Clean It Guide is a reader supported site. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Product prices are the same whether you buy through our links or not. Thank you for being a part of our community. Learn More

What Is A Soap Nut?

A soap nut contains saponin, i.e., a naturally occurring alternative to commercially made soap. There are plenty of natural plants that contain this ingredient, but few contain sufficient quantities of it to make harvesting worthwhile. This nut is the exception.

Soap nuts might be new to you but they’ve have been a staple in South Asian communities for many centuries. The soap nut is the dried fruit of the Ritha (Sapindus mukorrosi) tree, a tropical, deciduous tree native to Asia.

The brand I use is NaturalThings Organic. I was surprised at how cheap I was able to buy a 2.2 Pound bag of these soap nuts from this listing on Amazon! Just in case your curious, that’s enough to do 500 loads!

How Do Soap Nuts Work?

So how do you use it in your home? When doing the family washing, you place the nuts into a wash bag and put the bag with your laundry inside the drum of the machine. When dried soap nuts are exposed to water, they release saponins which act as a natural surfactant, reducing surface tension and allowing dirt and oils to detach from clothing. The saponin or soap is released when the shell of the nut comes into contact with water. It then works similarly to the detergents you are used to using, but you should find that your clothes are cleaner and softer. You won’t need to use a fabric conditioner which is good news particularly if your family has allergies.

No Chemicals Or Fuels

The beauty of this product is that not only does it reduce the number of chemicals you are using in your home but no chemicals or fuels are needed to make the product. You use the nuts as they are harvested, i.e., in their natural state. Lack of manufacturing means that there is no water pollution. The trees and shrubs are not destroyed in the harvesting process either. No animals are involved in testing the products made with this natural ingredient. It is hard to find a greener product.

Soap nuts are a product of nature and are completely pure, containing no additives, fragrances, or chemicals. They also have antimicrobial properties and are 100% biodegradable.

Hidden Benefits

There are other hidden benefits of using soap nuts. The plants grow in temperate climates and do not require great expertise to produce a good crop. This makes them an ideal product for developing countries to grow, leading to increased forestation and employment for the local people. This will help to reduce the effect of greenhouse gases not to mention poverty in the developing world. You can save dollars by using this product as well as protecting your children from the effects of chemicals. You can also help the locals in India and Nepal by providing jobs which do not involve sweatshops or other poor working conditions.

Not Just For Laundry

Although very effective at cleaning clothes, saponin produces low suds which make it ideal to use in other machines as well. You can use it in the dishwasher, and if you add some vinegar to the rinse, your dishes will shine. You can use it in carpet cleaners to clean carpets as it will not produce loads of suds which are difficult to remove.

Personal Hygiene

It is not just your home that can benefit from this natural product. Your own personal hygiene needs can be met too. You can find hand washes and shower gels made from soapberries in addition to shampoos. Some people dislike using soap nut shampoo as it doesn’t produce as much of a soapy lather as they are used to. You can get around this problem by using more of the soap nut shampoo, but a huge amount of suds doesn’t mean a product works more efficiently.

If you have sensitive skin, you may just find that soap nuts are the answer you have been looking for as skin reactions are unusual.



Harvesting Soap Nuts and Using Them

Soap nuts are the common name for the seeds of the Sapindus shrubs and trees. Despite looking and feeling like a nut, especially when dried, they are not nuts but a fruit so the other common name of soapberry is more appropriate.

The plants grow in temperate climates. The seeds are crushed to make soap and have been used for centuries to wash clothes and for personal hygiene. They have also been used in natural remedies for various conditions from the treatment of epilepsy to excessive salivation. Scientific research hasn’t shown that the berries successfully treat these conditions, but current research shows that they may be effective in treating migraines. There is also some evidence to suggest that they could be used to make spermicides.

These berries are often used in Ayurveda medicine, a traditional form of medicine native to India. They are used in shampoos and given their insecticidal properties they may be effective at treating lice. They have been used for treating skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Both these conditions can react badly to commercially produced soap, so natural remedies are usually preferable. Eczema is an inflammation of the skin which may be hereditary particularly if accompanied by asthma. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that appears on the skin. It is not contagious but can cause unsightly inflammation on the skin, and normal detergents usually aggravate this.

Soap nuts contain a very high quantity of saponin which is a natural detergent. The fruit will mature in October, November, and December depending on some factors not least of which is the weather. Sometimes the growers will gather the harvest prematurely resulting in lower quality soapberries with a reduced concentration of saponin.

The market for this product has increased significantly, partly because people are trying to find ways to make their dollars work harder. Detergents can be expensive and used properly these nuts can provide cost savings when doing your laundry. One expert has advised that he can get 150-200 loads of washing done with $22 worth of soap nuts. Obviously, if you are new to using these berries, your results will not be as good as that.

So how do you use this product? Put a handful of nuts into a wash bag and add to your laundry. You should be able to reuse the same bag for three or four washes depending on how dirty the clothes are, the size of the load and the temperature settings. You also save as you shouldn’t need fabric softeners. The clothes will come out fresh, soft and clean. You should be able to source good quality products at your local store.

This natural product is safe to use for all members of your family even those with sensitive skin. You can wash baby diapers if you have moved away from using disposables. The berries contain natural antibacterial agents, so there is no concern about your wash not being clean. Why not try soap nuts today?