Soap nuts: FAQ

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Soapnuts are the hulls of the fruit of the Sapindus Mukorossi soap tree, a tree that grows in India and the Himalayan foothills. They are impregnated with a natural soap, saponin, which dissolves in water and washes your laundry gently.

Sapindus nut Mukorossi

Wash nuts on the tree

Faced with this new way of washing his clothes, some remain perplexed and ask questions that are legitimate. So to answer once and for all these questions and doubts, we have collected them in the form of FAQ, with the answers we can provide.

1) Why import nut shells from so far away when there are plants containing saponin in Europe?

In order to defend against pests (saponin is a natural repellant), many plants contain saponin such as chestnuts or spinach, for example. But in such small quantities that it cannot be exploited. Only soapnuts contain enough to be interesting for certain applications, but this rate is only 5% while soapnuts contain between 15% and 30%. Additionally, saponin is found in the root of the soapwort, which involves destroying the plant while the saponin in soapnuts is found in the shell of fruit, which is sufficient to collect in the fall.

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2) Transport from India or Nepal poses the problem of fuel and is not that environmentally friendly.

From this point of view, the ideal solution would be for all of us to have a soap tree in our garden: we don't.

We must then compare with the situation as it is if we stick to conventional detergents. Take the example of a couple without children:
-with the nuts of washing: its consumption is on average of 100g for three months, about 2 years with 1 kg.
-with the conventional laundry, it will consume for the same washing time, about 8 packets of 5 kg: that is 40 kg of laundry.

These 8 packages are obviously to be transported between the factory, the store and the house.

We will not mention chemical pollution (upstream and downstream of use) and the embodied energy necessary for the manufacture of detergents because the differences from one chemical detergent to another are too large and are difficult to obtain (confidential manufacturing processes). But it's a safe bet that importing 1 kg from India has a lower overall impact than using 40 kg of chemical detergent.

At the sight of this comparison, the problem of transport becomes a false problem.

3) Buying nuts in India means exploiting southern countries?

Currently there is no official fair trade label for soapnuts yet. This is due to the fact that the export abroad is very recent and that the soap nuts do not come from organized cultures.

Indeed, the soap trees grow freely along the roads, in the gardens, where they find space: they are not grown on industrial farms.

Collecting nuts for export is therefore an additional source of income for many families. The rates and wages of workers for packaging and handling are in line with what is practiced in the country. Using nuts helps reduce inequalities ...

4) Are the washing nuts organic?

Soap nuts cannot be considered "organic" within the meaning of European certifications. This is for the good reason that there are currently no “soapnut farms” and because the trees grow freely and cannot be defined by specifications. Most of these trees grow naturally and without any chemical treatment. Indeed, saponin being a natural repellent against pests, there would be no point in treating them.

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However, it is not because a product grows naturally that it is certified “organic”, it is on the contrary because its production is controlled from start to finish. These names justify higher selling prices to consumers although the prices are not necessarily passed on to the producers.

Organic does not mean fair and vice versa. But the amalgamation is often done by unscrupulous salespeople.

5) According to some reports, including some sponsored by manufacturers of organic detergents, excess saponin in water could affect aquatic fauna.

We made a test of a concentrated decoction of soapnuts to study its resistance over time. After about a week, mold appeared on the surface. This proves the very rapid biodegradability of the saponin contained in the water. It would therefore be necessary for large quantities of saponin to be instantly released into the same water course to have an impact on the fauna and in all cases this impact will be very limited in time ... unlike the products contained in chemical detergents!

Again, you have to look at the big picture and compare. If you are looking for a laundry with zero impact on the environment, you have to do without detergent, or better yet: do not do laundry at all. Soapnuts are the best compromise we know of.

Dried walnuts
Dried walnuts.

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