Soap Nuts

What Are Soap Nuts? And How to Use Soap Berries for an Eco-friendly Clothes Wash

An age-old alternative to chemical laundry detergent, soap nuts are a 100% natural detergent. Soap nuts are not actually nuts but berries (also called soap berries), and as such, you’ll have no problem using them if you have sensitive skin or nut allergies. The fruit gets the “nut” in its name from the hard shell that forms around it when it dries.

Eco-Friendly Natural Clothes Washing

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You can simply add these eco nuts to your washing machine to replace your typical laundry detergent. If you are interested in making your laundry routine more environmentally friendly, try soap nuts for an all-natural clothes wash. One of the many reasons people going zero waste love soap nuts is that you may never again need another plastic detergent bottle.

Furthermore, each natural eco-friendly wash with these natural marvels means less harsh chemicals used for lifting stains as found in commercial detergents,

How to Use Soap Nuts

You do not necessarily need to crush soap nuts or make extensive preparations before you use them.  All you need is a small muslin bag to hold the nuts and put them in the washing machine with your load of laundry. Typically, you can use each nut up to seven times before they lose their cleansing power.

How many soap nuts for an eco-friendly clothes clean?

A general guide for the number of soap nuts to use is 5-7 per full wash. And for a half wash, 3-4 soap nuts should do the trick. We recommend you experiment a little once you've found a supplier, as the size of the nuts can vary. Furthermore, when using soap nuts for tough stains or in harder water areas just add another couple and see how you get on.

You can also vary the number of nuts used in your wash to reflect the strength of your standard liquid concentrate. For a mild detergent use one or two less, and for regular detergent, you may choose to add one or two.

Hot or cold wash?

To get the best and easiest wash from your soap nuts, you need to wash with warm or hot water. This is because the cleaning agent in soap berries, called saponin, requires hot water to activate.  If you find heating your wash water too expensive or stressful, there is another option.

You can add the dried berries to a pot of boiling water. Allow the mixture to simmer until you have your desired concentration and strain the dried shell mixture. You can then add the solution to cold water and wash. You can store any excess liquid in a bottle for future use.

You can also combine the soap nuts with vinegar, essential oils, or other natural cleaning agents to make a high-quality all-purpose household cleaner. You can use the liquid soap derived to wash your car or the dishes, making for an excellent zero waste dish soap.

Do Soap Nuts Work?

Soap nuts work great for washing clothes. You’ll find the nuts strong enough to remove dirt, grime, and other stains so you can easily replace clothes washing detergent in plastic bottles. Yet gentle enough not to damage the fabric structure, reduce fabric quality, or reduce color brightness. They also remove odors from clothes and act as a natural fabric softener.

10 Best Brand Soap Nuts to Buy

1. Battle Green

Battle Green Soap Nuts
Photo Credit: Battle Green (on Etsy)

Each bag contains 200 grams of soap nut shells, a small cotton cloth bag, and an instruction leaflet. You can use each pack for up to 80 wash loads. The cotton bag even makes for a great snack bag or for saving small items. The instruction booklets not only contain instructions on how to make nuts soap. But also how to make shampoo and plant protection spray.

(ships from the UK)

Shop on Etsy

2. White Dormouse

White Dormous Soap Nuts
Photo Credit: White Dormouse (on Etsy)

An order for 4 oz. bag of soap nuts from White Dormouse comes with two muslin bags. One plain and the other beautifully decorated with leaf embroidery. They recommend that you use only two shells when washing with hot water. When using cold or warm water, they advise that you use 4 to 6 shells. You can use this product up to six times before they are no longer active.

Shop on Etsy

3. NOLA ROOTS

Nola Roots sells soap nuts with the inner seeds removed. They source their pristine soap nuts from India and you can buy 8 oz or 3 oz packs. Nola Roots also sells ground soap nuts, which they call Aritha powder.

They recommend that consumers use their soap nuts as washing detergent while you can use the powder (Aritha) for cosmetic purposes. However, both the nuts and powder serve as an all-purpose cleaner.

4. Garden of Eternity

Packaged in paper bags, their pack contains 25 soap nuts and one muslin bag. They recommend using an average of 5 shells for one wash load or less If you use soft water for washing. You can reuse the natural detergent up to 50 times.

5. Shepswool

Sheps Soap Nuts
Photo Credit: Shep's Wool (on Etsy)

Shepswool’s soap nuts come in 1lb or half lb sacks that you can use for 120 and 60 wash loads, respectively. Each sack includes two free wash bags.

They sell only freshly harvested berries that have been de-seeded. You need 4-5 shells for an average size wash load. The nuts are for washing clothes only and should not be ingested. Shepswool advises that you keep the product away from children and pets.

Shop on Etsy

6. Tidy Thistle

If you are looking to test soap nuts and make sure they work for your laundry needs before committing fully, Tidy Thistle has a starter pack for you. The tidy thistle “laundry zero waste starter kit,” includes 25 grams of soap nuts, a cotton bag, and two wool dryer balls. You can use the pack for up to 16 wash loads. The dryer balls can last for 3-4 years, depending on the frequency of use.

7. Butter Me Up Organics

Their 4 oz. packs of organic soap nuts are estimated to wash 77 laundry loads. The soap berries are de-seeded, so they come in full and pieces. All you need is 4-6 whole nuts for a laundry load. You can also ground the soap nuts, mix them with water, and use them as a natural cleanser for your skin or as a natural body wash.

