresh and clean but don’t pollute my sensitive nose with toxic chemicals.

And there’s more….


Now while I am very happy with my homemade laundry powder I am still a little bothered by the warnings on the boxes of washing soda and borax and laundry bleach, which state that they are irritants and should not be inhaled or kept in contact with skin for long periods.  Although these are naturally occurring compounds somethings in nature can still be toxic to humans and while the rinse cycle will remove most residues, I really wanted to find something that would wash clothes which was so pure that you could almost eat it…

That’s when I found soapnuts!  Soapnuts are actually not nuts but the dried shell of soap berries, which are a fruit related to the lychee and found growing in many parts of the world.  These shells contain saponin which is a natural surfactant and can be used to clean clothes, as well as having many other cleaning uses.  This is a truly 100% natural washing solution and completely safe to have in the house without worrying about children (they would hate the taste even if they did have a quick lick!)

To use soapnuts for laundry, you simply add 5 shells in a small muslin bag (usually supplied when you purchase the nuts) to the drum of your machine, add a few drops of essential oil directly onto the bag, and toss in the wash.  If you are washing on cold cycles then you can sit the bag of soapnuts in warm water for five minutes before the wash to help release the saponin.   There is normally no need for softener but if you really feel you need it, you can still add vinegar in the rinse section of the tray, or directly into the drum.  This will help to soften the water.  If you do live in a hard water area you might need a couple more nuts.

The batch of soapnuts will last 3-4 times.

A soapnut liquid can be made by boiling about 15 soapnuts in about a litre of water for 20 mins.  Strain out the soapnuts and use the liquid for general cleaning, washing up dishes, or add some to the drawer of your machine (or directly in the top for a top-loader).  Using liquid can work well in front loading machines as there is sometimes not enough water in the machine to activate the soapnuts.

For lots of information on soap nuts, see

The results

Now I’ve done a lot of testing over the past few months and here’s my verdict!

I took my arch-enemy of my laundry bin, my 5-year old’s school polo tops (polyester-cotton blend – eugh but can’t do much about that) which come home daily covered in paint, dirt, pen, tomato sauce, you name it, he gets it on there!

I washed a particularly dirty batch of tops in the following:

– Ariel super duper, this will remove all stains and give you everything your heart desires, powder
– Non biological supermarket brand washing powder
– Homemade washing powder
– Soapnuts

I need to point out here that I did not treat the stains before.

Every load with each product came out the same – they all still had terrible stains!!!!  So I came to the conclusion that it must be the material of the tops and felt like throwing them out.  I then tried stain remover (there is a great natural stain remover bar on Living Naturally) and washed them all again.  Marginal improvement on the stains but still grubby.  I think I will need to take this up with the school as all the mums seem to have the same problem and I’m not buying a new top every week.

My conclusion is therefore that the Ariel and store bought powders were no better than either of my other homemade/natural options.

What about other clothing?

My partner’s sweaty gym top – well, as much as I wanted the soap nuts to work on this, it still smelt after one wash.  After trying the wash again using soap nut liquid it was absolutely fine and it makes sense that the high efficiency front loader machines don’t always use enough water to get the soap nuts activated.

White loads – my homemade washing powder is perfect for these where soap nuts left the whites a little grubby.

Final conclusion is that I use the soapnuts on most washes (with liquid for any very dirty loads) and the homemade powder for whites and sheets.

I’m saving money as both soap nuts and my laundry powder are extremely economical, I am not contributing to packaging on repeat buying of laundry products, and I’m not exposing my family, or the environment to toxic chemicals.

And I’m very happy about that 🙂

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