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Laundry Soap from English Ivy

 
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I was watching a TA Outdoors video this morning, when he mentioned that you can make soap from English Ivy leaves. It's a simple decoction. Boil about 60 ivy leaves in water for 10-15 minutes and then let it steep for about half a day. Strain it, and then you can use about 3/4 of a cup per load of laundry. I've got tons of ivy that I don't want. Stripping some of it and making it useful is a great incentive to get out there and get rid of more of it.

The TA outdoors video has a quick summary. Permacrafters.com has a more detailed recipe.
 
Jeremy VanGelder
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Well, I have made my first batch of this concoction. Tonight I intend to dust with some rags and then I will wash the rags with the soap. We will see how it goes.
20230312_165539.jpg
English Ivy is plentiful around here
English Ivy is plentiful around here
20230312_170219.jpg
So I picked a bunch and put it in a container
So I picked a bunch and put it in a container
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Boiled it
Boiled it
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On my wife's suggestion I used one of those wide pasta strainers to remove the leaves. Then I poured it into a pitcher. Dark and a little bit soapy
On my wife's suggestion I used one of those wide pasta strainers to remove the leaves. Then I poured it into a pitcher. Dark and a little bit soapy
 
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Now I am looking at the pictures and wondering, why am I craving sweet tea?
 
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Laughing! I hope you didn't drink that stuff!

How did it wash?
 
Jeremy VanGelder
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Well, I upped the ante and washed my garage rags last night. I wasn't expecting the soap to cut the grease, and it didn't.  But I was pleasantly surprised by how the non-greasy items turned out. There was a pair of holey socks that came out of the dryer clean and fluffy. An old cloth burp rag was probably the most improved.

I suppose the true way to test it would be to just wash with water. But I am not afraid to use the Ivy soap on my clothes, now.
20230315_202423.jpg
Before
Before
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After. I used two cups of soap and washed with cool water
After. I used two cups of soap and washed with cool water
 
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Jane Mulberry wrote:Laughing! I hope you didn't drink that stuff!



Nope, I only used it as intended :) The concoction has a "green" smell. Heading towards the darker side.

It is important to note that this is not a cleaner that you can eat. The foliage of Hedera helix contains triterpenoid saponins which can cause vomitting and diarrhea. On the other hand, there are medicinal uses for English Ivy, but I have not looked into them.
 
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Jeremy VanGelder wrote:Nope, I only used it as intended :) The concoction has a "green" smell. Heading towards the darker side.

It is important to note that this is not a cleaner that you can eat. The foliage of Hedera helix contains triterpenoid saponins which can cause vomitting and diarrhea. On the other hand, there are medicinal uses for English Ivy, but I have not looked into them.

OK, so it's not human compatible, but have you tested it on growies? At the moment our laundry goes to our septic system, but I'd love that to change at some point.

Not to mention, getting all my friends and neighbors to try this might put a dent in the prolific Ivy growing in this area!
 
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Jay Angler wrote:OK, so it's not human compatible, but have you tested it on growies? At the moment our laundry goes to our septic system, but I'd love that to change at some point.

Not to mention, getting all my friends and neighbors to try this might put a dent in the prolific Ivy growing in this area!


Yes, turning my problem (tons of invasive ivy) into a solution is huge.

I've started researching the medicinal uses and the sources note that Ivy is anti-fungal and anti-mollusc. So probably not great for your compost bin. But I haven't found anything that says you shouldn't water your growies with it.
Dave Boehnlein recommends the page on PFAF which says:

