Autumn is finally here and with the seasonal change comes a load of conkers.
And pumpkin spice lattes, but that’s a different conversation.
While conkers may be great fun to smash together, playing with them can feel a bit wasteful. You can’t eat conkers, after all, so you either have to put up with conkers littering the pavements or chuck them directly in the bin.
Well, perhaps not. One woman has another eco-friendly option.
Ecobrick trainer The Watercress Queen has taken to Facebook to share how she makes use of ubiquitous autumn conkers by turning them into laundry detergent.
Unfortunately, this little DIY trick isn’t as simple as just bunging conkers in your washing machine. But it’s worth the effort if, like us, you’re bothered by the idea of plastics and chemicals polluting the sea thanks to our laundry.
Plus, the trick could save you quite a bit of money if you happen to live near a park covered with conkers free for the taking.
The Watercress Queen writes on Facebook: ‘I have used nothing but conkers for over a year now. As a family we love it.
‘No smells, no chemicals, no palm oil, no plastic. And best of all free other than my energy.’
So, how do you transform those freebies into something that can be used to clean your clothing?
First, you’ll need to collect a load of conkers. That’s the fun bit, as you can get kids involved in a conker collecting mission or ask pals to hand over any conkers they find on the way to meet you.
Once you’ve got a good stash, you need to finely chop the conkers then dry them so they are rock hard. The Watercress Queen uses a dehydrator for this, but explains you can use an oven on low heat. Once the conker pieces are totally dry they will keep for as long as you need them.
Now take 40g of the dried conkers and put them in a 500g jar or container, then fill this jar with boiling water and soak for between 10 to 30 minutes.
Sieve into another jar – the liquid is your first batch of laundry detergent.
You can soak those conkers again a second and third time. Each time you do the liquid will look a little thinner, and you’ll notice the nice woody, soapy scent will disappear by the third go. When your conkers are all used up they’ll turn from yellow to white.
The Watercress Queen recommends using the liquid from your first soak for your dirtiest washing, using the whole lot if you have an especially dirty load and half for a normal wash.
You can use the entirety of your second batch for a regular wash, and use the third lot of liquid for towels or anything that only needs a light wash.
The used conker pieces can then be added to your compost so you don’t need to clog up your bins.
The Watercress Queen explains that she collects her conkers in autumn so she has plenty of chopped up and dried pieces for the rest of the year, making the liquid as she needs it. Each batch of liquid will last for around a week – just pop it in the fridge and give it a stir before using.
The environmental activist always makes sure to plant conkers whenever she makes the laundry detergent ‘as a thank you to the earth’.
‘I have now finished preparing my washing powder,’ she wrote on Facebook. ‘8 kilos of conkers – picked up from only three trees and we didn’t pick them all up by a long way. We have planted 20 conkers as a thank you to the earth.
‘This will give me three washes a day for a whole year. I have been using them for towels for a whole year already and nothing but conkers for 2 months now. Our clothes don’t smell of anything and are super soft.’
The trick works because chestnuts, like soapnuts, contain a natural soap-like substance called saponins, which work to remove stains and dirt and add a fresh scent to clothing. Some people also use conkers as a natural shampoo.
People also say that spiders hate the smell of conkers and thus won’t infest your house if you put conkers by every window. There’s no scientific evidence to back this up, but it’s worth a go if you’re collecting conkers anyway.
We’ve heard that mint leaves will keep spiders at bay, too.
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