Talia, who lives near Adelaide, says that things drastically changed for her family when her husband Luke battled cancer in 2002, and again in 2006 while heavily pregnant with their first baby. It was then that they decided to go organic in all aspects of their lives, and not long after... they discovered soapberries.
Talia Borda washes her entire family’s laundry with little berries harvested from trees growing in Nepal. And she reckons it’s high time you start doing the same.
“Most of us are washing our clothes in chemicals,” she told us during a chat a few weeks back. “Even the more natural laundry detergents still have a lot of chemicals. That’s sitting on your skin all day and you’re absorbing it.”
But soapberries weren’t easy to find back then so, in 2013, Talia launched That Red House and started importing and selling them herself.
You might have heard of something like this before – Talia says soapberries are often called “soapnuts”, but despite their nutty appearance, they’re really not nuts at all.
Soapberries are the fruit of the sapindus mukorossi tree, which grow wild in Nepal’s Himalayas. The shell contains a natural soap called saponin, which breaks water surface tension to penetrate clothing fibres, lifting dirt and stains from fabric so they can be rinsed away without any need for conventional soaps or stain-removers.
As a mum of four, Talia’s intimately acquainted with gross stains of all varieties. Which makes her an authority on whether soapberries can handle tougher laundry tasks.
Short answer: heck yes. Hotter water, she says, draws more soapy juice out of the berries for a better clean.
“You could literally boil them bold them up like pasta and use that liquid, which is more concentrated, to hand wash stains before you put them in the machine,” she told us.
For ordinary washes, you just pop five dried shells into the provided wash bag and throw it in the machine. Each set of shells is good for about five loads.
The berries won’t last as long in hotter water (maybe three washes each, as opposed to five) so Talia recommends warm 40-degree washes for best results. Or soak your soapberries in hot water for five minutes to soften and activate the shells before throwing them in a cold wash.
She says you can add a little baking soda or lemon juice to your load, too, for whiter whites.
We reckon soapberries are some kind of wonder cleaner. Because they’re antibacterial and anti-fungal, they can be cooked up into a potent yet all-natural kitchen, bathroom and household cleaning spray, as well as a stainless steel and glass cleaner.
You can even use soapberries as a base for homemade handwash, shaving cream, moisturising baby wash and a hypoallergenic shampoo for babies and folks with sensitive skin. Amazing. (Get all of those recipes here.)
Talia’s supply chain couldn’t be more natural. The trees grow wild and local farmers handpick the berries. Families break them open, making traditional jewellery from what’s inside. The leftover shells are dried into soapberries.
The entire process is certified organic and Talia makes sure her employees are paid fair trade wages, too, giving back to the community through non-profit Grow Nepal.
Here in Australia, soapberries can be safely returned to the land as compost after use. Talia also reuses her laundry greywater on the incredible edible garden surrounding her family’s Adelaide Hills home, which includes 45 raised garden beds and a huge fruit and nut orchard.
“Everything is just sustainable from start to finish. It’s just the perfect choice,” she says.
We couldn’t agree more.