Medicinal Uses
Ivy is a bitter aromatic herb with a nauseating taste[238]. It is often used in folk herbal remedies[218], especially in the treatment of rheumatism and as an external application to skin eruptions, swollen tissue, painful joints, burns and suppurating cuts[9, 238]. Recent research has shown that the leaves contain the compound 'emetine', which is an amoebicidal alkaloid, and also triterpene saponins, which are effective against liver flukes, molluscs, internal parasites and fungal infections[238]. The leaves are antibacterial, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, cathartic, diaphoretic, emetic, emmenagogue, stimulant, sudorific, vasoconstrictor, vasodilator and vermifuge[7, 218, 238]. The plant is used internally in the treatment of gout, rheumatic pain, whooping cough, bronchitis and as a parasiticide[238]. Some caution is advised if it is being used internally since the plant is mildly toxic[7]. Excessive doses destroy red blood cells and cause irritability, diarrhoea and vomiting[238]. This plant should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner[238]. An infusion of the twigs in oil is recommended for the treatment of sunburn[4]. The leaves are harvested in spring and early summer, they are used fresh and can also be dried[9]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Hedera helix for cough, bronchitis (see [302] for critics of commission E).

Other Uses

A yellow and a brown dye are obtained from the twigs[46, 61]. A decoction of the leaves is used to restore black fabrics[7, 46, 53] and also as a hair rinse to darken the hair[7, 53]. If the leaves are boiled with soda they are a soap substitute for washing clothes etc[61]. An excellent ground cover for shady places, succeeding even in the dense shade of trees[197, 208]. A very effective weed suppresser[190]. The cultivars 'Hibernica', 'Lutzii' and 'Neilsonii' have been especially mentioned[190]. Plants can be grown along fences to form a hedge. The variety 'Digitata' is very useful for this[200]. Plants have been grown indoors in pots in order to help remove toxins from the atmosphere. It is especially good at removing chemical vapours, especially formaldehyde[259]. The plants will probably benefit from being placed outdoors during the summer[259]. The wood is very hard and can be used as a substitute for Buxus sempervirens (Box), used in engraving etc[46, 61]. Another report says that the wood is very soft and porous and is seldom used except as a strop for sharpening knives[4].



Our own Judson Carroll mentions it in his Show 11 which I will listen to this afternoon.
 
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My wife has been using the ivy soap on our clothes enthusiastically. She just used up our third batch. Depending on how soiled the clothes are, she adds a bit of washing soda/Borax. When the clothes come out of the washer they have a pleasant cucumber smell. That smell is mostly gone after machine drying. But I can pick it up from some of my thin dress shirts.

For the most recent batch, I picked the smaller, bright green leaves. I loosely rinsed them, and then tore most of them into two pieces before boiling. After boiling and resting, Lynae strained them and wrung them out. She said that it was more bubbly than our previous batches.

My boys and I go out and pick leaves for ten minutes every other week. It's easy, it's cheap and ivy is always in season.
 
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How long does the liquid solution last? I currently use soap nuts liquid (because I wash with cold water in the machine and don’t find the nuts in a bag work well with cold water) but I have to make small batches because after a week in the summer it ferments or grows scobys. Does ivy last longer, does anyone have the experience? Regardless I think I’ll try it I like the idea of cucumber smelling clothes.
 
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Julie Baghaoui wrote:How long does the liquid solution last? I currently use soap nuts liquid (because I wash with cold water in the machine and don’t find the nuts in a bag work well with cold water) but I have to make small batches because after a week in the summer it ferments or grows scobys. Does ivy last longer, does anyone have the experience? Regardless I think I’ll try it I like the idea of cucumber smelling clothes.


All of the recipes online say that you should use it within a week. At at batch size of 60 leaves in a bit more than a half gallon we use it all up within a week. It is just right for my family of five. I will try to make a double batch sometime and see what happens if I let some of it sit for a long time.
 
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Is there any discoloration to whites?  Could this effectively dye clothing by accident when trying to wash?  Does the temperature of water make a difference in effectiveness like it does with regular products?

Thanks.
 
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Richie Ring wrote:Is there any discoloration to whites?  Could this effectively dye clothing by accident when trying to wash?  Does the temperature of water make a difference in effectiveness like it does with regular products?


I haven't noticed any discoloration. I was very concerned about that at first, which is why I tried it with rags. My favorite work shirt right now is a white linen blend with blue plaid stripes and the Ivy soap doesn't discolor it at all.

