Soap Nuts The Verdict- What Are They & Do They Work?

Several years ago I was shown and given a sample of the soap nuts in my local Eco-friendly Store. I had never heard of them, I was fascinated by the idea, and as I love anything natural, I gave them a go.

What Are They

Soap nuts, soap berries, wash nuts they all refer to the dried fruit of the Sapindas Mukorossi Tree also known as the Reetha Tree. These amazing little beauties are basically a 100% natural, compostable and biodegradable alternative to conventional detergent and synthetic soaps. Predominantly used for laundry but they can be used for pretty much cleaning anything, with no nasty extras.

Do They Work

They do work, but as with most things, using them in the most productive way is where you will get the best results. As a completely 100% natural cleaning alternative, phosphate and chemical free, I think it’s worth taking some effort to give them a go and find the best way of using them for your situation.

Cool Washes

There are some arguments about there effectiveness in a cool wash. I have been using them for some years on predominantly 30° washes and over that temperature when needing hotter washes. However I have also tried them on a 20° it is better however to pop them in a container of hot water for about 10 mins to activate them before popping them into a colder wash.

I do live in a hard water area, some people argue this limits their effectiveness. In my opinion at 30° and above, it does not. As with normal soaps and detergents a soft water area will have more suds than a hard water area.

Also note that the lack in suds doesn’t mean they are not cleaning, you may be surprised at the dirt it removes. Many traditional laundry and soap products will have additives to create the white soapy froth we think is cleaning. These along with big budget advertising campaigns leads us to believe that only thick white suds churning around in the machine will do!

Soap Build Up & Machine Clogging

I haven’t noticed any soap build up in my laundry or in my machine. However people have questioned this. As I understand it, machines rinse in cold water, and the nuts tend to be activated in warm water. If you prefer not to put the nuts in your machine, you can always create your own soap nut liquid by boiling them see How To Make Your Own Laundry Soap Nut Liquid the liquid can replace the bag of nuts for laundry. As with normal detergents the machine will wash then remove the dirty water and rinse with clean, so no concerns over the Saponin (natural detergent within the nut shell) seeping out of the nuts and into the rinse.

Nut Smell

I have smelt a very mild earthy nutty type smell, but not found it offensive and it has usually dissipated quickly once aired. I tend to hang my washing outside as much as possible if weather permits. I don’t own a tumble dryer so unsure if this effects a nut type odour. I would have thought airing after tumble drying would help.

Stubborn Stains

Here we come to the more difficult area. Soap nuts are a gentle natural cleaning product, other synthetic man made detergents will have phosphates, enzymes, bleaching agents, brighteners and synthetic perfumes added to them to work harder.

For tough stains like tea, coffee, red wine, blood, chocolate and ground in dirt, particularly on white fabrics, many traditional detergents will struggle.

The humble soap nut is therefore going to need some help in one form or another.

The Experiment

I decided to have my own experiment using white or light clothes and socks and stains from tomato ketchup, chocolate, red wine, tea, coffee and ground in dirt on kids socks.

Natural stain options include, salt, vinegar, lemons and lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide and soaking.

All washes were on a standard daily wash with 3 rinses and 120 ml of soap nut liquid.

Stain Remover Machine
Water Temp
1 tsp of salt to detergent drawer20°no visible change
30 min soak in 1/2 water 1/2 vinegar solution. 1 tsp of salt in detergent drawer30°tea & coffee stains removed. Other stains faded but remained.
1 tsp baking soda with warm water soak – 2 hrs30°faded not removed
Cold water soak with nut detergent specifically on stain (red wine only)30°faded not removed
Lemon & hot water soak overnight30°faded not removed
Lemon & hot water boiled (socks only)40°faded not removed
1/2 hydrogen peroxide 1/2 water soak 2hrs
socks only baking soda/peroxide paste
40°slight fading on stains
no noticeable difference on socks
Bleach & warm water soak overnight40°ketchup, red wine, chocolate stains removed. Socks extensively faded.

I have to be honest I was a little disappointed with the results. I also realised that the slightly differing material types were possibly skewing results. I therefore started again using an old cotton sheet.

This time I after staining and drying, I used only the DIY soap nut extract I had created. I gave each stain a good spray of the extract and soaked everything overnight in half extract half hot water, then washed on a 30° every day cycle.

This gave a much improved result.


I was surprised but disappointed with the alternative natural stain removers but pleasantly surprised with the results from the soap nut extract. Although not all stains were fully removed (particularly ground in dirt and grass stains) in the most part they were acceptable, given that on coloured fabric they could be less noticeable.

In the past I have tended to predominantly just use the soap nuts for washing with no stains, or just accept the stains and leave them on, or where necessary use something else.

Producing my own extract has been an eye opener, not just for washing but for the other uses around the house with excellent results. My windows, mirrors and bathrooms are sparkling, the pet scented wall and door corners have returned to white, you can see my floor and the house doesn’t smell of vinegar!

Mother nature has provided us with these wonderful little berries with their natural cleaning ability that won’t harm our world. For the majority of washing and cleaning they are super effective.

If more people used them for the multiple uses they have, for most of their needs just think of the saving that would be make in toxins running into the earth, energy and compounds used to create the products and plastic packaging they often come in recycled or not.

If you are not keen on the idea of using the soap nuts as they come, or making your own liquid. They can be purchased in powder and liquid form, as you would normally purchase laundry and/or cleaning products.

Where To Buy

The soap nuts as well as soap nut powders and liquid will normally be commonly found in Eco/sustainable/zero waste stores both in your town or city as well as online. As soap nut trees are native to temperate to tropical climates they are being successfully grown in many regions throughout the world, and therefore becoming more widely available.

I am currently using soap nuts by  they provide many different products using soap nuts.

Alternatively soap nuts and related products can now be found on Amazon, soap nuts, soap nut liquid, and soap nut powder.

Other Uses

Soap nuts are incredibly versatile and can be used for so many things other than laundry. In your dishwasher and sink washing. In spray bottles for all sorts of general cleaning of sides, sinks and bathrooms, floors and windows. Even shampoo and hand and face soap.

Disposing Of Soap Nut Shells

It never ceases to amaze me how nature provides, when your soap nuts come to the end of their life, they are 100% biodegradable. So you can pop them on your compost heap, or break them up and sprinkle them around flowers and plants to keep pests at bay. Amazing!

Other Posts That May Be Of Interest

How To Make Your Own Soap Nut Liquid Extract For Laundry & Cleaning

Imperfectly Eco Friendly – Lets Just Start!

How To Create A Stylish Sustainable Wardrobe

Gift ideas That Keep On Giving

What Can I Do With Overripe Bananas

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