This is one of the posts most people search for on my website; how to make laundry liquid from conkers, aka horse chestnuts. It’s something I tried out in the early days of my zero waste journey. Apparently conkers contain the same soap-like substance as soap nuts, saponin, and being available locally it seemed like the ideal way to reduce my carbon footprint even further. Read on to find out how I got on with them.
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How to make Laundry Liquid from Horse Chestnuts
After finding a suitably big tree that hadn’t been completed denuded by conker playing school kids, I set about making laundry liquid from them using the following method.
- Cut the conkers into quarters or smash into pieces with a hammer. I did six.
- Cover the pieces with water and leave to steep for at least 30minutes. I did it overnight for maximum effect.
- Strain the yellowish liquid and voila you have laundry liquid.
The simplest recipe for conker laundry liquid
If you’d like an even simpler approach I’ve seen people cut the conkers into quarters and just put them in a small cotton bag in with their laundry, like you would with soapnuts.
Making your for Conkers last
I had tried storing some fresh chestnuts for laundry but they went mouldy so I used this recipe to store them for longer.
- Cut the conkers into quarters or smash into pieces with a hammer. I did six.
- Dry the smashed conkers out in the oven for 1.5 hours at 150 degrees.
- Leave to cool.
How to use Conker laundry liquid
- The recipes I’ve seen suggest 1/3 – 1/2 cup of conker laundry liquid, made with fresh conkers, per wash.
- If you use dried conkers then the instructions are to
- Soak 40g of the dried conkers in 500ml boiling water for 30 mins, drain and set liquid aside in the fridge.
- Then re-soak the conkers in 500ml of boiling water, this time overnight, drain and keep liquid in the fridge for up to a week.
- The first soaking is said to be suitable for heavily soiled loads, while the second is better for moderately soiled loads. I’ve read you can do a third soaking for lightly-soiled loads.
Pros of Conker Cleaning Liquid
- It’s practically free, although if you’re collecting them remember to leave some for foraging animals.
- They’re grown locally so much more sustainable than soap nuts from across the globe.
- They don’t need to be manufactured, packaged and shipped and so have a lower carbon footprint than other products.
Cons of Conker Cleaning Liquid
- I’ve read that the yellow tinge to the liquid might stain white clothing and that you’re advised to peel the conkers first. I’m afraid I don’t have the time or interest to peel conkers so I won’t be trying this. The liquid from dried conkers is decidedly brown in colour and I’d be very concerned about it staining light-coloured clothes over time. Look at my Instagram Cleaning Highlights to see the colour of the various conker liquids.
- You have to soak the conkers at least 30mins before your launder so you have to plan in advance. It’s not a big deal but if the mental load of your life is huge this might just tip you over the edge.
- The other issue with conkers over soap nuts is that conkers take up a good bit of space. If I have to use 40g conkers for every two washes, that’s a lot of conkers to store unlike soap nuts, which you’re told that you can use repeatedly for 4-5 washes. As I mentioned above some people say you can get a third ‘tea’ out of the soaked conkers but that’s only supposed to be good for light loads and really my head is already spinning at the idea of tailoring my wash to two different strengths of conker tea.
- Conker laundry liquid creates scum, particularly in hard water areas. This is because conker liquid contains a soap-like substance and not a detergent-like substance. Soaps form a scum in hard water and this scum does not rinse away easily and can turn laundry a greyish hue over time. Detergents react less to minerals in water and so do not leave this residue. If you live in an area where the water is soft, you will have more success with soaps, but even then a gradual build-up of calcium and magnesium ions (also called ‘curd’) can be left in the fabric of your family’s laundry over time. You can read more about how soap and detergents work here.
Does Conker Laundry Liquid Work?
In 2019 I washed 5 loads of clothes using;
- the liquid from 60g fresh conkers steeped in 500ml of boiling water for 30mins.
- the liquid from resoaked fresh conkers steeped in 500ml of boiling water overnight.
- the liquid from 40g dried conkers steeped in 500ml of boiling water for 30mins.
- the liquid from resoaked dried conkers steeped in 500ml of boiling water overnight.
- Sodasan eco laundry powder for comparison.
In my experience conker liquid does not wash as well as commercial laundry products.
The clothes I washed with the conker laundry liquid were quite clean when the came out of the washing machine, but one top had a stain on it that I know would have come out with my regular laundry powder.
Also the clothes washed in the conker laundry liquid didn’t smell very clean, even after adding a few drops of essential oil to the liquid. I’m not sure if this is down to being soap based rather than detergent based. Both soap and detergents trap dirt and suspend it in water, enabling it to be washed away, but according to my research soap isn’t as effective at suspending dirt as detergents and this may cause it to stay embedded in textiles.
My experience tallied with a trial of alternative laundry products that I came across while researching this article. Researchers found that water cleaned clothes as well as soap nuts, which as I said before contains the same cleaning chemical as horse chestnuts.
Using conker laundry liquid as dish soap
I had read that conker liquid could also be used to wash dishes and so tested it on some greasy bakeware, and on oiled hands. My thinking being that if it can shift grease on bakeware or hands it will surely shift it on clothes. The conker liquid was slightly more effective than boiling water alone on the bakeware but not nearly as effective as the Lilly’s Eco or Bio D dishwashing liquid*. It was the same for my hands, the conker liquid loosened the oil on them but not enough for it to wash off. It wasn’t until I used some of the olive oil soap I have that it started to lift.
So, sorry I’m not reporting happier results. It’s back to laundry powder and for me, for now.
9 thoughts on “Conker Laundry Liquid; Recipe and Verdict”
Thank for this detailed article. I have read a lot about it but never tried it. I am using a homemade product (soap an baking soda). If something is extremely dirty I use an eco friendly laundry liquid. Using both of them work well for me at the moment but always good to try new things 🙂
Hi there. Thanks for the comment. How long are you using the homemade laundry product? Do you use a dryer? I was using soapnuts for about 8 months and during the summer when things were mostly air dried it seemed to be great but when I started drying things in our garage on wet days – I don’t have a dryer – the clothes started to smell of damp.
About 2 years. No, I do not use a drier but our place is tiny and quite warm. I either dry my clothes in the living room (beyond a large sunny window) or in the boiler room in winter.
You’re part way there with the whole conker idea, but there are a few corrections worth noting.
The idea is to smash then chop up the conkers into small pieces whilst fresh then dry them out. The larger surface area means much stronger liquid. By only chopping up each conker into quarters you’re not releasing the majority of the soap qualities which means you’re near enough washing your clothes in plain water and previous detergent residue, therefore getting disappointing results.
You can soak each load of conkers 3 times, but increasing the amount of time you soak them for. Once dried you can store them in a container indefinitely.
Of those who have tried this whole idea, the ones on the FB groups I’m on have all had great results.
Here’s the link:
Thanks for that info. I see the instructions suggests drying the conkers in the oven over a low heat. Do you know for how long?
Hi , to eliminate stains and smells just put some bicarbonate of soda in the conditioner drawer. Works a treat. Drying clothes in a tumble dryer is good too, for that extra treat add a moist cloth with some drops of lavender essential oil. X
Great tips. If I ever give horse chestnut laundry liquid a go again I’ll definitely try them out. Thanks for posting.