Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

My Favorite Natural Laundry Soap: Soap Nuts Review

September 30th, 2009 · 64 Comments · Cleaning, product review

The zoo knows something you might not.

On our last family trip to the zoo, my attention was caught by the standard announcement at the stingray touch experience.  They tell everyone to roll up sleeves (even short sleeves) and pull back long hair.  Want to know why?  Because there is detergent and shampoo residue in your clothes and hair that would make the stingrays sick.  Most people probably heard that and thought nothing of it.  Me?  I was struck by the fact that the zoo worries about all that stuff making the stingrays sick and we walk around with it every day.

I’ve been on the lookout for a safe, natural, frugal laundry soap for a long time.  I make so much from scratch, and I really didn’t want to crank out homemade laundry soap.  I didn’t want to shell out lots of money for expensive natural laundry detergents either.  I think I’ve finally found my winner!

soap nuts natural soapnuts review

What are Soap Nuts?

Soap nuts are actual fruits that grow on trees, rather like olives, then are dried.  They are completely chemical-free, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, eco-friendly, unscented and gentle on clothing and skin.  They contain a compound called saponin, which acts as a natural surfactant to clean your clothes (or anything else).  A surfactant is simply a cleaner, something that lifts dirt off the surface of something else.  Soap nuts can also be made into cleaners for other parts of the house, even the kitchen, but I’m so impressed with what they do in the washing machine (and was so direly in need of a natural laundry detergent) that I haven’t even tried them elsewhere yet.

To use soap nuts in the laundry, you simply put 5 of them in a little bag and toss them in the washing machine.  They can be reused 3-7 times before their saponin runs out. For a cold water wash, they work best if you put them in a cup of hot water for a few minutes first to begin releasing the saponin. I thought this would be a pain, but it’s really not a problem.  I just put them in an old detergent bottle cap while I loaded the machine or sorted the load, and then they were ready to go in.  You also don’t need fabric softener or dryer sheets with soap nuts.

How I Put Laundry Soap Nuts to the Test

How can you tell when a laundry soap is doing its job?  I think this is a tough product to review, because it seems like no matter how great your laundry detergent is, there’s always a stain or a grease spot that sneaks through here and there.

When I tested soap nuts, I tried to really pay attention to the job they were doing.  I washed towels and sheets first, and I was pleased that they smelled so clean afterward.  What does clean smell like?  Nothing.  My sheets smelled pleasantly like nothing. I would call it a fresh scent, but years of marketing has probably brainwashed you into thinking that “fresh” means “lemon” or “powder” scented (blech).  In reality, a “fresh” smell is a lack of any negative odor, don’t you think?  That’s what my first two loads smelled like.

I washed a warm load next and didn’t have any problems with it, but this is where laundry testing gets tough:  how do I know the soap is working? Especially since soap nuts don’t have the sudsing action that we’ve all come to expect with commercial detergents, I didn’t have anything to trick me into thinking they were cleaning my clothing.

I decided to stretch the soap nuts a little and offer the challenge of a cold load.  I took note of the food crusted on daughter’s bib, and I decided I had the clincher:  my exercise clothes, fresh with sweat and rank with odor, in a cold load of laundry.  I figured if the soap nuts could make them smell sweet, they definitely are doing something powerful in there!  I tentatively lifted the wet exercise clothes to my nose, a little nervous that I was inviting noxious fumes up close and personal on purpose.  I was amazed – they smelled fresh and clean.  Soap nuts, score one, sweat, zero!  Soap nuts work.  They clean your laundry. Effectively.  Even in cold water.

Score two for soapnuts:  they also took smell out of a stinky towel that had been used to clean up a kefir spill.  It smelled like puke.  Now it doesn’t.  Woo hoo, soap nuts!

Pros and Cons

My favorite part of using soap nuts?  I can wash the whole family’s laundry together instead of separating out baby clothing to wash with the more expensive “natural” or “sensitive” laundry detergent.  Soap nuts are ideal for sensitive skin (my kids have that) and leave no residue, so I don’t worry about them being exposed to X-something-or-other-chemical left in their clothing or on their sheets.  And the stingrays are safe, too.  :)

One major drawback is the tendency to push the soap nuts farther than they can go. Because there’s a range of loads (3-7) that you can use one batch of nuts for, I tend to try to use them as long as possible.  Frugal, conservative momma.  Sometimes I end up having to rewash a load, like the load of camping laundry that still smelled like smoke after being washed.  I don’t like the waste of water there.  To soap nuts’ credit, I may have pushed the size of that load a bit much for how stinky the clothing was, too, along with my nuts being on their last legs.  (Soap nuts instructions say to use medium loads so that there is enough room to agitate the clothes with the saponin.)

