Natural laundry detergent. And totally for free…
Autumn is the season for you to collect as many horse chestnuts as you can. Why? Because they make a great natural laundry detergent?
How? I will tell you now…
Soap nuts or chestnuts
When I first started to quit plastic and looked for more natural alternatives for everything I researched laundry and found in between a few DIY recipes “soap nuts”. I bought some and used them and it has been fine but I also discovered that soap nuts that we buy here, mostly come from India. And because we have a growing demand for soap nuts in our western world, they get more expensive in India, so that the poorer people are actually forced to use the chemical laundry detergent. So what does look like a healthier, eco friendlier way to do my laundry at first sight, isn’t really one if other parts of the world get forced to use chemical detergent… Mostly they don’t even have good sewage treatment neither, so the toxic detergent might just go straight into fresh waters…
So when I discovered that we in the northern hemisphere have a soap kind of nut falling from the trees in autumn, I couldn’t wait to try it. Luckily it had been autumn at this moment so I just got out there and started collecting.
If you go out there: we are looking for the non edible horse chestnuts (also called buckeyes). These are toxic for us so please never eat them, and make sure you know how the edible ones look like (different size, different shell, different tree leaves).
But what is it that makes the chestnut (and soap nut) so good for a laundry detergent? It is the sopanine. A soap-like chemical in the nut.
How to use chestnuts as laundry detergent
If you like to collect chestnuts for the whole year, you should collect at least 6-7 KG of chestnuts. (More if you need to wash more)
If you have a great blender (it really has to be a good one, or it will just get damaged) you can shred them after you cut them in quarters and then dry them so you can use then easier along the year. But they must be really dry or else they can get bad (get mouldy). You could dry them on a baking sheet in the oven (low heat) or on a sheet outside in the late summer sun.
For one load of washing you then only need about 40g of the shredded chestnuts in a jar, pour over with 500ml of hot water. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, better over night. Strain the mixture (you don’t want the chestnut bits in your washing machine!!!) and use like a normal detergent.
This is what I use for one load. I only wash once a week, so I don’t make any detergent in advance because yes it can go bad quickly. If you wash more than once a week you can definitely take 70-80g chestnut and make it 1 Liter detergent. And then just store half of it in the fridge.
Precut the nuts
If you don’t have a high quality blender, cut the nuts with a good knife (be careful though, the shell get’s harder if the nuts get older) just a day before you are washing (or wrap them into a cloth and use a hammer and a stone in the garden to shred them).
Cut 4 chestnuts in a few smaller pieces (be very careful! The nuts are hard and get even harder if they get older…) fill the jar with hot water and now it needs to soak a little longer than the shredded version. I would always let it soak over night. (Strain before you use the liquid, pulp goes into compost).
They need to soak longer if you have bigger pieces. So if you shred them in a blender the small pieces need only 30-60 minutes of soaking in hot water, while the big ones need an over night soak…
Some people say they actually peel the chestnuts if they use them for white fabrics. I don’t have much white so I don’t peel them. It would take ages to peel them also…
I didn’t have any colored stains on my clothing after washing, so I don’t think it is necessary to peel them, but maybe others will tell you different stories. Try it yourself.
You can always put some baking soda/natron as an extra into the laundry too. And if you like some white vinegar as softener.
For stained clothing: please treat before washing.
And yes, I even travel with chestnuts or DIY laundry detergent.
It is not only important to use less toxins at home but also when visiting other countries, and it is sometimes even more important when traveling (no sewage treatments, sewage goes oftentimes straight into the rivers/the ocean.).
In Mexico we needed to go to launderettes because there was no washing machine in our Airbnb, but they used our own detergent with not even blinking an eye. And used our reusable bag for the fresh washed clothes.
They even earned a tiny bit more money because the didn’t need their own detergent neither a bag 😉
Ivy for laundry
Chestnuts are not the best for dark/black clothing, but I heard that ivy does the trick too. The have sopanine too and make dark fabrics stay dark.
I haven’t tried it yet but I will as soon as I find some Ivy in the park.
The great thing about Ivy is that they are winter green. Means you can find them all year round.
Have you tried any DIY laundry detergent or natural detergent yet?
If yes please share your favorite in the comments below!