I always seem to run into problems when I carry soap powder on my travels. Particularly on long trips, it's good to be able to do the odd load of washing, and not every laundry comes equipped with soap powder, but whenever I carry the stuff it seems inevitably to leak out.

So, when I saw these soapnuts, I thought they might make quite a useful solution, though they're primarily aimed at people who want to avoid using chemical cleaners.

These are nuts harvested from native trees in India, containing a substance called sapindus, described as "a naturally occurring surfectant that will wash your clothes with no artificial anything".

I got what is described as a trial bag, a small cotton bag containing half-a-dozen nuts, and my wife tried it out in our washing machine. She reported that the nuts seemed to do just as good a job as our eco washing powder, the clothes smelled clean and looked perfectly okay. A hand-washed cotton top, left to soak, was also clean and fresh.

According to the local distributors you usually get 4-6 washes from each handful of nuts and you can then dispose of them in your compost. And if you pack them in your luggage there's no risk of anything spilling out and making a mess.

The soapnuts are available at econappies.co.nz. A trial bag costs $5.60 or a 250g pack with a washing bag included is $16.70.