Quite many household items have found their way into DIY and in places, no one would have thought of previously, such as the use of vinegar and baking soda for cleaning purposes, or vinegar and Epsom salt as weed killers.
One of these uses comes in the form of soaps in the garden.
You might be wondering what is soap doing in the garden anyway?
Well, in recent times, some DIYers and green enthusiasts started promoting the use of soaps as a natural alternative to pesticides and insecticides for the garden.
Don’t get me wrong, going green may be one of the best things we do to protect our world, but we should take care before we step into something because what is harmless for one may not be the same for the other.
Does soap kill grass?
Soaps do have the potential to heavily damage grass, if not kill it. In fact, any plant that comes in contact with soap or soapy water can die. Accidentally or deliberately pouring concentrated soap and detergent on grass can definitely have grave consequences.
How to use soap in the garden
However, using these cleaners in a certain amount along with other chemicals has shown some benefits for the garden.
On the contrary, horticultural soaps have their benefit as these do not damage the plants and are specifically made for killing the pests.
To understand the mechanism by which soaps are damaging to the green life and pests, we must first understand some basics about what soaps are and how they work.
What are soaps?
The term soap encompasses all the varieties of cleansing agents used around the house.
It includes all used for personal hygiene, such as beauty soaps, face washes, and shampoos, and those for cleaning surfaces and various items in the house, such as dishwashing liquids, laundry soaps, and cleaners.
All soaps are salts made from fatty acids; fatty acids are a particular type of fat that is either obtained from plants and animals or made synthetically in industries.
Having said that, there is a technical aspect that many may not know. Soaps are made up of natural ingredients and are comparatively harmless, while chemical-laden detergents are synthetic and can be harmful to most beings on earth.
Essentially all soaps are cleaning agents but the presence of chemicals in them makes them less or more effective and powerful.
Soaps, soaps, and more soaps
So you think there are just a few types of soaps, the ones you use on the face and body, and the regular household.
While going through the divisions and of soaps, it was quite surprising to see the number of soap categories that have been developed, depending on certain factors, like:
- Usage – divided as personal use soaps, bathing soaps, laundry soaps, beauty soaps, novelty bars, dish soaps, medicated soaps, industrial soaps, glycerin soaps, transparent soaps (hold on I gotta breathe…)
- The basic ingredients– milk-based, plant fat-based, animal fat-based, luxury ingredients, perfumes ones, flavored, etc.
- Method of manufacturing; the simple melt and pour method, hot press, cold press, milling, or re-batching
- Type of soap; handmade, bar, or liquid forms.
Soaps and their chemicals
You may think if soap is something we are comfortable cleaning our bodies, our dishes, and our clothes with, then why would it be dangerous to use on plants?
Well, modern age soaps are non-natural and contain chemical surfactants and slow degraders, like sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate. Most soaps nowadays include the likes of Dawn dish soap, Palmolive dish cleaning liquid, Gain flings, and Tide laundry.
Surfactants are chemicals that disturb the attachment of water or any liquid molecules to each other. This helps dissolve the stains and grease.
While slow degradation refers to the fact that these chemicals take their time to degrade and eventually dissolve out. So, it really doesn’t get washed away even after watering or rain.
When the soapy water is sprayed onto the plants what actually happens is that the chemicals dissolve the water-oil barriers of plants and the pesticides, weakening their protective barrier and eventually kills them.
And the chemicals are strong enough to stay on the plants and in the soil for quite some time, so having a multiplier effect.
The chemicals cannot distinguish whether they are acting on a plant or insect, they just work on whatever surface comes in contact with them.
So, if you spray the dish or laundry soaps even for pests, it will end up destroying the plants as well, and in fact, also damage the good insects like bees that are actually involved with plant growth and pollination, etc.
Horticultural Soap Spray
So what should we use for the troubling pests and insects? You could go for the traditional insecticides available in the market, like the Rapid Parameter Protection Insect Control.
Or you could look into the garden or horticultural soaps. This is a completely different variety of soap made exclusively for eliminating small garden pests, such as mealy bugs, aphids, and spider mites.
These can be used on both indoor and outdoor types of plants.
Moreover, garden soaps are a variety above pesticides in rather a few ways; these leave no residue, have no effect on the fauna in the garden, and apparently do not even harm the beneficial insects.
Though most of the ingredients in the soap are accessible at home, experts recommend using the horticulture soap available in the market instead of making it at homes such as the Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap and the Safer Insect soap.
But you could make the garden soap at home with oil, dishwashing liquids, vinegar, and pure soap in a certain proportion and proper dilution.
But since we already know that bleach, degreasers, and other chemicals damage the plants, these are usually in the smallest in proportions.
Care should also be taken to do a patch test first, that is apply a small amount on a part of a plant to see if any reaction occurs. Avoid using the spray in extreme weather conditions.
Recommended spraying involves praying only the bug-affected parts and used up to twice a month only.