UPDATE: Some tips on How to tell if laundry soap nuts still have cleaning power with photos.

Another Choice: Extreme 18X Green Cleaner

soap nus extreme 18x square

I also got to try NaturOli’s somewhat processed product, a liquid made from soapnuts.  It’s basically soap nuts “tea” with some preservatives so it doesn’t go bad in a week (you can make your own from the soap nuts themselves, but it doesn’t keep).  It’s a funny feeling putting just a teaspoon of liquid into my cavernous washing machine with a whole load of clothes and expecting anything good to happen.  I’ve found that the Soap Nuts Liquid Laundry Detergent Concentrate works just the same and just as well as the actual soap nuts.  If you might have a tendency to “push” the nuts like I did, you may want to try the liquid.  Think of the plastic you save buying something that concentrated!  My bottle was supposed to last for 6 loads, but I’m pretty sure it’s gone farther than that – the kind of added bonus I just love!

But How Much?

It drives me nuts that the natural cleaning products always seem to cost double the regular ones.  I am tickled pink with joy that this one doesn’t!  As long as you buy in bulk, you could get the 32 oz. – 320 loads for $28.95, or the NaturOli Soap Nuts 48 oz gets you 480 loads for around $45.95.  (I’m thinking about splitting a bag with my mom.)  Either one works out to under 10 cents per load (plus the possibility of more if you make your nuts stretch by using cold water!).  I figure my price point for All Free and Clear is $3.00 for 32 loads after a coupon and sale match-up, or 9.3 cents per load.  Soap nuts are almost exactly the same price per load, and I don’t have to watch for a sale or cut the coupon.  Love it!

UPDATE:  A reader asked a question about shelf life.  Here is the answer from NaturOli:

Soap nuts basically have an endless shelf life if properly stored.  If the user plans to have them around for several months, we recommend that they remove them from the muslin bag and store them in an air tight container.  They should be stored in a cool,  dry,  dark location away from direct sunlight. Most laundry rooms are the perfect location!

Someday I’m going to try NaturOli’s Soap Nut Natural Shampoo Bar.  I’m kind of in the market for a new chemical-free, natural shampoo.  You don’t even want to know what I’ve been using for shampoo this summer!

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Disclosure:  NaturOli provided me with samples of their products for this review, but my opinion is my own and not influenced by the company.  I will get a small commission for sales made by clicking links on this site.

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64 Comments so far ↓

  • Jen

    thanks for the review – I’ve spent this whole nap time drooling over their site……… I have over $70 on my wishlist over there :-)

    And I would love to hear your shampoo story :-) – I did “no poo” the last 6 months and just in the last couple weeks have added in a “good shampoo/conditioner” (store bought) that I just use once a week or so.
    I should do a post on my experience………..
    .-= Jen´s last blog .."Refried" Beans =-.

    Katie Reply:

    Yes, I tried “no poo” starting in June. It hasn’t been all that lovely; not sure if I’ll ever get to posting on it. I would love to read about your experience! Did you add the good shampoo b/c the no poo wasn’t quite doing the job? My husband says he misses the smell of shampoo-cleaned hair. Bummer… :( So I’m hit or miss lately.

    Jen Reply:

    It actually did okay for me. I didn’t care for the ACV smell but it wasn’t terrible and faded pretty quick. I added the store bought cause someone bought it for me and I was ready for something easy in a bottle for occasional use :-)
    I am finding I think the key for me is just washing less. With my hairstyle it was hard to get it up unless I started with it wet, so I was showering and washing it everyday. When I started just rinsing with water on the majority of the days and washing every 3-4 days -I even went 7 days without an issue!- it became much more manageable. Now, I can put it up without it being wet. So I can shower every other day if I want. (It’s a nice freedom with 3 little ones!)
    I will write out my thoughts and experience and post it sometime in the next couple weeks and I will come back and link you to it when I do.
    .-= Jen´s last blog .."Refried" Beans =-.

