Soap Nuts: How Well Do They Work?

Soap nuts: How well do they work?

Even if you’re only semi-crunchy, you’ve probably heard of soap nuts by now. If not, I’ll get you up to speed: they’re an all-natural alternative to laundry detergent. They’re technically not nuts, but the fruit of a tree that grows in India and Nepal. You can get them either de-seeded or with the seeds still inside.

Anyway, they contain naturally-occurring saponins that, when mixed with water, have the power to lift stains and grime. To do your laundry, you just toss a few nuts into a little cloth bag and then throw that into your wash, which you can use a number of times before you compost the nuts.

Can you imagine anything more eco-friendly? Washing your laundry with dried fruit that can be composted?

I’d been interested in soap nuts for at least a year or two before I finally purchased my first bag. (Again, as with the shampoo bar, despite my interest I’d been reluctant to buy them online since shipping in Canada is so dang expensive, and I didn’t know where else to get them).

So when I saw a local vendor selling them at an outdoor festival back in October, I didn’t think twice. I was eager to give them a try. They’re an inexpensive, eco-friendly, easy-to-use alternative to laundry detergent which is also completely free of harmful toxins.

So how well do they work, you wonder? Here’s my review!

(Nobody paid me to do this. I just want to spread the word!)

But first, a disclaimer: I’m pretty lazy about laundry. I just don’t care enough to be bothered with reading care labels or inspecting clothes for stains that need special attention. I just roughly sort my clothes according to colour and then toss them in the wash without looking.  I can overlook a few minor stains or tears here and there. I don’t even know the meaning of “delicates.” Almost all my clothes are from thrift stores, anyway.

Since I pay so little attention to my laundry, I might not be the best person to offer a very thorough or reliable assessment of how one cleaner/detergent works compared to another. But I’ll do my best.

Soap Nuts Review

I’ve been using soap nuts for my laundry for the last four months. (Except on diapers. I’ve continued to use my homemade detergent on those).

I haven’t noticed any change in the level of cleanliness with the soap nuts compared to when I used my homemade detergent. Our clothes come out clean and not smelling like anything. (Likewise, I never noticed a change in cleanliness when I switched from commercial detergent to the homemade stuff two years ago, either).

But I figured that alone wouldn’t quite cut it for a review. You might want a few more details than that.

So I paid a little more attention the last time I washed a load of Lydia’s laundry. Just for you guys.

She’s a toddler, so of course her clothes are always dirty. Usually with food stains, mostly. This particular load was especially yucky. I’d forgotten to wash her clothes for nigh on a week. This load included a pair of pants that had accidentally been put in with the wet diapers for a day or two and had absorbed the smell and dampness. (…And then had been put in with the rest of her laundry for a day or two, to spread the smell and dampness to the rest of the basket.) There was also the outfit in there that she’d worn while playing with water in her sensory table, and that I’d thrown into the basket all soaking wet. (See what I mean? Lazy.) All this had been sitting around, all moist, for days. And of course there were the usual food spills and stains all over the fronts of her shirts and dresses.

Without any special treatments or even separation of colours (except to remove any black or white items), I dumped the whole thing into the washing machine with a baggy of three (already used) soap nuts. I ran a huge warm wash. Once they were done, I hung them all up to dry right there in the laundry room as we usually do.

laundry hangingThe next morning when I went to gather the clean laundry, everything was clean and didn’t smell like anything. (Except for the smell of the previous owners’ fabric softener. Lydia doesn’t own a single article of new clothing, thanks to two thrift stores within walking distance of our home and some generous friends. Consequently, her laundry contains a multitude of fragrances.  Fabric softener scents take several washes to erase, I’ve found. They’re WAY harder to eliminate than diaper stink).

laundry 008See? All clean!

Two shirts had some very minor staining on the front, but I don’t think any detergent could have done any better. I don’t know how long they’d been there. One of them appeared to be tomato-based.

So there you go. Soap nuts work. They work well, in my opinion.

An awesome friend of mine recently bought me a second bag of soap nuts for Christmas, and the included instructions say that they can be used in the dishwasher, too.

PS – Southwestern Ontario locals: I got mine from these folks. Find them at the Leamington Farmer’s Market!

U.S. residents: you might want to give them a try via Green Virgin Products.

How about you? Have you used soap nuts? What was your experience? If not, wanna give them a try?