The wash may not produce a lot of foam or bubbles, but it is effective. Your clothes will come out clean as a wash with regular chemical detergent can make it.

8. Nature Apothecary US

The owner of this company lives in Florida and grows his soap nuts right in his yard. You have the option of buying the 11 oz. pack, the half-pound or one pound packages. You can reuse the nuts up to 7 times before they become inactive.

Nature apothecary’s most recommended way to prepare your laundry soap is to take a handful of shells, then add them to the 3 cups of water, and boil. Strain it when it cools, and use the liquid as you please.

9. Soft Like Me

One bag of soap nuts from this shop contains 25 nuts, and you can use them for 25-30 wash loads. Each purchase comes with a reusable muslin bag. They recommend adding 5-10 nuts for a single wash in warm water or water with a higher temperature. You need to dry the bag of nuts after each wash before storing it.

10. Herbal Elixir

Herbal Elixir's pack contains 150 grams of nuts, one cotton bag, and one bottle of essential oil. The nuts will last for 30 washes. To use, you need to put four full nuts or eight half-nuts in the bag provided. And then, put about ten drops of oil on the bag and place it in the washer with your laundry. With the addition of the oil, a tip you can use regardless of supplier, your clothes smell great when washed. You can wash with hot, warm, or cold water. You can re-use their shells an average of three times.

What Are Soap Nuts Made Of?

Soap nuts are the fruit of the Sapindus mukorossi tree. The tree is native to some areas in India and Nepal. Soap nut trees also grow in southern China and Florida. The soap nut tree takes about nine years before it produces fruits that appear by July/August and are ready for harvest by November/December. The harvest period lasts about six months throughout the winter.

The tree can live for up to ninety years and can grow to a height of 20-25 meters. The tree grows best in tropical and subtropical regions.

The soapberries have a golden tone when they are newly harvested but turn tan or dark brown when dried. There is a round dark-colored seed inside the berry. Most of the products available commercially and used as a natural cleaning agent are sold without that seed.

How do soap nuts work to wash clothes with detergent?

The soap berries contain saponin. The saponin is a surfactant, which causes the nuts to produce a soaping effect. The hardened outer layer contains most of the saponin's natural surfactants, so it is common to see them being sold separately from the inner seeds.

Soap nuts can get dark and sticky if they are not stored carefully. However, this does not mean they have gone bad; dark and sticky soap nuts may not be pleasant to look at, but they still wash perfectly. Soap nuts absorb moisture quickly, and water leads to saponin release. So it is best to store them in dry, air-tight containers.

Soap nuts work well with high-efficiency washers because of the low suds they produce. They also work well with top-loader washing machines too. It's worth carrying out a patch test on some clothes before going all-in to replace your normal liquid laundry detergent.

Why Use Soap Nuts?

Consider how much harm chemical detergents can cause. They contain ingredients that pollute the environment and endanger our health. They contribute to water pollution, contaminating groundwater, and causing eutrophication of rivers. Some ingredients used in the production of detergent and cleaning powder may cause allergic reactions and skin irritation.

When it comes to soap nuts vs. chemical laundry detergents, the former wins. Here are some pros for the all-natural soap nuts to replace laundry detergent:

Eco Friendly

These peculiar eco nuts grow on trees, and we do not produce them in a factory with chemicals. Most soap nuts are wild-harvested direct from nature. They do not contribute to air or water pollution in any way. They do not produce any harmful substances during and after use. After use, they decompose into soil nutrients. You can use the washing water from soap nuts to water your garden, and it even helps to repel pests.

Biodegradable

Once you have exhausted the natural surfactant in the eco nuts, you can chuck them in your compost. You know they no longer have any saponin content when they become soft and grey. They pose no threat to plants or animals.

Hypoallergenic

Soap nuts are non-toxic and gentle on the skin. People who have unpleasant reactions to regular detergents and body soap can use this natural detergent safely. You also can use them to wash baby clothes and cloth diapers without worrying about chemicals present in regular laundry detergent or washing soda.

Other Uses

You can use soap nuts for a range of other cleaning tasks around the home or for personal use. Try adding olive oil to the liquid produced when you soak soap nuts in very hot water for a natural base for soaps or shaving creams.

Similarly, soapnut liquid by itself makes for an all-natural zero waste shampoo. It won't lather up quite the same when added to wet hair, however, it's a great eco-friendly alternative especially for those people with sensitive skin or sensitivity to the chemicals in commercial shampoo.

Around the home, the addition of soap nut liquid to white vinegar, nature's other natural cleaner, will achieve eco-friendly cleaning performance for pretty much any surface.

Regardless of use, the addition of natural oils such as tea tree oil or lavender ensures fresh smelling and cost-effective cleaning.

Choose Soap Nuts for a Zero Waste Laundry

Soap nuts are a way of making your laundry routine eco-friendly. People in India and Nepal have been using the natural cleaning power of these nuts long before now.

It is a zero-waste laundry detergent alternative and may help kill bacteria in washing machines1. Soap nuts do not need to be combined with chemicals to remove dirt effectively. They are an economical and ecological alternative to chemical detergents both in the laundry and around the home.

1Pierce R. C. Soap Nuts: Do They Have Antibacterial Properties in the Laundry. California State Science Fair. 2012 Project Summary. J2017
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