I’m making big efforts to avoid plastic packaging.

On average, every year every person in the EU produces 31 kg of plastic waste. Actually, ‘produces’ isn’t quite the right word as it’s not the householder generating it from scratch: that’s what manufacturers persist in doing, despite the growing trend against single-use plastics. The householder is saddled with disposing of it all. Some of this plastic waste can be recycled but it’s better by far if it never comes into existence in the first place.

We’re doing what we can here. We’re turning our backs on over-packaged goods. For example, after watching an ‘In The Factory’ episode on croissant-making in France, we just had to try the Pasquier brand that was featured in the show. And they were definitely nicer than the cheaper, own-brand croissants we usually buy, but they were double-wrapped in plastic. Two croissants were packaged together in one plastic bag, and then four of these bags went into a final plastic bag. Ridiculous! We’ve gone back to our inferior but less wastefully-packaged variety. Yes, there’s still a plastic bag but I either recycle it or use it as a very small rubbish sack for household waste.

***photo: conkers croissants

I’ve started making lotion bars so as to avoid buying moisturising cream in heavy plastic pots, but I’ll blog in full about those another time. Today’s main subject is about using conkers as washing detergent. No, I’m not bonkers, you really can use conkers this way, and it saves not only money but a lot of plastic packaging in the form of detergent bottles or boxes.

Chris came across this idea somewhere online. I was fascinated, and also frustrated as it’s taken me 57 years to discover this little gem! I could have been using conkers for decades. Still, better late than never.

Conkers contain saponin. Saponins are amphipathic glycosides that produce a soap-like foam when shaken in water. It’s this saponin that you need to release from your conkers.

***Photo: conkers knife

Here’s what you do. You collect your conkers, obviously, then chop them up. Now, conkers are quite tough. Also wobbly, so be careful if you use a knife. Chris has developed a good routine with a small meat cleaver to chop them up. You can also blitz them in a food blender. Once reduced to small pieces by whichever means, take around six conkers’ worth – a good handful – and steep these in about 200 ml water (a cupful) for a few hours, but preferably overnight. Then use that liquid WITHOUT the conkers still in it for your next load of washing. You can soak each batch of chopped-up conkers two more times, thus getting three washes out of them.

***Photo: conkers soaking

Another method is to chop up the conkers – not blitz them into tiny pieces this time – and put them in a mesh bag. Toss them into the machine along with your laundry. Again you can get three washes out of each batch.

Some people skin their conkers since it’s possible that pigment from the skin will make whites go a bit yellowy over time. However, there’s a large contingent of conker users who, like me, consider life is too short to devote hours of it to such a task for the sake of slightly whiter whites.

I’m freezing my chopped-up conkers until I need them. Another storage method is to dry your conker chunks in a low oven and keep them in containers until required. Or you can leave your conkers whole until required but they will need to be clean and dry so that they don’t go mouldy.

Once exhausted of saponin, the conkers can go into a compost bin or wormery.

So there you have it: a free and extremely environmentally-friendly way of washing your clothes with conkers. I’ve been doing this for a week or so now and am very pleased with the results. Clothes come out clean and have a faint woodlandy smell to them which is very pleasant. Why not give it a go yourself?