By Jessica Burke (puns by Anthony Burdge)
The highlight of my day was the realization that I never have to buy household detergent—ever. Have I decided that my husband and I will become Hoarders and never wash dishes, our clothes, or our house again? Nonsense. I’ve just become a Soap Nuts convert and washing a sinkload of grimy dishes earlier today was a near spiritual experience.
Being a self-taught herbalist and frequenter of Mountain Rose Herbs’ amazing site—both to purchase top-notch herbs and so-forth, but also to read their articles and herbal profiles—I had heard about Soap Nuts. But, I never really looked into them until last summer, when I began researching alternatives to laundry detergent. Being an Adjunct, my summers mean I’m unemployed. My husband had, thankfully, started working again last spring—after he had been out of work for almost 2 years. However, even with his income, without my own, the summer was still a horribly tight time. On top of that, I was struggling with yet another eczema flare-up, and my mother asked about my laundry detergent as a possible culprit. Admittedly, we couldn’t always afford the fragrance free, environmentally friendly detergent even when we were both working, so we got used to buying whatever was on sale. The bouncing between brands, fragrances, and chemicals didn’t help my eczema flare-ups.
After having success with using some castile soap in place of liquid detergent for delicate clothes, I started looking around online other laundry detergent alternatives—and came across Soap Nuts. But, I was dumbfounded, and not a little irritated, at the astronomical price. Some sites were selling 6 nuts for $10 and the recommendation was that 6 nuts were good for one large load of laundry. As if that wasn’t bad enough, those places were only selling the husk or shell of the Soap Nut, and several reviewers complained that their purchases were only good for one or two washes.
Then I remembered Mountain Rose Herbs—and was disappointed to see that their Soap Nuts were out of stock. I had emailed asking for a round-about price, but they couldn’t tell me because, if they had to find a new supplier, their prices are subject to change. I did find in an old catalogue, that Soap Nuts were $6 for an entire pound—not just a handful of nuts. So I waited, patiently. It did take some time for them to get back in stock, and for me to be able to save up for one of my annual mega-orders. But when I did order, the nuts were still $6 a pound. Sometime in December, I had a large enough order to qualify for a 20% discount on my little pound of Soap Nuts.
I started using them in early January shortly after receiving my order, fell in love, and reordered them immediately—because they do often go out of stock. I ordered a massive 5 pounds and, again thanks to their bulk discounts, I wound up paying about $5 a pound.
MRH also sells whole Soap Nuts. Other folks online, usually the ones selling the more expensive husks, swear you only need the husk or shell. But, MRH notes—and I’d agree—that the whole nut creates a better cleansing action. Whole nuts also last longer.
I did some calculations and figured that one pound of Soap Nuts comes to about 125 nuts. 6 nuts are brilliant for a large load of clothes. When I mean large, think of the massive comforter washers in the Laundromat—and 6 nuts last for about 5 washes. So, that one pound bag should last me for about 100 washes, if not more. My math is always a bit off.
To use Soap Nuts for the Laundry
- Put whole Soap Nuts in a 3”x4” muslin bag (4 nuts for an average to small wash, 6 for a medium to large)
- Securely tie the bag closed with string or use a heavy duty twist-tie
- Toss the whole bag into the wash—not in the compartment for detergent—along with clothes
- Wash as normal
Be sure NOT to put the bag of Soap Nuts in the dryer or they’ll get funky and to store your Soap Nuts between washes, keep them in their muslin bags and store them all inside an airtight container in the fridge until the next wash. After 4 washes, check your nuts for squidginess. (Pun Intended). If they feel overly soft or have a bit of a grayish cast to them, then it’s time to get fresh nuts. BUT DO NOT THROW THEM AWAY.
Read on for more uses.
You can make the best liquid dish detergent and a pretty fine hand or body wash from those *squidgy nuts. I bet you could also use them to make a liquid shampoo or kitchen cleaning spray also.
What to do with your squidgy nuts
(*Squidgy is the best adjective to describe your soft damp nuts)
As you wash your clothes and replace the old squidgy nuts with fresh ones, store your old squidgy nuts in the fridge in a glass mason jar in about a cup of water. When you have between 30-50 nuts, you’re ready to make some liquid detergent.
My husband and I, because we both suffer from eczema, have had to restrict what dish soap we use, especially since the brands I used to use are now laden with fragrance and supposed “Aromatherapy” nonsense. Even as little as a year ago, a 40 ounce bottle of our brand dish soap lasted about a month. We don’t own an automatic dishwasher in our apartment, so we wash the old fashioned way. Since I try to conserve water, I manage to use less detergent than my hubby, but in the past year—with all the changes to what we buy from the sizing of the products to their actual composition—I find that the ‘same’ 40 ounce bottle of “Ultra” detergent now lasts a week: even when I do the dishes. I used to blame my husband for either using too much soap, or for running the water while he was washing up, but I realized it wasn’t him—but the soap itself. The so-called “ultra” concentrated detergents are little better than colored water, especially when dealing with greasy, stuck on dishes. I found myself having to rewash even the dishes I myself washed—and I’m a stickler when it comes to dish-washing.
