Soapnuts – the verdict


We used soapnuts to wash our clothes for about a year and at first I was a total convert; loving the idea of washing our clothes with something that was 100% natural. Overtime we found that our clothes didn’t smell the freshest, particularly on overcast days – which we have a lot of in Ireland, so I bought essential oils to add to the wash. This helped slightly, but we really struggled with clothes that had absorbed quite a bit of sweat.

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Don’t get me wrong we’re not the type of family that like the strong scent that you typically get with mainstream washing powder, what we do like is the neutral smell of cleanliness, and this we weren’t getting. I’ve heard that soapnuts don’t work well in hard water areas but we live in a relatively soft water area and so i don’t think that is the problem.

Soap nuts are well-known globally by various names such as soapnuts, soapberries, washing nuts, soap nut shells, wash shells, soapberry nut husks and several others. Soap nuts are basically the dried out shells (or husks) from the soapberry (or soap berry nut – see photo above).  The shells have an essence called saponin that produces a soaping effect. Typically, after the fruit has fallen to the ground, the seed is removed from the shell (or husk), and the shells are dried up in the sun. Soap nuts have been used from ancient times all over the world as a laundry detergent, as soap for personal hygiene, and as a cleanser with a lot of other uses. (Source:

The instructions on how to use Soapnuts seem to differ from supplier to supplier. I used the brand Star Soapnuts, which unfortunately comes in a non-recyclable plastic bag. They recommend using 3-6 shells in each wash and say that the number of shells required depends on your wash load and whether you are using hot or cold water. We generally used 5 shells for a full load, washed our clothes at 40 degrees and line dry them outside most days.  Star Soapnuts say that you can use the same shells up to 5 times, but we found that we got about 4 washes out of each set of shells before it stopped working. On a leaflet that comes with the Star Soapnuts are instructions on how to make a cleaning product with the spent shells. I tried this twice and was able to make a slightly soapy solution but I didn’t find it any good at cutting through grease, which is what I wanted it for.

Interestingly research comparing alternative washing products in 2012 reported that the cleaning effect of the four alternative laundry products – soap nuts, laundry balls, washing pellets, laundry magnets – was equal to that of water alone. Conventional compact detergent  had a significantly better cleaning effect on all tested soil types. However, the results also indicate that water alone already has a substantial cleaning effect.

Personally I didn’t have any more of a problem with stains using soap nuts over conventional washing powder, but I tend to pre-treat and/or soak any stained clothes before washing so maybe that was the reason. It was simply the smell from heavily soiled clothes that became an issue for us. We’ve recently started using Sonett Laundry Powder, which is 100% biodegradable and available to us package-free now, and that seems to be the best at getting clothes smelling fresher.

I have heard that chestnuts contain the saponin too and can also be used as a natural detergent. I’ve tested these and you can find out what i thought of conker laundry liquid here.

In conclusion, I suppose I’d recommend soapnuts for use in warm/windy and dry weather and washing powder / liquid on other days or for items that have a strong smell of body odour from them.



Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

9 thoughts on “Soapnuts – the verdict

  1. Hey, thank you for your article, I’m looking into using soapnuts at the moment. In case you weren’t aware, it’s possible to use the leaves of scented geranium plants to make a decoction to use in the final rinse. I can’t remember which geranium is most commonly used but it smells like lemons! It’s a really lovely plant.


  2. I’ve used soapnuts for 5 years now. I have a farm and large gardens, so the clothes being washed from myself, husband, and three kids are well soiled! I’ve also used the soapnuts to wash the cloth nappies that I’ve used for the kids when they were younger. I’ve found that the soapnuts do an excellent job. I recently ran out and have been using laundry pellets for a few months and find that the soapnuts did a far superior job of washing. I would use about 4 nuts per load and fill them into an old sock tied at the top. Each new load, I would add 3-4 more nuts until the sock was full. If we had a load of less-soiled clothes, I could get away with the odd load without adding in new nuts. I also use 30 or 40 degree washes and line dry in a polytunnel in wet Ireland! I would encourage others to try soapnuts for sure!


    1. Great to hear that the soapnuts have worked for you. Interesting that you add a few nuts to every wash. The ones I bought said you should get a few washes out of them before having to use new ones. I wonder if the polytunnel is the secret. Don’t think my dark unventilated garage on wet days cuts the mustard, that said my Sonnet laundry powder seems to cope okay with it.


  3. Hi! Thanks so much for this article..
    Do you know offhand if Sonnet is of a similar make up to Ecover? I’ve read Ecover can damage cloth nappies so I need to be careful of that.
    Also, it sounds like Sonnet is doing a great job on smelly clothes so could potentially be a good choice for nappies too..
    How did you find the Sonnet powder vs liquid?


    1. Hi. Thanks for the comment. Did you read my post on sustainable laundry. It gives a good run down on the brands readily available in Ireland including Sonnet? I prefer Sonnet powder to liquid but my husband is the reverse so we swap them around! They both clean equally well, i just like the fact that I need less space to store the powder over the liquid.

      Liked by 1 person

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