Sapindus Trifoliatus: or how the fruit became a detergent

We unveiled our first sustainable gooThe fruit that's a detergentdie yesterday, the fruit that’s a detergent.
The fruit has a name. Trifoliatus. Sapindus trifoliatus.
A year ago I had no idea of the existence of such an awesome fruit. Through an incredible concatenation of events, Preethi & I found ourselves with a bag of Sapindus shells. We were thoroughly intrigued by the possibilities. What started off as an innocent laundry experiment a year ago has snowballed into our first business venture.
However I digress.
The Sapindus
The Sapindus is a group of around 10 species of trees whose fruits can be used as surfactants. The name Sapindus is derived from the Latin words Saponis, meaning soap and Indicus, meaning from India. They are commonly known as soapnuts or soapberries. Soapnuts, though isn’t technically right – as they are fruits and not nuts. For the botany snob hidden in you, we can go a step further and call them “pericarps”
India is home to several species of Sapindus. The two most well known of these are the South Indian Sapindus trifoliatus & the Himalayan Sapindus Mukorossi. All species of Sapindus are useful detergents in their own way.
The secret ingredient
The secret ingredient in the fruit is the Saponin which makes it a useful surfactant (or detergent).
Ergo, the fruit that’s a detergent.
How Surfactants clean
Plain water does not usually remove oily particles or tough dirt stains from clothes. The addition of surfactants helps to clean clothes in a two step process.
1. Reduce surface tension

    The surfactant molecules have a water-loving head that attaches to water molecules and a water-hating tail that attaches to the dirt molecules. This creates a force that detaches the dirt from the clothes & suspends the dirt in the water. The agitation of the washing machine or scrubbing by hand further helps detach the dirt from the clothes. As a result of the dirt getting detached the water now starts looking murky.
    2. Emulsification
    Now that the dirt has been removed, it is critical that they don’t re-deposit on the clothes. This is the done by the second action of the surfactant i.e emulsification. Emulsification is the process by which the dirt and the water form a mixture. This keeps the dirt suspended in the water till it is washed down the drain
    But the Sapindus is so much more
    The fruit that’s a detergent is a great surfactant which explains why it cleans so well. However it is so much more than just a surfactant.

    1. It is a certified organic product fruit. So it is absolutely bio-degradable and once used for washing leaves no trace of its existence.
    2. It is powdered to make a great detergent, so it consumes very little energy to manufacture.
    3. It is hypoallergenic, so it is gentle on hands, leaves no chemical residue on clothes, that can be harmful to skin.

    Food for thought
    In the first month of our experiments with the Sapindus we completely eliminated regular chemical detergents. However I am constantly amazed by how well the innocuous, light brown fruit cleans.
    But think about it, regular chemical detergents have been around for the last hundred years or so. However humans and dirty clothes have been around for thousands of years. More often than not it has been the fruit that’s a detergent that saved  the day.

    0 thoughts on “Sapindus Trifoliatus: or how the fruit became a detergent

    1. […] fantastic, innovative work on the sub-continent. Their first product will be a detergent made from (soap nuts). I highly recommend you read this post as I have been fascinated by soap nuts for some time and […]

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