Soapnuts, sounds interesting doesn’t it. Well the name soapnuts is slightly misleading, as they should be called soap berried (and sometimes are). Sapindus is the technical plant name and it’s berries or drupes have large seeds and a thin fleshy outside; when the flesh is dried is called a soapnut. Sapindus grow on a variety of 12 different bushes and trees and have been used by Asians and Native Americans for thousands of years.

They exhibit anti-microbial properties. Soapnuts have gentle insecticidal properties and are traditionally used for removing lice from the scalp. They have been used as a treatment for eczema, psoriasis, and as contraceptive. But that is not why I am telling you about them. They are also used as – soap! In this case specifically laundry soap. The best thing is they are eco friendly, a re renewable source, you could grow your own if you wanted [Article on that coming soon], and obviously they are 100% natural!

So how do they work?
Soapnuts contain saponins which are a natural surfactant. A surfactant is a surface active agent and reduce the interfacial tension between oil and water by adsorbing at the liquid-liquid interface. So basically they allow the soap the do its job – all soaps on the market have a surfactant in them, this one just happens to be natural and all packed in one. So when a soapnut comes in contact with warm water it releases soap like suds and cleans your clothes. For one wash you place 6 – 8 soapnuts in a small mesh or cotton bag and add it to your laundry – inside the machine with the clothes. When the warm water come in the soap is released and your clothes are washed. When the rinse cycle comes (unless you do a hot rinse) the soapnuts become inactive due to the cool water. So your 6-8 soapnuts can be used 3 times, however if you wash at 90 C then they last just once. They have a potent smell when wet, however they leave your clothes smelling clean – and you can add some essential oil in the fabric softener slot if you want to have smelly good clothes! (Sidenote: white vinegar works as a great all natural fabric softener) Also, soapnuts work for color and white clothes – so you only need one laundry soap!

When you have used your soapnuts 3 times, they can then be composted (100% biodegradable) or can go in the trash. So if i did one load of laundry a week, that is 52 load of laundry a year. On this great site I can buy soapnuts for 50 Washes for just £7.14 (70 NOK)! That is amazing! What a money saver! We buy a box of laundry soap ever few months, and one just cost 50 NOK! Another good thing is that people who suffer from allergies to soaps generally are good with these. And since soapnuts are really not a nut – no worries for allergies to nuts.

How do I like Soapnuts?
I have been very pleased with them. I feel that my towels are softer – which is huge since we line dry! I also have done a test run with all our shirts that just stink (we all have them, don’t we) – and they actually came out with little stink (except this one shirt that is just hopeless), I am SO impressed. I found that there were not as many suds or bubbles as I am used to and was thinking that they might not work – but they did. I sat in front on my washer continually though a whole wash cycle hoping to see bubbles – I felt like that fish in Nemo or a little kid amused by a washer. But the first load I washed I never saw bubbles, but I assumed I was just never watching a the right time. So the next time I went in every few minutes while cleaning and cooking to check on the bubble status. They were just smaller bubbles, and not the ‘foam’ like bubbles we are taught means clean. I even did a smell test with Ole, I asked if thought it smelled. He said they smelled clean, but not scented. Sounds like a win to me.

In short, I will be ordering a year supply from Nigels – they comes in a reusable cotton bag! The soapnuts I have now are from a friend who was kind enough to give me some to test when she heard I was wanting to try them! (Thanks Celine) I am very pleased with them! I am thrilled to know that my clothes are not being washed in chemicals and that I am in turn not washing those chemicals down the drain and into the water supply. Also a soapnut tree lives aroun 100 years, it starts producing berries/nuts 10 years in and continues for the following 90 years! One good sized tree can produce 200 – 300 kilos of berries/nuts a year! WOW!

Usage Tips From Nigels Eco Store

What temperature?
We recommend washing your clothes at a lower temperature setting of 40 degrees to save energy.
If using Soapnuts laundry soap nuts washing at 30 to 40 degrees yields usage of 3 times the washes per bag. While washing at 60 degrees will yield a usage of 2 washes per bag of pods and for 90 degrees use once.

Can I use them in a cold water wash?
Yes, to wash in cold water, soak the nuts, while in their cotton bag, in a little hot water a few minutes to release the saponin (the soap in Soapnuts) then add the water to the wash.

How many should I use?
We recommend 6-8 whole pods or equivalent, but if your clothes are not very dirty and/or you live in a soft water area you can use up to HALF THE AMOUNT! Feel free to experiment.

Can I use less than the recommended 6-8 soapnuts? And can I use them more than 3 times?
We have found that people in soft water areas need only 3 or 4 pods, and can use them 4 times. Please feel free to experiment. Additionally, if your clothes are not very dirty or you are not filling your machine you can use less pods.

Can using Soapnuts reduce the amount of water used?
Yes it can! As Soapnuts are completely natural you don’t have to rinse them out as much (They are good for your skin and your clothes!) So, if your machine has a cycle that uses less water and a shorter rinse cycle, you can use this setting.

Will using Soapnuts prolong the life of my washing machine?
Yes it can! Chemical washing products can eventually damage the workings of your machine.

What happens to Soapnuts in the rinse cycle?
Saponin (the soap in Soapnuts) is only released in hot water and the rinse cycles are cold, so it’s fine to leave them in the machine during the rinse cycle.

Update (5 March 2011) – If you happen to get a seed in your bag, do not use it in the wash! Seeds can stain clothes. Also, I read this great article – and you should to if you are seriously interested in buying soapnuts. How to Buy Soapnuts

3 Responses

  1. Whitney March 8, 2011 / 23:03

    I’ve never tried soapnuts but I always use white vinegar in my wash and have for years. It’s a lot cheaper (especially if you use 35% vinegar concentrate and dilute it 1:5 with water) than fabric softer and you don’t go around smelling like flowers of the forest all day. Sometimes your clothes smell like vinegar when you take them out of the wash but the smell goes away completely by the time they dry.

    I prefer this and can’t stand the smell of most fabric softeners anymore.

  2. Fonda LaShay March 9, 2011 / 18:21

    When I order a bag, ill have to give you some to try!

    You can also boil the soap out of them and make shampoo, dish soap, hand soap, exfoliating masks and surface cleaner! I am going to have to try when I get more!

  3. Laura March 20, 2014 / 16:08

    Just left a comment on a site thats saying “soapnuts are a con, have NO EVIDENCE anywhere that they clean… and they damage your machines”… have said that I have a 2 month old which has washable nappies and a nearly 12 year old daughter… if their stuff comes out clean that’s firm enough proof for me! 🙂

What do you think?