Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nuts About Soap Nuts

Ever heard of soap nuts or soap berries? I'm really excited about them. They are an all-natural alternative to the chemical bath that is laundry detergent. Not really nuts at all, they are the dried shells of a fruit that comes from a species of shrubs or trees in the Lychee family. The shells contain saponins, a natural surfactant, and have been used for washing for thousands of years. I love that they are less expensive than most laundry detergent, especially those that are marketed as "natural" (but aren't really all that natural).

How Do Soap Nuts Work?

I buy my soap nuts from Amazon. They come in a big draw-string bag, along with a matching, but smaller (and therefore cuter) draw-string bag. They are so easy to use. All I do is put 4-5 soap nuts in the smaller bag and throw it in the washer. The nuts release their "soap" better in warm or hot water, although they still work in cold water. If I'm washing a load of darks in cold water, I fill up the washing machine with enough hot water to cover the soap nut bag, and then I change the temp to cold water.

The soap nuts last for about seven loads, until they get mushy and gray. If you put the soap nuts in the dryer by accident (which I have done many times), don't freak out. They still work! Soap nuts smell vinegar-esque, but the clothes just smell clean after being washed.

Where Are the Suds?

Soap nuts are low sudsing, which is perfect if you have a front-load washer. If you don't have one, it's still perfect because the amount of suds has nothing to do with how well a soap or detergent cleans. Companies actually put chemicals in their soaps and detergents for the sole purpose of making suds because people think their soap isn't working if they can't see suds.

Goodbye Fabric Softener

Another great thing about soap nuts is they make the laundry soft without fabric softener or dryer sheets. I stopped using fabric softener and dryer sheets months ago because of all the toxic chemicals, which you can read about here. When I use my homemade laundry detergent, I have to use vinegar in the rinse cycle to get softer clothes and to wash away the soap residue. But with soap nuts, I don't need any vinegar. My loads that are washed with soap nuts end up surprisingly soft.

Too Good to Be True?

Just when soap nuts sounded too good to be true, here's a reality check. They don't get stains out as well as commercial laundry detergent. It hasn't been a problem with my clothes or my husband's clothes. But my boys' unbelievably filthy clothes and my laziness at pre-treating stains is a big problem. When I have the presence of mind and the will-power to pre-treat stains, soap nuts work fabulously!

**Update** I've been using a scoop of generic brand Oxi-Clean with the soap nuts to wash the kid's clothes and our white loads. It's been getting out all the stains so far. Oxi-Clean is just hydrogen peroxide and washing soda. You can add 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 cup of washing soda (found in the laundry isle) or baking soda (not as powerful) to your load instead of buying Oxi-Clean.

More Ways to Use Soap Nuts

After publishing this blog post, I got an email from one of my readers, Janet McCollum. I was so intrigued, I had to share with everyone! Here's how she uses soap nuts.
I have been using soap nuts since October for my family of eight. After doing some research I tried making a concentrate instead of using the berries in a bag method. It works much better! The last load then gets the same concentration of soap as the first and it distributes more evenly in the wash. It also cleans as well in cold water as hot. But best of all it is more cost effective and you don't have to hunt for the bag in a bunch of wet clothes. Method - Bring to a boil 2 berries for every 1 cup of water, turn down heat, cover and simmer for one hour. Use 1/4 cup per load. This will give you four loads worth. I make three times this amount for my family's laundry. You must refrigerate any leftover and use within a week.
There are so many cool things you can make with soap nut concentrate! Check out to get recipes for soap nut dishwasher detergent, window cleaner, household cleaner, hand soap, bug spray, jewelry cleaner, shampoo, dandruff treatment, facial cleanser, body wash, shaving cream, and a treatment for athlete's foot.

In summary, here are the pros and cons of soap nuts.

easy to use stains must be pre-treated
all naturaldon't work as well in cold water
environmentally friendly 
low sudsing for front-load washers 
eliminate need for fabric softener or dryer sheets 
cheaper than most laundry detergent 
don't go bad so you can buy in bulk 

Price Comparison

$0.19/load - Tide Free & Gentle ($12/64 loads)
$0.14/load - All Free & Clear Laundry Detergent ($9/64 loads)
$0.11/load - NaturOli Soap Nuts, $24/1 lb
$0.08/load - NaturOli Soap Nuts, $24/1 lb (if you make concentrate)
$0.07/load - NaturOli Soap Nuts, $33/2 lbs
$0.06/load - NaturOli Soap Nuts, $33/2 lbs (if you make concentrate)
$0.05/load - NaturOli Soap Nuts, $45/4 lbs
$0.04/load - NaturOli Soap Nuts, $45/4 lbs (if you make concentrate)

Have you used soap nuts? What do you think?

