My article about “soap nuts,” an ecological alternative to laundry detergent, is up here.

I’ve tried the husks myself and was surprised to find that they really did work as well as other detergent. Over the past year I’ve tried to remove as many chemicals as possible from my life, and discovered that baking soda and vinegar work wonders as a substitute for most cleaning products.

Yet at first I found it odd putting a handful of small waxy balls into the washing machine. I didn’t believe they would actually take the sweat and dirt out of my cycling gear (it’s 35 degrees in Tokyo right now, remember).  But they did. Consider me a convert.

It’s interesting that while they’re used extensively in India and Nepal, more affluent families use chemical detergents instead. It seems that this isn’t because they’re more efficient, but rather that they’re a sign of development, wealth, and sophistication. It was the same in Japan, too; they were used historically as a soap and disinfectant, but fell out of use after soap was imported from Europe. There are so many ecological traditions that disappear simply because the scent of the new is attractive. I think it’s analogous to something like McDonalds being seen as a luxury food in China and Russia, while the actual quality is much lower than domestically produced cuisines.

You can buy the soapnuts- or laundry nuts and Econuts, as they call them- from their online shop here.

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