You can make a greenish dye from English Ivy. The process is to really heat up the leaves in water for an hour, and then soak your fabric in the hot dye mix overnight with some mordants. Last Minute Laura on YouTube shows that process:



So maybe if you poured hot soap into your washing machine with your whites, and then the washing machine didn't run or didn't fill with water, you would get some dying effect.

We wash in warm water and rinse in cold water. The soap seems to work in the usual way. It would be really exciting to see more people making and using this soap! If for no other purpose than to see you all save a little bit of money.
 
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Jeremy VanGelder wrote:

Julie Baghaoui wrote:How long does the liquid solution last? I currently use soap nuts liquid (because I wash with cold water in the machine and don’t find the nuts in a bag work well with cold water) but I have to make small batches because after a week in the summer it ferments or grows scobys. Does ivy last longer, does anyone have the experience? Regardless I think I’ll try it I like the idea of cucumber smelling clothes.


All of the recipes online say that you should use it within a week. At at batch size of 60 leaves in a bit more than a half gallon we use it all up within a week. It is just right for my family of five. I will try to make a double batch sometime and see what happens if I let some of it sit for a long time.



It might seem odd to store laundry soap in the fridge, but I'd be willing to guess it would mitigate the mold and fermentation, and help it last longer. For just the two of us, and our rather sporadic laundry, I'd have to make small batches AND keep them refrigerated, with plenty of ivy stored, to make the occasional tidal waves of laundry(like linens after house guests, towels & blankets used in kidding/freshening, etc.

So, my question is, how do you ensure your ivy supply is consistent, if something causes a die-back? I mean, if I remember, some species are evergreen, but I've seen dead (or at least dormant) English ivy. Can it still be used, if dried? Is it still effective, if it's dormant?
 
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Those are some good questions.

It might seem odd to store laundry soap in the fridge, but I'd be willing to guess it would mitigate the mold and fermentation, and help it last longer. For just the two of us, and our rather sporadic laundry, I'd have to make small batches AND keep them refrigerated, with plenty of ivy stored, to make the occasional tidal waves of laundry(like linens after house guests, towels & blankets used in kidding/freshening, etc.  


I'm curious if canning or freezing are viable options. If canning makes the soap shelf-stable, I could start selling it. That would be a good cottage industry.

So, my question is, how do you ensure your ivy supply is consistent, if something causes a die-back? I mean, if I remember, some species are evergreen, but I've seen dead (or at least dormant) English ivy. Can it still be used, if dried? Is it still effective, if it's dormant?


English Ivy is evergreen in my climate (USDA 6b). It seems that fresh spring leaves work best. But in February I was using the previous year's leaves to make the first batches of soap and they worked fine. I can probably find some vines that were cut and left to dry on the ground. So I will give those a try. Dried leaves will be easier to shred. So even if there are fewer saponins in them they should be easier to extract.

This study gives a method for extracting Saponins:

The extraction of saponins begins with the plant material being shade dried and pulverized into a fine powder. Lipophilic solvents such as petroleum ether or n-hexane are used to defat the powdered plant material. The extraction is then carried out with a solvent that contains 50–98 percent aqueous alcohol (methanol or ethanol). The concentrated saponin-containing aqueous solution is obtained by evaporating the alcoholic crude extract in a rotary evaporator. Using a separating funnel, the aqueous solution is then subjected to solvent-solvent extraction with n-butanol in a 1:3 ratio. The butanol fraction is then thoroughly dried in a rotary evaporator, yielding crude saponin extract to work with.



There is a lot more information in that article. It turns out that all kinds of plants have saponins, including Tea, walnut tree bark and oxalis. Oxalis is of interest to me, because it is a native plant that has been outcompeted by the ivy.
 
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I'm taking another look at what toxicity hedera helix might have. First off, the reason that some people's skin reacts to the leaves is due to falcarinol. If someone is allergic to falcarinol they are probably also allergic to carrots. Or at least to touching carrots. I think that is the only potentially harmful substance in English Ivy

From the study I quoted above.