So, having made the change from standard laundry detergent to Soap Nuts, I went back online to see if there was anything I could do to wash my dishes with those little nuts.
I saw some instructions on saving old nuts to make liquid soap—and after washing a sink load of really funky dishes with the detergent I made from those nuts, I will never purchase conventional liquid soap again. I’d also say for anyone preparing or stocking up—Soap Nuts store really well, and if you get a system down, you can use less water than doing dishes the standard way.
- Put between 30-50 squishy soap nuts—and the liquid used to store them in—into a 2 quart pot
- Cover with 4-6 cups of water, depending on how concentrated you want the liquid
- Simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes on medium low heat
- Remove from heat and cover
- Allow to cool completely before proceeding
- After the mixture has cooled, strain it carefully into a bowl using fine cheesecloth or muslin. But reserve the pulp!
- You can dump the pulp into a square of muslin or fine cheesecloth and wring out the last of the liquid before putting the pulp aside—it has another use.
- Pour the strained liquid into a squeeze bottle—an old dish soap bottle works fine
To the bottle add:
- 4 drops, or 1/8 of a teaspoon, of tea tree oil
- 4 drops of lemon essential oil
- 4 drops of grapefruit essential oil
If you’re planning on using this in place of your dish soap—which I encourage you to do—you’ll have to rethink how you wash dishes. Normally, I use a dish brush, squeeze a little detergent on the brush and scrub away. I don’t run the water while I scrub the dishes. I keep my dirty dishes in the sink, and use my counter to collect the scrubbed dishes. Then when I’m done, I clean the sink and rinse the dishes, before putting them on the drying rack. Hubby tends to scrub and rinse at the same time.
Neither method will work if you’re using a Liquid Detergent from Soap Nuts. The detergent is delicate and will wash away without doing anything. BUT if you use a dish rag to wash your dishes and don’t run the water while washing, then less than ¾ of a cup of this liquid will wash more than a sink load of dishes to perfection. Before using my mixture for the first time, I measured out 2 ounces of detergent—and then discovered I couldn’t use the dish brush because the liquid rolled right through the bristles.
I thought about a dish rag. Again, using a small, clean cereal bowl, I measured out another 2 ounces of detergent. I saturated the rag, squeezed it out, and, with the water off, scrubbed the dishes. Well, it was a bit more of a wipe than a scrub. Every so often, I rinsed the rag clean and re-saturated it with the same detergent that I had already measured out. I dipped the rag into the bowl and squeezed the excess back into the bowl. Even with my initial misstep, I only used ¾ of a cup of detergent total. And not only did it clean the dishes, it removed old tea stains from a travel mug that had been a problem for years. Will it work for greasy dishes? Yes. With barely any scrubbing, it cleaned greasy, coconut curry dishes and greasy Chinese food containers. (I made a roast chicken tonight and will let you know if the detergent works on that kind of grease.) I also found that when rinsing the dishes, it took less water to get the detergent off the dishes.
So, I’d assume that if you were in a situation where water conservation was vital for survival, I’d say that this detergent might just save your life. Once I get a few more basins and buckets, I might try an experiment to wash my dishes using a measured amount of water—maybe a gallon, or less. I’ll have to let you know how that goes—unless you try before I do. Then let me know how the experiment fares.
On top of all that—as if that wasn’t enough—you can make a hand or body wash AND use the almost spent nuts to make a kitchen cleaning spray.
Hand or Body Wash
- Put the pulp leftover from the liquid detergent into a blender or food processor (I used blender)
- Add between 1-2 cups of water
- Wazz up carefully for 30 seconds (this comes from the same dictionary as squidgy -- A)
Don’t do more until you strain out the pulp, since you’ll have the hard nuts and shells in with the pulp and you don’t want to damage your blender blades. Then:
- Put the foamy liquid back into the blender and set the remaining pulp aside
Add to the blender:
- 4 drops of jojoba oil
- 3 drops each of rosemary, lavender, and peppermint essential oils
- Wazz up for another 30 seconds
- Pour mixture into a pump or squeeze bottle
You might have a little pulp in the bottom of the bottle, but it’s all good. This mixture can be used as a hand wash at the sink or as a body wash in the shower. I haven’t tried yet, but it might work decently as a shampoo.
I found a happy accident during all this after spilling some of the liquid detergent, during the straining process, on my stovetop. My stove has a white porcelain enameled top that’s frankly a bitch to clean. It’s relatively new and is starting to get stained, even though I clean it after use. But, spilling this new detergent on it—the stains started coming off. It looked brighter, sort of like using a bleach solution. So, I concocted a kitchen cleaning spray based off the one I use already.
- ¼ cup dried patchouli
- ¼ cup dried rosemary
- ¼ cup dried sage
- 2 tbsp dried lavender
- The leftover Soap Nuts pulp from making your liquid detergent and hand wash
- 3 cups of water
Simmer on medium to low heat, covered, for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool completely before straining. After you strain it through fine cheesecloth, pour into a mason jar or a bottle. Add ¼ cup of apple cider or white vinegar as a preservative. This mixture must be diluted before use.
