What Are Soap Nuts? + How To Use Them
DIY DIY Home Cleaning Natural DIY
Clearly, I’m into natural.
I have no qualms about rubbing clay on my pits, brushing my teeth with charcoal, or eating clove upon clove of garlic to stave off a sinus infection.
So when some strange natural goodie pops up on my radar, I don’t bat an eyelash before trying it out.
But I’ve gotta say… this one did make me wonder.
Soap nuts. What the heck are soap nuts?
Soap nuts are actually berries that are native to India and Nepal (and I hear they’re fairly common in southern Texas). They were traditionally used as an expectorant (think: nature’s Mucinex), and in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for eczema and psoriasis. Once harvested, the soap berry is dried and de-seeded, which makes it look like a little brown nut.
But here’s why they’re so great for us natural folk: soap nuts contain saponin, a natural detergent. The saponins are released when the nuts are submerged in warm water.
Now there are 2 ways to use soap nuts…
Using the whole soap nut:
This method is best for doing laundry.
Soap nuts will usually come with a reusable muslin bag that you will use for this purpose. Add 4-5 soap nuts to the bag and pull the drawstring tight. Then simply put the bag with the nuts in the washer with your clothes. Since they are don’t produce suds, they are great for front loader and HE machines, and don’t leave any residue. After your wash cycle is complete, just remove the bag of soap nuts and let it to dry, or use it again right away if you’re doing another load. Soap nuts can be reused up to 10 times, or until the soap nuts are soft/mushy. The hotter the water used, the faster the nuts will be used up.
This will only work with warm or hot water since the heat releases the saponins. If you are using a cold cycle, steep the bag of soap nuts in a cups of hot water for 5-10 minutes to release saponins before tossing it in with your laundry. If you often run cold cycles, you may prefer to make a liquid soap nut concentrate…
Making and using a liquid soap nut concentrate:
A soap nut liquid concentrate is super versatile and can be used for just about all of your cleaning needs (kind of like castile soap).
To make a liquid soap nut concentrate, add 2 cups of water and 10 soap nuts to a pot and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and allow it to simmer for an hour or until the soap nuts turn grey. Let the mixture cool and then strain the nuts out. This liquid is your soap nut concentrate — ta da! — and you can simply throw away or compost the nuts.
Of course, you could make more than this amount at one time. If you do this, I suggest storing the majority of it in the fridge to avoid any bacteria growth while keeping a smaller bottle of the concentrate out for your needs.
I’ve found that 2 tablespoons of concentrate does the trick for a large load of laundry. But of course, depending on your needs (how dirty your clothes are and your washing machine itself) you may need more or less.
Soap nuts are a very cost effective laundry option.
The soap nuts I’ve been linking to throughout the post are the one I purchased and have been using — here they are again! The ½ pound bag (which also comes with a bonus trial of the company’s liquid concentrate — yay, free things!) cost $11.95 and contained 97 soap berries. You betcha I counted.
Let’s say you use mostly 5-berry bags for the laundry, and so get 20 small bags worth. Now let’s say you are able to use each bag for an average of 8 loads (assuming you’ll have some hot loads in there which will use the berries up faster). 20 bags × 8 loads/bag = 160 loads of laundry. For $11.95! That’s 7¢ per load of laundry.
Now these 97 berries from the ½ pound bag of soap nuts would yield 20 cups of liquid concentrate. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup. Using 2 tablespoons per load of laundry, again, you’d get 160 loads of laundry, and 7¢ per load of laundry.
Oh the options seem endless!
Soap nuts are most popularly used for laundry and so that’s how I’ve been using them. But I’ve seen a number of other bloggers talk about using liquid soap nut concentrate as a natural shampoo and I can’t wait to try it out! You can also make dishwasher detergent, glass cleaner, jewelery cleaner, and more with soap nuts. I’ll keep you updated as I try these different options.
Have you ever used soap nuts? Please share your experiences or tips below in the comments!
Hi, Linda. I link to the ones I use in the post!
whats a good brand of soap nuts to buy from?
I am ALL OVER natural products and decreasing my exposure to nasties. I make most of my own body products and cleaning products, and the things I don’t make, I research heavily before choosing.
I have to say though, soap nuts are not a great idea for your laundry. Read up on the differences between “soap” and “detergent.” Soap does not rinse clean and is not actually cleaning your clothing. If you were to “strip” your laundry (a process many cloth diaperers do every now and then) you’d find that your clothing is incredibly dirty still. 🙁 If you have high quality clothing that you would like to keep in good condition for a long time, you may find eventually that the soap nuts do not accomplish this for you.
I’ve used soap nuts, and was predictably disappointed. When picking a safer detergent, looking for phosphate-free, dye/fragrance free, and one with surfactants made with oleochemicals instead of petrochemicals.
Kristen- what you experienced is probably a result of hard water, so you may need to add a water softener to your laundry to help get it as clean as possible. Check out the Facebook group Fluff Love and Cloth Diaper Science.
Oh yuck! Yes, thank you so much for letting us know!! Have you tried castile soap? Or what do you use?
I am always looking for a natural substitute for common chemical-laden products, which is one reason that I chose to cloth-diaper, and even more of a reason why I thought making my own laundry detergent out of something that grew on a tree sounded serendipitous! However, after a long, hard road, I discovered that soap nuts for cloth diapers are a no-go! They are not strong enough to clean human waste and the soap also creates buildup on the fabric and creates absorbency issues. I am sure they are great for regular laundry, but I just wanted to spread the word about cloth diaper use to save people the same headache I had with them!
I have so few whites that I always wash them with light colours..but I don’t think it’s the dyes.. most of my clothes have been washed like a hundred times:D I don’t shop much. Although I haven’t even thought of how much you need to wash something colourful until it stops giving out dyes?
Hmmm I haven’t run into that problem yet. Vinegar helps to “set” dyes and reduce fading, I wonder if that would help (my thinking being that maybe the dyes from your colors are more readily coming out and affecting your whites – unless you are careful to do your whites separately in which case beats me!).
Before leaving home in November, I did my laundry with soap nuts for about a year and the pack isn’t even half-empty! They’re way more cost-effective that I ever thought. I usually use the same nuts for 2-4 times, depending.
I love them! However, I noticed that washing with soap nuts made my white laundry a bit gray-ish over time. I hear that baking soda could solve this problem, but haven’t tried it yet.
I absolutely love soap nuts! I add a few drops of essential oil to the bag (lavender and lemon are my favourites). My clothes come out clean and smell so fresh – no fabric softener needed! It’s amazing what nature gives us. It’s also economical. I paid about $25 for a 1kg box. It’s going to last for a really long time…