    D Reply:

    Hi, I have used soap nuts for laundry and they are wonderful, also the 18 x,(just a dab will do ya) for other stuff, makes a great eye glass cleaner too, DROP or two in a 4-5 oz spritz bottle add H20 and your set. The shampoo, in bottle, “Extreme soap nut shampoo” is excellent and I use coconut oil as a conditioner (need to play around with oil till you find the right amount for you) let it sit in hair while you wash–you–then rinse. You can also add to shampoo, last wash, let the shampoo set and rinse, any way play around. I did not care for the shampoo bar, ended up using it for a face wash and liked that, use on wash cloth as it has ground up soap nuts in it. Hope this helps, and enjoy. First time to this site and I am truly enjoying it, most diffidently will return again & again. D :)

  • kanmuri

    That sounds great! Do you know if they ship to Canada?
    .-= kanmuri´s last blog ..A Korean Tale, Part1 =-.

    Katie Reply:

    Good question, that’s something I should have checked out first. I’ll ask!

    Katie Reply:

    NaturOli does ship to Canada, but not for giveaways or free shipping. Thanks for the question! Katie

    Anna Reply:

    I am probably totally late on this, but:

    “Superior Soap Nuts” is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and they ship free on orders over $75. Can’t wait to get my first batch :)

  • Amy @ Finer Things

    I definitely want to try the concentrated oil. Sounds easier. I’m lazy like that. :)
    .-= Amy @ Finer Things´s last blog ..Finer Things Friday: Team Spirit =-.

  • Jessica Waters

    Hey! Great site, I found you through the Fight Back Friday this week.

    I have a great solution to a chemical-free shampoo, my husband and I threw out ALL chemical-laden skin & hair care products, not to mention the cleaning supplies.

    I am IN LOVE with a small company (although it is growing) out of Salt Lake City called Bubble and Bee. I have met the owner, Stephanie, on a trip to Salt Lake and she is ethical, extremely knowlegeable and cares SO MUCH. If you ever have questions, she’s a great go-to person. Tell her Jessica sent you!
    .-= Jessica Waters´s last blog ..foodiegrrl: @ApothecaryJeri YOU TOTALLY ROCK, girlfriend!!! =-.

  • All Things Eco Blog Carnival Volume Seventy » Focus

    [...] presents My Favorite Non-Toxic Laundry Option: Soap Nuts Review posted at Kitchen Stewardship. Katie says, "Want a non-toxic laundry soap? This one grows on [...]

  • Tami D

    I love Soap Nuts! I would like to try them on cloth diapers. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • Sonja

    Wooo hoo, I have been looking for an excuse to try these, free is the best kind!
    .-= Sonja´s last blog ..Fall Carnival Giveaway Day 1 =-.

  • lizzykristine

    I am curious if anyone has used these in front-loaders?

    Katie Reply:

    Are front loaders HE washers? If so, they are supposed to work great. The concentrated liquid only takes HALF a tsp for HE washers, so you get twice as much out of the tiny bottle. Awesome!

  • Jeannie

    I just tweeted this I have been checking into this soap nuts stuff for a lil while now and have heard great things about them…
    .-= Jeannie´s last blog ..My Oh My Its Pie Making Time: Give A Way =-.

  • Em

    I’ve wanted to try these for quite a while. I’m skeptical and excited at the same time. Thanks for hosting a giveaway!

  • Fight Back Fridays October 2nd | Food Renegade

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  • Laura Oller

    I would love to try these, I’ve been thinking about it for some time now.

  • mary

    do i need a coupon code for the $10 baggie freebies?

  • Cara

    How does Naturoli work on stains?I tried another liquid soap nut in my front loader and my daughter’s dirt stained pants didn’t come clean … although I love how soft and fresh smelling it leaves them. But stain removal is important too!

    Katie Reply:

    I have yet to find a detergent of any kind that does a good job on all stains, so I’m a big fan of three laundry products to get the job done: Biokleen Bac-Out for pretreating (gets 50% of the stains out right away), then an oxygen bleach for soaking the other 50%, then the soap nuts for the actual wash. That’s my take on it! :) Katie

    Michelle Reply:

    Do you use the Biokleen oxygen bleach or another brand? I am still very new to natural cleaners. (I am actually reading your post as I prepare to do my first load of laundry with soap nuts.) I have always used OxyClean. Is that the same thing as oxygen bleach, or is oxygen bleach a more natural alternative to OxyClean. I did a quick web search for oxygen bleach and found BioKleen, Tropical Traditions, Stain Solver, and a few other brands, but no mention of OxyClean, so I was trying to figure out if oxygen bleach is something more natural, and if so, what brand would be a good choice. Sorry if this is a silly question. I’m just trying to make the best decisions for my family.

