I’m always looking for ways to save money, so when I stumbled across this cool tutorial on Zero Waste Chef about using horse chestnuts (or conkers) to make laundry soap I knew I had to give it a try.
I’ve used soap nuts, but there have been some concerns that their rising popularity may be hurting those who’ve been using them for centuries – they’re native to the Himalayas. For generations, soap nuts have been used by people in India to wash their laundry or to use as a body wash. The increasing demand in other parts of the world has led to the soap berries, as they are also called, to be exported in droves, which has led to them becoming far too pricey for the natives to afford. Then, of course, because they have to be shipped thousands of miles, that carbon footprint is not a pretty picture either.
Horse chestnuts, on the other hand, are readily available and totally free here, which means little carbon footprint, and, you definitely can’t beat the cost!
You’ve probably seen them, lying in the ground in the park or even in the streets where you live. The true American chestnut, which is edible, is actually very rare as it was virtually eliminated from much of its former native range due to a fungal blight. The horse chestnut, which is what you want to make your laundry soap with, is actually native to Europe but spread to North America in the 17th century.
The reason that horse chestnuts work as laundry soap is that just like those soap nuts, they contain saponins, which is a soap-like chemical compound, but of course, it’s all natural.
How To Make Horse Chestnut Laundry Soap
So, on an early fall day, I set out to enjoy the fresh, crisp air with a bucket in hand, taking a walk to the park. It didn’t take long before I had that bucket full of horse chestnuts.
Although you can crush the nuts using a hammer or toss them into a blender, I decided to use my handy kitchen knife and just cut them in quarters. Then, I took about a half-cup of quartered chestnuts, placed them in a glass measuring cup and added a cup of hot water. Now, they needed to steep – if you’ve pulverized them with a hammer or blender, they only need to steep for about 30 minutes to release the saponins, but because they were cut into quarters, I left them to steep overnight.
In the morning, I strained the mixture, which looked just like milk. This stuff is thick and has kind of a cloudy, yellow hue. That’s all it takes! You only need about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup to wash each load of laundry. Put the rest in the refrigerator and it will be good for a week. The next time I made mine, I also added a couple of drops of lavender essential oil for a nice fragrance. My clothes come out fresh and smelling fabulously clean.
A couple of things to keep in mind if you try it – horse chestnut laundry soap is great for everyday washing, but if you have heavily soiled or stained clothing, you’ll need to pretreat it first for it to come out clean.
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