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  1. This review came at just the right time for me! I am almost done with my current bag of soap and was just thinking I’d try soap nuts. A few of my friends are even waiting for me to let them know how it goes. Great review, thanks!
    Joslyn recently posted..No Poo Method – One Month UpdateMy Profile

  2. I think I’m making my first batch of homemade detergent today =) We’re about to run out of store bought stuff and it’s so cold I don’t want to go outside ;) and I’ve had the supplies in the cupboard for a year!
    Molly recently posted..Glowing Motherhood – the Rest of the StoryMy Profile

  3. I’ve been waiting for this review since you posted about them on Facebook! They sound super interesting and I would love to try them, though I admit I am very happy with my homemade laundry soap! How big are they each (walnut size?) and did the ones you bought come with the cloth bag you wash them in?

    Can’t believe I’ve never heard of them before!

    • They’re a bit smaller than a walnut. Like maybe a hazelnut? And yeah — they generally come with the cloth bag. I’m totally happy with my homemade laundry soap, too; I just wanted to try this, too. Especially since it seems even milder and more natural.

    • Melificent says:

      I live in Oklahoma (USA) and these trees grow wild out here. I have been seeing these berries all over for YEARS! I just found out what they are! NEVER buying laundry soap again! You can also make dish soap and shampoo with these :)

      • Frenz Rivera says:

        Dear Melificent,

        I just bought these washberries from Sams club in Los Angeles. Can you tell me what city in Oklahoma you saw theses berries. I want to plant them in my yard. How big are the trees? Can you please mail me 10 seeds and I will pay for the shipping. Please send them to:
        Frenz Rivera
        P.O. Box 2183
        West Covina, CA 91793

      • E.S.Gerard says:

        Sell me some?

  4. I’ve been wanting to try soap nuts but I’m not sure how my family will react. They thought it was weird enough when I made everyone try homemade laundry detergent, and my brother was convinced that it did strange things to his clothing. Since I do my laundry mostly separate from my parent’s and sibling’s though I suppose I could try them on my own and not make everyone use them. I’m lazy about separating too. There’s the ‘lighter’ and ‘darker’ pile, unless there isn’t enough to make 2 full loads in which case I end up getting brightly colored spots on my favorite white sweater.
    Carolyn recently posted..Reading Goals for 2013My Profile

  5. I’ve not really heard of them and I’ve definitely never seen them for sale over here, even in the bio stores. Do you know how they farm them? I’m just wondering whether if they need to come all the way from India or Nepal, the airmiles and farming practices might outweigh the eco benefits of using them? Or do they grow them locally in the US now?
    Of course I could just go and look all this up myself but I’m lazy and maybe you know already ;)
    fiona lynne recently posted..remembering: a smileMy Profile

    • Hi, Fiona! I don’t know too much about how they farm them. The ones I have are certified organic (both in the US and the UK), so I know that pesticides aren’t an issue. I also considered the matter of shipping them overseas — whether that outweighed the other eco benefits. I don’t have any numbers, but a few observations: (1) They require very minimal packaging. Both of mine came in cotton bags, with a cellophane inner lining; and a bag should last many months. That would decrease shipping weight. (2) Each nut gets used so many times and goes so far, that the amount needed is dramatically less than most detergents. (3) They’re very lightweight, though admittedly a little bulky. A bag of soap nuts would take up a lot less space and weight than a jug of detergent, and would go a lot further.

      I’d have to look into it a little deeper, though!

  6. Nice post! I actually just discovered soap nuts a few weeks ago while visiting family in Florida. They seem to work great on clothing. Diapers, however, I’ve gone back to Rockin’ Green for that. Over two washes (in a row) of my diapers with the nuts and the diapers still smelled funky. I like the soap nuts for clothing though!
    Michele recently posted..A Letter to Pastors & Counselors about InfertilityMy Profile

  7. i’ve been using soap nuts for over two years and am so happy with the way they clean our clothes!
    kelli recently posted..sweet lenaMy Profile

  8. have you ever tried biokleen’s bac-out for cloth diapers. i used to use it when they got really “ripe” and was wondering how well they worked against soapnuts.