    Marsha Reply:

    I found a stain remover/prespotter that is non-toxic and works like magic. Gets out every kind of stain I have tried. It’s made by Green Virgin Products. They sell soap nuts too for less than Naturoli too. Here is a link.

  • Nicole

    I live in a city where I have to do my wash at the laundromat. Do you have any tips for me to start using soap nuts? Or is it just going to be impractical in my case?

    Katie Reply:

    I would think you could just use soap nuts and hang them to dry when you get home. They’re not like Charlie’s Soap that necessitates a “cleaned out” washing machine with no detergent residue. Alternatively, the liquid would be super simple for laundromat use. My mom loves it! :) Katie

  • Nicole

    Thanks, Katie! I’ll look into the liquid, I think, for the sake of convenience. Going to the laundromat sans car is already difficult enough, haha. :D

  • Mary Kathryn van Eerden

    Do you know if you can use soapnuts in a front end loading washing machine? I spend a bit more on HE detergent so that I can save water with my machine. But I’d like a cleaner detergent to use and soapnuts could be great if they work in my machine.

    Mary Kathryn

    Katie Reply:

    Mary Kathryn,
    Yes, soap nuts are good to go for HE machines. I believe you use fewer soap nuts and half as much of the 18X liquid (which my mom loves). Instructions will come with your order for sure. :) Katie

  • Shalene

    Do you know how these work on cloth diapers? I guess if they’re not recommended for cloth diapers (since certain detergents can leave films that reduce the absorbency, aren’t cleansing enough etc) I could use a standard det. just for the diapers and soap buts for everything else, but I wanted to check.

    Katie Reply:

    I have heard both ways – I was told by a friend not to use them for cloth, but when I mentioned that during a cloth diaper chat on Twitter, quite a large handful of people disagreed, from personal experience. So I would go for it, myself! (and will come fall, yikes!) :) Katie

  • Stacy

    We use soap nuts but I wish they worked as well for me as for you. Even with using them AND good amounts of white vinegar some of my clothes still smell “funky” (sweaty). I can literally open my closet and smell it where my clothes are hanging. The only thing that has helped a bit was adding some peppermint Dr. Bronner’s, but even with that some of my clothes still smell.

    Katie Reply:

    Yikes! What brand do you use? I have noticed differences in brand… :) Katie

    Stacy Reply:

    We have NaturOli nuts from Amazon- 2lbs of them! We try to change them out pretty frequently but maybe I’ll make more of an effort to do that as well.

    Stacy Reply:

    Been changing them out more frequently with no luck. Even with Dr. Bronner’s, white vinegar, TTO and Oxy-clean added into each load. My clothes all still smell funky/sweaty. :(
    Ready to buy a box of free&clear detergent.

    Rachel Reply:

    We used Soapnuts for 2 years and they were wonderful! We purchased a 2 pound bag of NaturOli from Amazon in February 2013 and within a couple of months we had the same problem you are describing! We tried all kinds of stuff to fix the smell issue. I even accused my husbands work shirts/socks saying they were “infecting” the rest of our clothes. I finally caved and we now use 7th Gen free &clear, but I would love to use Soapnuts again! I’ve always wondered if we got a bad bag or they sat on the Amazon shelf too long or something. Considering ordering a small bag directly from company to test my theory. I would LOVE to know if and how you fix your issue!

  • Shobhana

    I’m from India (one of the areas where soapnuts come from). I’ve been using them for a long time in the washing machine. I have 2 young girls and have largely used only soapnuts for their laundry (and I use cloth diapers). They work just fine. They are the best for woolens as well.
    I have gone a step further and reuse them only once more in the machine. I then boil them and use the water to clean the rest of the house (bathrooms included). I then dry the used up soapnuts, grind them in to a powder and sprinkle it in my pots.
    Oh and we also use them on the body instead of soap with a loofah (made from a vegetable). This has helped control my eczema a lot.

    Katie Reply:

    What awesome information! Thank you so much for sharing! :) Katie

  • Bev

    Loved your opening zoo story! My son worked at John Ball Zoo last summer and spent time working at the stingray pond. He got a kick out of your story too. Believe it or not a lot of people won’t follow the instructions. They would tell my son that they just washed their hands so that made them nice and clean for the stingrays. Wrong! He had to get really stern with a lot of people so the stingrays stay safe. Kind of scary to think about what soap and shampoo really can do!

    I’ve been wanting to give soap nuts a try too. Enjoyed your review and I’m hoping to do a soap nut review on my blog soon.

