We heard and read about it: the possibility to wash your clothes with chestnuts. In autumn they are everywhere, some streets are covered in chestnuts, washing agent directly in front of your door step. We thought about it now long enough, it is time to give it a try: Best case scenario a very cheap and ecological washing agent; worst case: you have to wash the laundry again. And perhaps a stinky boyfriend sleeps next to you. But more about that later. 😉
Memories of our childhood and great autumn times appear during the collecting of chestnuts. Both in Leipzig and in Stockholm we found chestnut trees and gathered a stock of chestnuts - if the result is satisfying, we want to have sufficient laundry agent for the up-coming year!
Of course we gathered some information beforehand about the process of making washing agent. This post at wastelandrebel (German) was quite helpful. First of all, the chestnuts have to be chopped up or shredded. We decided for a sharp knife (dangerous!) and an axe (only looks dangerous). The above linked post also mentions that the chestnuts can be shredded in a food processor, but we did not dare to try if our devices can manage the task. We will share our experience when we give it a try in the future.
The chestnut pieces are then soaked in water. We waited between 8 hours to two days before transferring the water into the detergent compartment of the washing machine. Before doing so, we removed the chestnut pieces from the water, and did not add them into the machine. You can see in the pictures below that, after two days of soaking, the water foamed quite a bit.
But why is it even possible to use chestnuts instead of washing agents?
Our local chestnut is the horse chestnut, which was probably introduced by Ottoman warriors as horse food (that's why it's called horse chestnut). The chestnuts, which we use for handcrafting or decoration, are the seeds of the tree. These seeds contain saponines, however not as much as e.g. the Nepalese/ Indian soapnut, which you can buy in drug stores. The amount of saponines contained in chestnuts is still more than enough for the detergent effect. Saponines are molecules with hydrophilic parts (i.e. they "like" water) and lipophilic parts (which "like" fat) . This means that they can completely coat a particle, which belongs to a grease stain on a piece of laundry, and flush it away with the water.
The same principle applies for Indian soapnuts. I (Roxi) have been doing my laundry for more than six years with soapnuts, and I only made good experiences so far. For very dirty clothes, I add a lentil sized bit of neutral soap, or soak the laundry before. Especially blood stains need a treatment with saline solution, i.e. I spread it on the blood stain and rinse the piece of laundry with cold water. Right before I put it into the washing machine, I apply a little more saline solution.
This works great. One part, which perplexes many people, but which is a great advantage for those who suffer from allergies: There is no perfume. Your laundry will in the end only smell of you if of anything! If you hang it while still wet, it can smell strange, but as soon as it's dry, this smell should be gone. If you want to have some scent, you'll have to add it to the washing machine in the form of a couple of drops of essential oils.
However, our local horse chestnut has one significant advantage compared to the soapnut: Well, it's local! A lot has been reported about how the consumers in Europe indirectly destroy the market for soapnut in India and Nepal by raising prices there. Additionally, the CO2 emissions emerging from the transport to Europe need to be considered. There are therefore enough reasons to at least give it a try and do laundry a couple of times with horse chestnuts.
A first conclusion
We have not made a lot of experience yet, but we wanted to share these first insights with you:
- The laundry came out of the washing machine clean. However, it did not really go into the machine in a very dirty state in the first place.
- It does not smell bad. But it also does not smell as nicely as one might be used to from conventional washing agents.
- We started using about 2 chestnuts per batch and want to increase the amount to see if we can get better cleaning results with more chestnut.
- What happens if you wash very sweaty clothes with chestnuts? Will the washing power suffice to kill these strong smells?
We are looking forward to answering these and other questions in an update!
Greetings from Stockholm
Roxi und Resi