  9. I googled soapnuts to find out their country of origin, and stumbled on this review =) just started using them last week, interested to see that instead of the 6-8 berries recommended, you only use 3, as I’d been thinking one can usually stretch such recommendations ;-) also, I boiled some and thickened the liquid with guar gum, have used it twice as shampoo, and will switch it for my other handmade hand soap I think – the pot washed up nicely so might use it for dishes too. Thanks for your review =)

    • I was sold on Soap berries when I, Just for the heck of it, tried to wash my stove hood when I first moved in. To my surprise the greasy grime started coming off almost immediately.

      You have to boil soap berries first if you don’t use hot water to wash your clothes. I boil about 10-20 soap berries, letting them simmer down and then use the liquid as a dish soap and the berries for laundry.

      I started using them in 2011 :)

  10. Ps I added lavender oil to mine and it ride the cloth nappies of their smell =)

  11. As one of the larger Soap Nut Sellers in the USA, I can tell you that soap nuts grow all over the world. There are many different verities, but the best soap nuts by far are the Sapindus Mokorossi soap nuts. They are the largest and have the highest saponin content. The best soap nuts in the world grow wild in the India/Nepal area in the foothills of the Hymilain Mountains. Almost all the soap nuts sold in the USA and Canada are imported from this area. They are brought over to the USA by ship, never by air to cut pollution and cost. If anyone want’s to try them for free just send me an email to and mention this blog. Don’t for get to include your mailing address.

  12. I’ve tried soap nuts and really like them, too. I thought I should experiment with berries off of the wax myrtles that grow everywhere around here (relative of bayberries). I heard somewhere that the native Americans used them for soap. And I got so excited by the article on using soap nuts in the dishwasher, until I got to the end of the comments! Somewhere in my pile of notes, I have info on using essential oils in the dishwasher as an alternative to that toxic stuff I use.

    But our laundry habits too a sudden turn when we bought a new toy last year: we’ve been enjoying the LaundryPure machine . It uses UV light for some disinfection and an ionizer to make the water as soft as soap makes it….so no soap is product at all is needed. The smell of the laundry is unscented and fresh….though I occasionally put a few drops of essential oil into the wash for fragrance, but that’s pure luxury.

    If I were washing diapers I would definitely want to do some sort of test to see how well it disinfected (the machine only uses cold water, another savings). Ditto if I decide to embrace the idea of cloth wipes in the bathroom. I wonder if one of those crime scene flashlights that show bodily fluids would be useful?

  13. I just tried soap nuts for the first time this evening and I’m disappointed to say the least – the clothes were not stained before washing, but they were worn so I expected the sweat smell to be removed…no way, so I washed them one more time with the normal washer.
    I wanted to use a greener alternative and I’m still surprised when I read these positive comments…I don’t want to throw away my soap nuts, but I also want clean clothes…
    erzebet recently posted..Tired of your old books? Swap them!My Profile

    • Hey :)

      I haven’t tried soapnuts personally yet, but I’ve been doing a lot of research on them. The general consensus seems to be that they work better (or only) in warm/hot water. If you were using cold water, maybe that’s why they didn’t work?

  14. I wanted to love soap nuts. I tried using the amount shown on the box and even tried doubling the amount. The clothes didn’t seem very clean compared to Charlie’s Soap. Maybe I will break them out again. Definitely NOT for diapers. ;o)

    We also get used clothing for the boys. I have to get the smell out before the baby can wear anything. The only thing that helps is washing the clothes then leaving them on the clothes line for a day or two when the sun is out. The longer you leave them out the better but remember to bring them back inside or they will fade. I know from experience. Then re-wash them and put them in the dryer with a generous amount of white vinegar. This is the only trick that has reduced the fabric sheet smell for me. That stuff is so toxic too!

  15. I am very surprised by some of the comments here. Soap nuts are the best thing in the world for cloth diapers. They remove odors better than anything else. they have a natural antimicrobial action that kills germs, and they clean just as good as the highly toxic Tide etc. I am wondering if some of the posts here are from the army of posters that work for Proctor & Gamble are spamming this post. Our website has hundreds of reviews on it, and we don’t get any negative reviews at all. Click this link and read our reviews. If you tried soap nuts and didn’t like the results and you don’t work for P&G or one of the other soap giants, send me an email and request a free sample. Maybe the soap nuts you tried are of inferior quality. Once you use high quality soap nuts you will never use toxic chemical detergent again.
    Ken Marion, Green Virgin Products recently posted..Moringa Oil has been used for thousands of years to reduce wrinkles.My Profile

  16. I’ve been using soap nuts for 6 months now. Though they seem to work I’ve noticed my old (and well loved) t shirts have started to disintegrate. Anyone else see this happening?