    Katie Reply:

    What a fun comment! Hope you love the soap nuts. ;) Katie

  • John

    I used the soap nuts liquid but was never impressed with the cleaning. I was told by the company that it had to do with the hard water in our area which may be the case. I am glad it has worked for you and others as well. I used the one from Natroli.

  • Peggy

    Oh my! I just discovered another use for soap nuts! I pour hot water over a handful of nuts and let it steep for a few minutes then drain it off and it’s a perfect insecticidal soap! My gardening friends are using Dr. Bronner’s for this, but I don’t have any of that on hand, so I decided to try the soap nuts. No more holes from flea beetles in my bell pepper leaves!! Huzzah!

    Katie Reply:

    My FIL will be glad to hear that one! :) Katie

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  • Shauna

    I’ve been looking for an all-natural laundry soap, and have been intrigued by the soap nuts idea. Just got in my sample order yesterday (when I just happened to be doing laundry!), and I am so excited!! My son still has bathroom issues at age 5, so odors are a big problem for me. Regular det. didn’t do the trick; OxyClean was much better, but still left a tiny residual odor. I used the soap nuts in a load of whites, no bleach, nothing else… then tentatively smelled my son’s underwear… NOTHING!! I smelled absolutely NOTHING! I am so excited about it, I’m telling my neighbors about it, and including a sample to my siblings in a gift basket for Christmas! I am definitely ordering them in bulk when I get paid. GO SOAP NUTS!!!

    Katie Reply:

    What a great testimony! Thank you for sharing!!!

  • Beth via Facebook

    The extreme 18 is good for 96 loads in a HE washer only. :( Just FYI. I was going to buy some when it was on sale a couple of weeks ago, but with a regular washer it’s only good for 48 loads and even on sale it was still quite pricey.

  • Nicole via Facebook

    Ya know I loved them at first…but not so much now…They just don’t seem to be cleaning as well. Maybe its just in my head though…

  • via Facebook

    I am still enjoying the soap nuts. Occasionally I will use a little detergent (think nighttime potty accidents). It has been a good shift for our family because of severe allergies (with skin reactions most common).

  • Vikki Kay

    For Stacy and her residual sweat odor problems, I tried the soapnuts and vinegar and found they didn’t work together very well (maybe there is a scientific explanation for this?). Instead I add a splash of Eucalyptus oil and that works great. Maybe other aromatherapy oils would also be effective, I haven’t tried other scents, but they suggested using them on my soapnut packet.

    I boil up the soapnuts to make liquid soap for my soap dispensers – the soap lasts fine so long as the dispensers are quite clean when they are refilled.

  • mommypoo

    they do not get out the poop smell…poop smell from tripplets in cloth diapers…guess the only natural thing that will get rid of this will be potty training…uhg

    Katie Reply:

    Oooo, bummer. Maybe Biokleen Bac-Out will help? :) Katie

  • Crystal

    Thanks again, Katie! I just order a bottle of the liquid soapnuts on NaturOli and I’m excited to try it. I’ve been cringing at what is in my detergent in Uganda, but haven’t been willing to ship something heavy from the states! This will be perfect (I hope).

  • Dawnette

    Can soap nuts be composted after use?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Yes! But I don’t know how I missed your comment completely; so sorry! :) Katie

  • heidi

    So, laundry detergent is figured out now, but how about fabric softeners/sheets? What do you use for those?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    I never really used fabric softener, but 7th Gen does make a dryer sheet that has to be better than the basic conventional ones… I hear vinegar is a possible fabric softener in the washer. :) Katie

    So sorry it took me so long to respond…I got absolutely behind on comments when I released the second edition of the snacks book and truly have never caught up.

    Valerie Reply:

    White vinegar in the Downy ball during washing, and a scrap of cotton fabric with a couple of safety pins in the dryer (the pins reduce / eliminate static) works great for me :)

  • Rakefet

    Hello wonderful Katie,
    I was wondering if a few years after this post was written you still reccomend washing the baby’s clothes with soap nuts and with the family’s wash?
    Even when he’s newborn? Is that what you did with Jonathan?
    Thanks so much, as always…

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Yes, absolutely, I did, except when he made such a huge mess that he deserved his own load! ;) Katie

    Rakefet Reply:

    Once again, thanks so much for everything – your wonderful posts and that you always take the time to reply to questions and comments. You are amazing :)

    Another question – do you also use fabric softener in your laundry in addition to the soap nuts?

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.