Plant saponins have the most surfactant properties of all the bioactive chemical compounds [14]. When agitated with water, they form a soapy lather, hence their name “saponins” [15]. They are eco-friendly because of their natural origin, biodegradable and non-toxic which is of utmost importance from environmental and health perspectives. Along with being bioactive, previous works have documented the better physicochemical properties of saponins than synthetic ones. Saponin-rich plants offer excellent physicochemical and biological properties, making them a promising source of natural surfactants, both for research and for commercial purposes



And then from the Journal of Chromatographic Science:

Hedera helix L., commonly known as ivy or English ivy, belongs to a family called Araliaceae. Aqueous extraction of its juvenile leaves has been used since the nineteenth century in traditional medicine for the treatment of respiratory disorders because of its expectorant and bronchospasmolytic effects (1). Today its use was standardized by a Commission monograph of the German regulatory authority since 1988, and various formulations of ivy leaf extract-containing medicinal products such as syrup, tablets, drops and suppositories are available (1, 2). Those medicinal products can be used in common cold associated with cough and for the symptomatic treatment of acute and chronic inflammatory bronchial disorders (3). A number of controlled clinical studies have demonstrated the efficacy and safety of ivy leaf extract-containing drugs in diverse populations and the respiratory diseases (1, 2, 4). Owing to the experimental and empirical evidence on its efficacy and safety, there has been a significant increase of its prescription in many European countries including Germany (4). In 2007, >80% of herbal expectorants prescribed in Germany comprised ivy leaf extract and amounted to nearly 2 million prescriptions nationwide and a volume of sales exceeding 13 million Euros (5).


I know that when I walk through the kitchen while boiling ivy leaves it feels like my lungs get clearer.

 
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Well, I picked gobs of leaves on Saturday. I've got green leaves, I've got dried leaves. And I have made some soap. About 1 and 3/4s of a gallon. I put two pint jars in the freezer. The gallon pitcher is in the fridge, and the half gallon is in a cupboard above the washing machine. I have enough leaves for at least three more batches of this size.
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A bucket of dry Ivyleaves and a bucket of green Ivy leaves
A bucket of dry Ivyleaves and a bucket of green Ivy leaves
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Ivy Leaves in a pot
Ivy Leaves in a pot
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ivy leaves in a pot with water
ivy leaves in a pot with water
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Very bubbly laundry detergent in a gallon pitcher
Very bubbly laundry detergent in a gallon pitcher
 
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This is where I found dried leaves on the ground. One of my brothers chopped the vines away from the base of this tree. It has been a multi-year project. In 2020 they got a man lift and cut rings around it every twenty feet. Anyways, this summer he cut back the regrowth at the base. So leaves have fallen off the vines for the past month or so. I picked up some of those.

It would be good to find some local basket weavers. I could strip leaves off the vines and pass the vines on to them. Maybe trade vines and soap for some finished baskets?
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Towering Fir tree with English Ivy
Towering Fir tree with English Ivy
 
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I thought that three inches of headspace would be enough to freeze the soap. But it is full of surfactants, which changes the surface tension of water. The result is two very broken jars. I put them in a plastic bin to melt out. If I try freezing again, I will start from the bottom, maybe with an inch of soap in a container.
20230928_073441.jpg
Frozen Ivy Soap cracked my jars
Frozen Ivy Soap cracked my jars
 
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This lady cans her soap nuts. She just dumps a bunch of soap nuts in a jar, fills it with water, and then pressure cans it for 10 minutes. Before she uses it she strains the nuts out. She says it keeps indefinitely as long as the seal is unbroken.

 
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Jeremy VanGelder wrote:Well, I picked gobs of leaves on Saturday. I've got green leaves, I've got dried leaves. And I have made some soap. About 1 and 3/4s of a gallon. I put two pint jars in the freezer. The gallon pitcher is in the fridge, and the half gallon is in a cupboard above the washing machine. I have enough leaves for at least three more batches of this size.


Well, it has been over a month. The gallon and a half lasted just a bit over three weeks. Storing the detergent in the fridge was a success! So thanks for that suggestion, Carla!

I captured the frozen detergent in a box and poured it out on some plants beneath a laurel bush. I took a picture when I did that. I need to take an "after" picture to see if there was any damage to the plants.

