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Soap Nuts (Nature’s Laundry Detergent)

I have to tell you about my new favorite thing…soap nuts! It sounds like a really strange concept, but throwing 5 soap nuts in with your laundry will actually get your clothes clean! Honestly!

In the past I’ve written about how to make natural laundry detergent, but soap nuts are the only truly natural way that I’ve found to clean your clothes. And the cheapest! Bonus! In fact, soap nuts can be used to clean all sorts of things in  your house (more on that in an upcoming post!).

What are Soap Nuts?

Calling them “nuts” is actually a bit of a misnomer. They are really the dried berries of the Sapindus mukorossi tree (soap berry tree) that grows in the Himalayas. They are a relative of the lychee. Ever tried a lychee? Yummmm! But don’t eat soap nuts. No seriously. They hurt your stomach and are better used as a cleaner than a food.

The tree grows and produces fruit in about 9 years so I’m thinking of planting one in the back yard so that Brynlee can start harvesting her own soap nuts and doing her own laundry when she’s 12. Seems about perfect, right? If only we lived in the right climate…

How do Soap Nuts “work”?

The inside of the soap nut contains a natural chemical called saponin that is a surfactant (cleaner)! When you heat and soak a soap nut, the saponin is released and cleaning begins! They are effective at removing soil and odors and also leave fabrics soft! They work great at cleaning, but don’t produce very many suds. Cleaning with them can feel a little counter-intuitive since we have been trained that suds means clean (thanks to SLS in just about every cleaning product), but soap nuts have great cleaning power!

If you have allergies to commercial products, this is a great alternative to other cleaners since they are fragrance free and hypoallergenic.

I’ve started experimenting with a bunch of different ways that they can be used and I promise to tell you what works (and what doesn’t). There isn’t much more straight forward than laundry and since I’m really excited about it, I had to share…


How to Use Soap Nuts in Laundry

It’s a little tricky (I’m kidding)…place 5-6 soap nuts in a muslin drawstring bag and throw them in the washer before you add your clothes. Wash as usual (cold, warm, or hot) and remove the bag after laundering then dry clothes as you normally would. As I’ve said before, I like to add vinegar to the fabric softener compartment of the washer and use felted wool dryer balls during drying.

You can re-use them 4-7 times depending on how hot your water is. Hotter water releases more saponin and will make them degrade faster. You’ll know that they are maxed out when they turn a grayish color and are soft and mushy. Now they are ready for compost!

I’ve found that they work a little better in warmer water. For cold water washing, I sometimes soak them in a cup of hot water for a few minutes to start the saturation process and toss the water and nuts into the washer before I add the clothes.

While they are great for general cleaning and deodorizing, I still find that I need to pre-treat stains.

I allow them to dry in the bag between washings (unless I am doing another load immediately). I also try not to let them go through the dryer since this decreases their effectiveness…but it won’t harm them.

Since they are low suds, they are great for HE washers. They are also good for cloth diapers since fabrics remain free of residue and fully absorbent.

If you want to add a fragrance to your laundry, you can add a few drops of essential oil to the muslin bag. I like lemon essential oil because it helps break up oil and grease and has a nice fragrance, but it’s up to you!

Here is a summary of why I like them:

  • Truly all natural (no dyes, perfumes, chemicals
  • Cost effective (If you buy these soap nuts is works out to about 8 cents a load)
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Low sudsing (good for HE washers)
  • Ideal for cloth diapers
  • Easy to use

Have you ever tried soap nuts? Share your experience below…

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