Pour enough mixture into a spray bottle to fill the bottle halfway. For a 10-12 ounce bottle, add:
- 3 drops of oregano essential oil
- 6 drops of grapefruit essential oil
- 1/8 tsp tea tree oil
- 10 drops of lavender essential oil
Fill the remainder of the bottle with warm water, shake before use. This kills germs and is safe around food.
In a nutshell, Soap Nuts have become a staple in my home. From online research, I’ve learned that they’ve been used in India for a long time and I can understand why. They brighten your clothes without using toxic chemicals. They’re not harsh on the skin, aren’t harsh on your clothes, and they don’t smell bad. They smell sort of like apple cider vinegar—and when making the liquid dish detergent or the body wash, even that scent is dissipated through the cooking process and the use of essential oils.
One note though—don’t expect to see suds. This is often the toughest thing for people to get beyond. When you’re cleaning your dishes, you won’t see any suds at all. Suds don’t mean that your dishes, clothes, or your are or aren’t getting cleaned. But NOT seeing them, while doing the dishes, is admittedly a big adjustment. It took me all of an hour to adapt—the time it took me to wash my first sink of greasy dishes.
And, when you’re finally done with your Soap Nuts pulp, you can compost it. I saved a handful of the beautiful maroon hard-nut centers and who knows, maybe I can grow some. Somehow, I doubt a plan native to India would be hardy to Zone 7, but miracles do happen.
I figure my 5lbs of Soap Nuts has enough to make a year’s worth of dish detergent, body wash, and is enough to wash about a year’s worth of laundry. I’ll be adding a cache of them to my BOB and, will be sure to get a few more pounds of them when I restock on Oolong tea and Lemon essential oil from MRH.
Update: it’s been about a week or so since I wrote this article. In that time I’ve been using the Soap Nut liquid detergent exclusively on my dishes and noticed 2 things by way of adaptation from using standard dish soap to Soap Nuts liquid detergent. I’ve already noted that this works better using a dish rag. But, after initially writing the article, I used the detergent on a sinkload of greasy dishes from a roast chicken. This detergent is powerful enough to remove grease from dishes in almost a single wipe BUT the rag itself gets greasy.
What to do?
When I have overly oily, greasy dishes, I don’t mix them with the regular dirty dishes, and I save those to do last because after you wash those, the rag needs to be washed. You can spend some time washing it with the Soap Nuts detergent, but it’s easier to just toss it in the laundry—and you waste less of your precious liquid detergent.
The second thing—this detergent works wonders on cleaning glassware BUT, after trial and error, I do my glassware first and rinse it off almost immediately because sometimes, especially when dealing with an extra large load of dishes that could take upwards of 30 minutes to scrub before rinsing, the Soap Nuts detergent dries on the glasses and leaves a bit of a film. If you wipe the glasses and rinse them inside of 10 minutes, they’re fine.
An UPDATED update--
I've been using my soap nut solution to wash my dishes for about a week now, perhaps a little more. I've used about 1 and 3/4 to 2 cups of the solution in that time. I realized, mid week that if there's a SHTF scenario, we'll be on serious water conservation mode. I remember one prep article noting that you'll be lucky if you can spare the water to give your dishes a wipe off.
Well, a wipe off with a soap nuts dish liquid is all you need, really. But I decided to do a few experiments with water conservation and found that using this solution helps conserve water. If you plan a little, you can do an assembly line 3-step process to wash your dishes-- and use a minimal amount of water.
First, fill a large basin or your sink about a quarter to a third full and do an initial rinse off of the gunky food-stuff. Put the rinsed dishes aside on the counter outside the sink-- or basin or however you set up the shebang.
Second, rinse and wipe down the sink or basin to completely remove the greasy, gunky food particles. Put the rinsed dishes back in, wipe down your counter, and fill a small container with 1/4 cup of the soap nuts solution. Follow the above process of saturating a clean dishrag, and wiping your dishes. Put the wiped dishes on the counter-- and save the glassware for last.
Third-- do a quick wipe out of the sink or basin, and fill to third with clean water. Simply dip the wiped off dishes in the clean water and put on your drying rack, or hand to your drying partner to dry. There's no need to repeatedly wash off soap suds and using this process-- with a massive kitchen exploded with dirty dishes, pots, pans and bottles (after a day of cooking and kombucha making) I was able to use only 2 gallons of water to wash all those dishes.
That doesn't sound like conservation, but I'm sure once I get the hang of it, I can use less than 1 gallon-- and since Soap nuts are safe for plants, the water can be used to water them or used to flush the toilet, etc.
I also am making my second batch of the liquid as we speak, and to add some cleaning action, while the nuts were simmering, I added (in a muslin bag) 4 grams of dried sage, stems and all-- or 2 tablespoons of dried sage, 2 tablespoons of dried rosemary, and 1 tablespoon of dried thyme. The herbs are already a staple disinfectant in my kitchen cleaning spray. So, I figured why not? I'll add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the cooled bottled solution as a preservative.