This post was shared at: Real Food Forager Fat Tuesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Natural Living Link-Up, The 36th Avenue, Little House in the Suburbs, Frugal Friday, Thirty Handmade Days, Happy Hour Friday, Whipperberry Friday Flair, Simply Natural Saturdays, Country Momma Cooks Saturday, Strut Your Stuff Saturday, Get Schooled Saturday, Tatertots & Jello, Morristribe's Homesteader Blog Carnival, Homestead Barn Hop, Monday Mania, Motivate Me Monday, More the Merrier Monday, Tiny Tip Tuesday, Anti-Procrastination Tuesday, Living Green Tuesdays, Show Me What Ya Got Tuesday, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Works For Me Wednesday, Healthy 2day Wednesday, Raising Homemakers Link-Up


  1. I used soap nuts for a while after someone in our co-op recommended them. They do a good job, I'm just so into making my own laundry detergent now, I'd never go back! Enjoy!

  2. This sounds awesome! Unfortunately I have the same pre-treating problem!

  3. Awesome post! I have been wanting to try soap nuts for a long time, so you have convinced me I need to get them!

  4. I've been thinking about trying soap nuts for awhile, but just didn't know enough about how they worked...thanks for the comprehensive overview, it was very helpful and I think I'm ready to go ahead and try them!

  5. This sounds awesome. Just how many berries are in a pound? I have an engineer for a husband and I have to have *all* the specifics so that when I ask him to spend that kind of money (I know it is cheaper overall, but that's steep-sounding for one pound to a family living off one income.) If I can tell him there's x number of berries in a pound, approx, then it will be easier to sell him on the idea.

    1. I totally understand! I come from a family of engineers. I used my kitchen scale and figured out there are about 144 soap nuts in one pound of the NaturOli soap nuts.

  6. I've never even heard of soap nuts. *blush* But I've been on a use-fewer-chemicals kick lately, and this sounds like a really really good idea. Question: what do you use to pre-treat your stains? I'm an OxiClean lover, but it seems like using other chemicals like that would defeat the purpose of the soap nuts, you know?
    Thanks for sharing this. Seriously a good idea.
    -Brittney (my shiny new home-focused blog; come on by if you'd like! I'd love it!)

    1. Actually, OxiClean or oxygen bleach is one of the most natural stain removers out there. It's just washing soda and hydrogen peroxide. I put about 1/2 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide into my kids laundry load. I also rub a bar of laundry soap (like Fels Naptha) on the stains.

      Here's a great guide on DIY stain removal.

    2. Do you just use hydrogen peroxide, like from the big brown bottle? Thanks for the info!

  7. I'm stopping over from Fat Tuesday. I've been hearing a little bit about soap nuts lately. Thanks for all your info! Do you see any reason why it would not be a good idea to use them in a community laundry machine?

    I recently launched a new real food blog carnival called Fill Those Jars Friday. I'd love to have you come stop by and share this on it:

    See you there!

    1. Nope, I don't know of any reasons why you couldn't use soap nuts in a community laundry machine. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I have been wanting to try soap nuts for a while, and just recently got some free samples at the Natural Products Expo. Excited to try them as soon as I've finished up my most recent batch of homemade laundry detergent. Thanks for linking up to Healthy 2Day Wednesday!

  9. I am from India and we used soapnuts for almost everything. On sundays, mom would have us crack open a few and then she would boil them in water. The resulting water was used as a shampoo after a hot coconut oil scalp massage. The fibers were used as a loofah for exfoliating your body. The left over soapy water as a detergent for clothes and left over fibers as a scouring agent for washing dishes. Every year when I go home, we do the same thing. And yes, my hair is better when I do that compared to using shampoos and conditioners.

  10. Never heard of soap nuts until I read this, but I'm certainly intrigued. Since I have a tendency to randomly develop chemical sensitivities, this might be something I should try!

  11. The trick to use this effectively is soaking it in hot water 2-3 hrs prior to using it...being an Indian I've used this and seen people using it since time immemorial.

  12. It sounds great! For the first time heard about soap nuts and I would like to use it and see the results of it.

  13. If I make a batch of the concentrate and freeze the extra portions, would they still work? Thank you for all the affordable and all natural ideas. You have really blessed me with this information.

    1. I would think you could freeze the concentrate but I don't know for sure.

  14. I never heard about this. But this sounds cool and makes me to this out. Thanks for sharing.

  15. You could add a few drops of Vitamin e to the mixture (most of us have these capsules in the med cabinet- 1 capsule per batch is more than enough)- it's an anti-oxidant and resists spoilage- it would definitely increase the shelf life of the mixture but not forever. For skin cleansing, it's an added bonus.

  16. For Canadians, you can buy them online at Finally.

  17. Do you still use these now? I always like to check if it's an older post to see if you've moved on to bigger and better things ;)


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