Soap Nuts: The Benefits and Uses of One Small Berry
Soap nuts (sometimes called "soap berries") are probably the most sustainable cleaning product on the market.
What are they? They are an all-natural, plant-based product (just a nut from a tree!), easy to grow organic and require very little processing or packaging.
They are naturally hypoallergenic, odorless and do no damage to surfaces or fabrics. And there are countless ideas on how to use them, making them sustainable and versatile.
The soap nut comes from the Soapnut Tree (Sapindus mukorossi). The trees produce the small black berry, approximately one inch (2-2.5 cm) in diameter, that are deseeded and the shell is dried prior to use.
The shells used for detergent contain something called saponin, which works as a natural surfactant. Surfactants reduce the surface tension of the water, essentially making it wetter and easier to penetrate into soiled fabrics. This combined with the agitation of your machine or handwashing removes the dirt or particles, then keeps them away from your clothing until rinsing occurs.
Most commercial detergents contain chemical surfactants, some of which (such as 1,2-Dioxane) have been shown to be carcinogenic and volatile. But soap nuts are all-natural and have been used for centuries around the world.
The Benefits of Soap Nuts
If you're not yet convinced of their benefits or how to use soap nuts, the following information should answer some of your questions:
- Sustainable: It's a renewable resource, easily grown organically.
- All Natural: No funky or harmful ingredients.
- Eco-Friendly: Less processing, less energy and less packaging.
- Affordable: They can replace multiple cleaners, and last longer.
- Reusable: Each berry can be used up to 6 times before it's spent.
- Hypoallergenic: No skin or respiratory irritation and non-toxic.
- Not Actually Nuts: They're totally safe for those with nut allergies.
- Simple: Throw them in your wash or make a simple liquid detergent.
- Odorless: But you can always add your own essential oils.
- Gentle: Their mild nature won't damage delicate clothing or surfaces.
- No Fabric Softener: They naturally soften your fabrics!
- Save Water: They rinse easier so require less water.
- Save Energy: You can use a shorter rinse cycle in your laundry, too.
- Front-loading Friendly: No suds are perfect for HE machines.
- Works in Any Temperature: Use them in cold, warm or hot water.
- Non-polluting: 100% biodegradable and safe for graywater systems.
- Compostable: Used shells can be thrown in your compost.
- Self-sufficient: You can even grow a soap nut tree yourself!
- Countless Uses: Look below for a few ideas on how to use soap nuts in your own home.
It's pretty obvious they are a great, sustainable choice. Now I'm going to show you just how versatile they really are...
Making Liquid Soap from Soap Nuts
How To Use Soap Nuts
Learning how to use soap nuts is easy...and kinda fun (if you're into goofy stuff like this)! It just takes a little creativity to see how many things this little berry can do in your home.
Making Liquid Soap Nut Detergent
Liquid soap nut recipes are easy to follow and the results are versatile.
Boil 2 berries for every one cup of water for 30 minutes. You may want to crush or mash the berries before or during boiling to release as much of the saponins as possible. Allow the water to cool, then strain the solution through a muslin cloth, add essential oils if you prefer and store in a recycled jar in the fridge to prevent spoiling. Use the leftover soap nuts and the muslin cloth in the washer together for one load of laundry.
The many uses of this liquid soap are below.
Washing laundry is the most common use. A small cloth satchel with a few berries inside is all that is needed to replace both your regular laundry detergent and your fabric softener.
The number of berries to use depends on the temperature of hardness of your water. For soft, hot water use 1-2 berries; they can usually be used a second time. For cold, hard water use up to 8 berries at least 6 or more times. To check to see if your berries are done, squeeze the shell: you should see a slight sudsy liquid release if they are still good. If you prefer to use the liquid detergent, add 1-3 ounces per load.
Put 2-5 berries in the cutlery basket of your dishwasher and run as usual. Be sure to add white vinegar as a natural rinse aid.
If you're handwashing, you can make a liquid detergent (above) or add one to the hot water in the sink.
All Purpose Cleaner
Using the liquid detergent recipe above, add 1-2 ounces to your 16 ounce spray bottle. You can add white vinegar or essential oils if you prefer.
The solution can be used on cabinets and cupboards, walls and doors, floors, stainless steel and other metal, wood, tables, shoes, granite and marble, plastic, around pets and kids, sinks, toilets, showers and tubs, and electronics (never spray directly on electronics though; always spray a rag and wipe down gently).
Add two tablespoons of white vinegar and two tablespoons of liquid detergent to a 16 oz spray bottle of water. Add several drops of essential oils if you'd like. Shake well and use as normal.
Yes, it's true! This versatile little berry is great for washing hair. It's even used in Ayurvedic medicine to prevent hair loss; I'm not going to making any speculations or promises there, though!
Mix 1/2 to 1 ounce of liquid soap nut in approximately 12 ounces of water (I recycle an old jar for this one), add your favorite aromatherapy if you'd like and pour over your scalp. Scrub and rinse as usual. You can also add one teaspoon of baking soda to the solution for added strength. And try softening your hair with apple cider vinegar: dilute one ounce with 10-12 ounces of water to rinse your hair after washing.
Body and Face Wash
Just like shampoo, the berries can be used as a liquid body wash or face wash. Add a little to your wash cloth and scrub away!
Insect and Mosquito Repellant
Soap berries are rumored to repel mosquitoes by applying the liquid to the body (possibly with this natural mosquito repellant) and allowing it to dry. It's safe for babies and kids but there isn't much discussion on it's effectivity. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
Likewise you may be able to use the crushed or used shells around your garden to repel some insects and pests.
Use the liquid detergent to shampoo pets, wash pet beds or bedding, clean toys and possibly even repel pests by spraying their coat.
Soak your jewelry in undiluted liquid solution, and then scrub clean with an old toothbrush.
Wash Your Car
Use up to a dozen nuts and allow them to soak in a gallon or more of hot water for 30 minutes or fill the bucket with pressured water from your hose to release the saponin from the berries. Use that water to wash your car, wheels and even your dashboard, steering wheel and windows. Because it's biodegradable, the wash water can be reused on trees or plants.
Where to Find Soap Nuts
Soap nuts aren't commonly found at the store, but there are several places online you can find them. These are also affiliates links which means you'll support the continuation of this site at no additional charge to you, so thank you!
Find them on Amazon: If you're looking for higher quantities or different brands, there are several companies who all sell their products on Amazon.
Mountain Rose Herbs: This small business that we affiliate for is known for their quality and their pricing. A lb of soap nuts cost only $6!