6 Money-saving Uses for Sustainable Soap Nuts

A white cloth bag with soap nuts.

Soap nuts are one of the most sustainable cleaning materials available today. Soap nuts are just that -- nuts from a tree. Also referred to as soap berries, these plant-based products are natural, easy to produce, and need very little in the way of processing and packaging.

What Are Soap Nuts?

A soap nut tree.

Soap nuts come from small tree and bushes in the Sapindus family and are small black berries. Once picked, the seeds are removed and the shells are dried. The shells contain saponin, which is a form of natural surfactant. Surfactant minimizes water surface tension, making it possible for detergents to better penetrate dirty fabrics. When combined with hand washing or the movement in your washing machine, the surfactant gets out more dirt from your soiled clothing.

Where to Find Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are not typically sold in brick and mortar stores, however, there are a number of online retail outlets where they are available. A quick Google search will provide you with a list of online soap nut retailers.

Soap Nut Benefits

A stack of white laundry and blue baby socks next to soap berries.

As a natural resource, soap berries are renewable, sustainable, and can be easily grown. They are completely safe, even for those with nut allergies, and contain no harmful or dangerous additives. They need very little energy, processing, and packaging to produce and market. As a versatile resource, soap nuts can be used to clean many different items, making it possible to save money by replacing several cleaners with one product. They also require less water and energy to use, adding even more savings to your budget. These powerful little cleaning agents can simply be thrown into your washer as detergent. However, if you’d prefer, they can also be easily transformed into a liquid detergent. Being a gentle cleaning material, soap nuts will not damage your fabrics or your surfaces. They are biodegradable and can be added to your compost pile.

1. Laundry Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are most commonly used to clean laundry. Place your soap nuts inside a small fabric bag and drop it into your washer along with your soiled clothing. Not only will it do a fantastic job of getting your clothes clean, but it also makes a great fabric softener. If the water in your home is soft and you’re doing a hot water load, then you’ll only need one or two nuts. If your water is hard and you’re doing a cold water load, you’ll need six to eight nuts. Remember, you can use these nuts again once your load is done. So don’t just throw them out after the first use. You can check to see whether they have any life left in them by squeezing the shell. If they release a bit of a frothy liquid, they are still good to go. (If you would prefer to use the liquid detergent listed below, you’ll need two to three ounces for each load you wash.)

2. Dishwasher Soap Nuts

Place three or four soap berries in your dishwasher cutlery container and then run the cycle as you normally would. If you prefer to wash your dishes by hand, you can add an individual soap nut or the liquid detergent listed below to your sink of warm water.

3. Make Your Own Soap Nut Liquid Detergent

Determine how much detergent you would like to make. For every cup of detergent you will need to boil one cup of water and two soap nuts for 30 minutes. Mash the berries before you add them to the water in order to release the saponins into the detergent. Allow the boiled mixture to cool completely and then strain the liquid through a cheesecloth. If you would like your detergent to have a fresh fragrance, add a few drops of essential oils to the liquid. Pour your liquid detergent into a labeled container and store it in the fridge to keep it from spoiling. This natural detergent can be used in place of a variety of household and personal cleaning products.

4. Soap Nut Liquid Detergent All-purpose Cleaner

Use the liquid detergent listed above to make your own all-purpose cleaner. You’ll need a 16 ounce spray bottle. Pour one or two ounces of the liquid detergent into the bottle. Add a few ounces of white vinegar and then fill the bottle with warm water. Shake the bottle until the contents are thoroughly combined. You can use this product to clean everything in your home from your floors and your windows to your stainless steel appliances and bathroom ceramics.

5. Soap Nut Liquid Detergent Shampoo

It's hard to believe, but these powerful little berries can also be used to wash your hair. Simply pour one ounce of liquid soap nut detergent into a 12 ounce plastic bottle. Fill the bottle with warm water. If you want to add one or two drops of essential oils for fragrance, go ahead. Shake the bottle until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Use as you would any other shampoo product.

6. Soap Nut Liquid Detergent Body Wash

The shampoo product above can also be used as a body and face wash product. Simply squeeze a few drops onto a wet cloth and wash away.