But mostly I need to make another batch. I really liked the big batch that I made. Those two buckets of leaves are still sitting on my porch. So I just have to boil some more.

I have noticed that our fluffy clothes do not have pills when we wash with this detergent. Pajamas are as fluffy as they were when they were new.
 
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I've brewed several new batches this winter. I pick new leaves on occasion and add them to the bucket on my porch. The system works when I remember to brew a new batch.
 
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Jeremy VanGelder wrote:I've brewed several new batches this winter. I pick new leaves on occasion and add them to the bucket on my porch. The system works when I remember to brew a new batch.



Do you have a general proportion of leaves-to-water that you use?  I have an ivy trying to eat my allotment cottage that I'd love to make use of.  Many thanks!
 
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For my first batch I followed the recipe at Permacrafters, which calls for 60 leaves in 4.5 cups (1,064 mL) of water. But since then I have filled a pot with leaves to about 2/3 full, then when I fill the pot with water the leaves compress to somewhere around 1/3 of the pot. This makes a stronger, more bubbly soap than the recipe did. Of course, ivy leaves don't come in a standard size. But it doesn't seem to matter too much. If you can make the water foam up, it will clean your clothes.
 
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Thank you for this informative thread Jeremy!
I understand that the ivy soap keeps in the fridge, but do you have any definite answers about the freezing,  canning and on the shelf options?
 
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I've now been using the ivy detergent for a month and am very happy with it!
A little addition to the ivy-cooking adventures; add a twig of lavendel into the ivy soup for lovely lavendel frangrance - a little goes a long way, and no, you don't need the flowers per se, a twig with leaves will do as well.
Or try rosemary, mint or rose petals or... have fun!
 
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Nina Surya wrote:I've now been using the ivy detergent for a month and am very happy with it!


I'm glad it is working for you, Nina! There are all kinds of natural scents that you can add to it.

William Bronson wrote:I understand that the ivy soap keeps in the fridge, but do you have any definite answers about the freezing,  canning and on the shelf options?


I haven't tested anything else, yet. I read the Permacrafters article again and they mention adding some vinegar to it to help keep it shelf-stable a little bit longer.

I had been planning to can the detergent in pint jars. And then I was thinking about ways to cook the leaves in the cans and leave them in there like soap nuts. But soap nuts are big and round and tend to settle to the bottom of the jar. Leaves are thin and fragile and tend to float. I was thinking about piercing the lids when using them to turn the lids into a strainer. Or maybe finding a strainer lid for the jars.

My brain is telling me that it would be messy to strain some soap out of a jar, then wipe off the drips, put the lid back on and put it away. Today I thought, "Why not can it in a single-use size?" That way, I wouldn't have to measure it out each time. Just hold a strainer over the washer, dump the contents of the jar into it, then rinse the jar and throw the leaves in the compost bucket. (My washer is next to the kitchen sink, and the compost bucket is below that)

3/4 of a cup is 6 ounces. That is not the most common jar size. But I could take a one cup jar and underfill it.
 
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This is a very interesting thread. Thank you Jeremy.  I make my own soap from animal fats .  I dont find my home made soaps do a good job in the laundry room, though. I will give this a try once I find some English ivy which I cant say is very common in my area unfortunately. I wonder if any other plants would work?
 
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There are a number of plants that have been traditionally used as washing agents. This table comes from the article Plant-Derived Saponins: A Review of Their Surfactant Properties and Applications. It was written by a number of people in Asia so it has a bunch of plants that might be common there:

Scientific NameCommon NameParts Used
Acacia concinnaShikakaiPods and Bark
Acanthophyllum squarrosumRoots, grooves, shell and white interior
Albizia proceraSeto SirisLeaves
Chlorogalum pomeridiaSoap RootRoot
Quillaja saponariaSoap BarkInner Bark
Sapindus mukorossiSoap NutFruit Pericarp
Saponaria officinalisSoapwortRoots and leaves
Sapindus saponariaSoap BerrySeed
 
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