I am on a journey to cut out toxins in my home and body. Clean beauty, wellness and household products. This has led to my product line for beauty and wellness products, yet I still struggle when it comes to cleaning products (hellooo type A personality, if it doesn’t shine, it ain’t clean).
When it comes to laundry, I have gravitated toward soap nuts from the sapindus saponaria tree. I love the smell of them, and the fresh clean scent on my clothes when they are washed. Similar to ocean water. I thought I made a great decision when I started using soap nuts. They come in bulk at Bulk Barn, so I just fill a jar and create virtually no waste. I can use the same 4 shells, in a little organic cotton bag for almost two weeks, so it’s incredibly economical. Little did I know, I was still causing harm with my purchase. When the popularity of soap nuts sky rocketed small villages in India who have been using them for generations paid the price. The western export of soapnuts caused an increase in the price for natives of the area. Many of whom are no longer able to afford this incredible gift from mother nature. They have become so expensive that they have begun using chemical based detergents again, such as Tide, adding to the pollution of clean water sources in the area. Soapnuts are still a great start to cutting back on toxins, I just use them more sparingly now, in homemade shampoos and dishwashing soap!
Horse chestnuts grow in abundance in North America and have a very similar chemical makeup to soap nuts. In fact, you can probably think of a tree right now within walking distance to collect them. Horse chestnuts, or conkers are NOT edible, and in fact are moderately toxic to the human body if ingested. Making them kind of useless to us, until now. They contain saponins, which is a soap like property found in some nuts and legumes. Chestnuts contain higher levels of saponins than soap nuts. Saponins are a botanical compound that possess a surface-active or detergent like properties. A carbohydrate component of the molecular makeup is water soluble and ionic, making it very structurally similar to store bought, chemical laden detergents. They will dissolve in water, and attract fats and oils in materials to clean them.
Making chestnut laundry soap is really too easy. There are two methods, but the first step is the same for each. Collect as many chestnuts as you would like, ensuring you leave enough behind for the local squirrels, deer and rodents. (Ideally not next to your town’s main street, in the church parking lot, you may get some looks. But you do you.) Bring them home and fill your sink with warm water. Optionally, you can add a splash of dish soap, or a few drops of antibacterial essential oil to the water. Swish the chestnuts around in the water until you have removed all dirt, grass and mold off of any of the nuts (you can’t get more organic than that!) Take the chestnuts out of the water and lay them to dry on a towel or in a colander.
For the first method take 4-6 chestnuts and ‘smash’ with a hammer, or chop the chestnuts into the smallest possible pieces. Add them to a 500mL jar, and fill the jar to the top with hot water. Let this sit for 8-24 hours. It will change to a milky white colour and a layer of foam will appear on the surface of the water. Strain this into a jar for storage, and keep in the fridge. It should last for up to a week. You only need 2 oz of liquid per load of laundry.
Secondly, take as many chestnuts as you can find, grate them or pulse in a blender or food processor. Allow to dry on a cookie sheet or pan, and store in a cool dry place. Whenever you need more soap, add 2 tbsp of pulp to a 500mL jar, fill with hot water and allow to sit for 8-24 hours. Strain and use the soap 2 oz per load of laundry.
Some recommend peeling the chestnuts to protect white clothing, I have not had a problem with staining from the shells use your own discretion. Horse chestnuts are moderately toxic if ingested so please be sure to sanitize your workspace and tools when you are finished (they aren’t toxic enough to completely avoid using kitchen utensils, just clean up after!). This soap works best with soft water, if you have hard water add a splash of vinegar or baking soda to your load to help out. I have been experimenting with adding a few drops of essential oils to each batch. So far my favourites have been grapefruit ginger, Purification and Thieves!
Next autumn, I will explore the use of chestnut leaves to produce laundry soap! For now, enjoy your completely free alternative to laundry detergents. Have fun, and share your experience with me!
Keep an eye out for the step by step DiY video, coming soon!