  17. Ken,
    Maybe you can advise me. I started using soap nuts, cold water washes a year ago. But after a couple of months my clothes started getting various stenches including off milk smells (clothes without milk spills), mildew and another bad smell I’d never encountered before. I started using a lightly scented earth friendly detergent until I could figure out why I was getting such poor results. The change has helped a little but still not the wonderful just off the line smell that makes you inhale your laundry like it’s your drug of choice. Only once I washed a few stenchy things by soaking with Borax and hot water have I been able to get there. Is there hope for me to return to a soap nut life. What could I be doing wrong to get such stenchy clothes?

    • Melody Maginnis says:

      I would be concerned that your washer has some built up funk in it. A vinegar rinse or other method you can google to clean the washer would be in order. For my front load, the clean out trap is on the front, right under the door. It’s a complicated matter unscrewing the front plate in order to clean out the trap, but it does the trick, since all kinds of stuff gets stuck in there and starts to make everything in the washer smell gross.

  18. When I first tried soap nuts I was absolutely stunned at how well they work. I liked them so much I started importing and selling them on my website. I can’t imagine anything more promising for a better future and at the same time I know that widespread use will cause a disruption to the chemical giants. If you doubt how well they work, just put one single shell in an empty bottle of water, add water and give it a shake! There are videos on youtube showing this also. For Shanan above, the cause of your issue is probably the quality of your water supply, or some other factor such as the quality of the soap nuts… Thanks, Rocket Robin

  19. Hi Melynda (above),
    The cause of your issue is most likely the heat setting on your dryer. Remember that the soap nuts open the pores of the fabric in your clothing. This is the opposite action of detergent which tends to close off the pores in the fabric, trapping odours. Since the pores of the fabric are opened up, less heat is needed to remove the moisture in the fabric…. I’ve had years of continuous washing with soap nuts and found that the heat setting can be the lowest (delicate or hand wash setting) and your clothes will be fabulous, colourful, and clean!….. Thanks, Rocket Robin
    Rocket Robin recently posted..ROCKETROBIN.CA -The World is Yours. Take Care of it.My Profile

  20. I’ve been using the soap nuts for the past three years. My story: I was doing some cave exploration in Mexico, and touring with a friend afterwards. A woman came up to us and offered to wash my clothes (did I say “cave”?). My friend warned me that she would steal them. I said I wished she would do me that favor as I was planning to throw them out. Anyhow, they came back beautiful – like new – and that’s what she used. I live in NJ with the hardest water in the world, and do my wash in cold water with soap nuts. I love them. The Green Virgin product is marginally better than another bag I got as a present but I’ve forgotten the company’s name.

  21. Has anyone had any experience using these to use for thing like housework, and are these the right thing ? – ?!!? I have also heard of people using these as shampoo, is that a good idea ?

  22. Im about to buy some nuts and glad i saw these reviews. I had doubts.

    About the different “artificial stinks” in your thrift shop clothes,try a powdered bleach like sodium percarbonate.It turns into oxygen in water…and released super quick in warm/hot water. Do a hot wash with the powder in it,but turn the machine of just before it empties the water from the main wash. THEN let all that oxygen do its thing for 30 mins. turn on the oven timer so you know when to turn it back on. But make sure you dissolve the power properly in a bucket,before adding to wash. I know its a pain,but i HATE “artificial stinks” in washing powder and softeners!

    They are chemicals that should not be in contact with our bodies. Same with petro-chemical washing liquids which leave residues on our clothes…that rub onto our skin…and we breath it into our body. Esp bedding. We are smothered with petro-chemicals and “artificial stinks”.

  23. Washing nuts are great, I have just tested them myself. Recommend it! you can read my review on

  24. sherry Ganczak says:

    I bought some at the local grocery at a demonstration. I have a lot of allergies , so I was really interested. The ones I bought broke down in less than half the time that I was told , my clothes are not heavily soiled- and were not really clean. I really don’t like the dryer balls either the dryer balls. I bought the oils ( that were sold with them) to add a little fragrance – it also had to be doubled to even smell anything. Mine is going back for my money back – very sad


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