Note from author:
Consumers have many questions about soap nuts. The most frequently asked questions (FAQs) are answered concisely, but in enough detail to hopefully be helpful. Basic soap nuts use is as much an art as it is a science. Experimentation is part of the joy of using soap nuts. There are MANY variables. I love reading and hearing of all the things people think of and do with them. Many are quite ingenious. Try not to get hung up on being too precise. Let your mind go free. Let end results guide you. When experimenting with soap nut powders and soap nut liquids think of it more like cooking. Depending upon your desired purpose, you may do things differently. It is difficult to do something wrong (aside from not properly preserving a soap nut liquid). Take your time, and dial in what works best for YOU. How you use soap nuts may be completely different than someone else.
PREMISE: 1) If you are still learning and have not yet purchased soap nuts, please first review the post called “Soap Nut Scams – EXPOSED”. It will give you a quick overview of the biggest mistakes and common marketing traps new buyers often fall victim to. 2) For a far more in-depth and detailed post, visit the “12 Tips on How to Buy” in the posts in the right side column.) If you just started using soap nuts and are having any problems, try “Common Problems”. It’s brief, easy to understand, and covers questions we get asked routinely. Use of saponin (either via old-school, or modern methods) takes a bit of mental adjustment. All-natural products have a few nuances to become familiar with. After understanding them, it’s downhill all the way!
What should good quality soap nuts look like?
This is a great question for I’ve been getting a lot of emails about what good and what’s bad, and how to tell the difference. Let me first state that a bunch of Internet myths are being spread around. I think these start when a retailer has soap berries that look one way or another, and then gets creative. All of a sudden red ones, yellow ones, big ones, small ones, etc. are better for one reason or another. One seller was trying to tell consumers that seeds helped to agitate the berries, hence better. Wrong. Recently retailers of China grown berries are praising “dark, rich red color, and dripping with saponin…more soap” Wrong again. (I guess when newly harvested yellow berries are in season again they’ll just rewrite the erroneous descriptions. Then yellow will be better. Geesh… Why do people have to lie??? The truth is so much better for consumers. Let’s dispel this myth right now. )
A few questions below is a more detailed answer about wetness, so please read that. Too wet (i.e., very slimy and sticky) is excessive moisture (water) – not more saponin. The reality and truth is that soap nuts change naturally over time. It is a harvested fruit – not plastic. Just like a banana that goes from green, to yellow, to brown, to black and totally rotten – soap berries go through a similar process (just much slower). Note: soap berries don’t go “rotten”, but if too wet and not stored properly – you’ll end up with a disgusting mess. In extreme cases mold is possible (especially if grown / processed in areas with high pollution issues), but saponin helps inhibit mold and fungal growth (unlike bananas and most produce).
So, anywhere from yellow to dark brown in color is fine. Mukorossi (the preferred species) will on average be about diameter of a US nickle or quarter (3/4 – 7/8″ / or approx. 2cm) in size. Ideally they should have just a little tackiness. You can adjust the moisture content easily. They can be sun/air dried if too wet, and/or steamed / misted to moisten. The saponin content is a constant. If told otherwise, it’s all baloney. There are a few caveats that I’ll address later (i.e., premature harvesting, green soap berries), but hopefully this will completely resolve the color and saponin content issues for you. See photo for excellent quality soap berries approximately 3 months after harvest. They will turn dark red after about six months, then dark brownish towards the end of the season. After a year they’ll turn black. Good companies will turn their inventory annually. By late spring (May to June) in the US golden colored berries typically mark the beginning of the new harvest.
What’s the cost per load when using soap nuts?
This is an excellent question. And soap nuts can save you hundreds of dollars per year – or much more! Those that actually give you definitive answers to this question are being rather foolish or disingenuous about the facts. Don’t confuse sales hype with reality. The reality is fantastic already!
I know, there’s a seller online repeatedly claiming “9-11 cents per load” (yep, the same one using the magical math to get 100 and 360 load boxes). Ironically the same seller is expensive once you figure out what the cost “per ounce” and/or actual cost “per load” equals. (Just don’t pay attention to “loads” claimed. It’s ridiculous to think that anyone can estimate the loads achievable. We are all very different, and we all deal with very different circumstances.) Let the uniformed newbies fall for such stuff if they don’t want to use their brains. Frankly, I’ve achieved a cost per load of under FIVE cents (with some extra effort, while factoring average prices for top-shelf, seedless mukorossi in the 2-3 lb size range), but I don’t advocate proclaiming that. We need to trust our common sense. Using soap berries requires a paradigm shift. You need to adjust your way of thinking a bit – and there’s much more than laundry loads that should be considered. However, let me simply state this: Using soap nuts properly will cut your costs for typical laundry supplies by half or better. – And we’re just getting started…
When do I remove the wash bag from the washer?
I recommend leaving it in until all the wash and rinse cycles are complete. The only reason to ever remove it early is to extend the life of the soapberries. Saponin, the natural surfactant (soap) in the berries, leaves no residual build up on fabrics, so there’s nothing that needs to be rinsed out. Also, saponin helps to soften fabrics and reduce static – hence no fabric softener or dryer sheets are needed. I recommend using your presoak cycle and allowing the soap nuts to become well saturated, and kinda’ jump-starting the whole wash. Soapberries are very affordable relative to commercial detergents – especially the so-called “greener” ones. Being overly frugal to extend the number of loads seems “penny wise and pound foolish” to me. Sometimes sellers recommend removing the wash bag prematurely to help justify claiming higher numbers of loads. I understand the rationale and marketing aspect of that, but again, I want simplicity and good results. I don’t want to hassle with trying to find the small wash bag in a machine full of wet laundry. No thanks. I certainly don’t want to keep tabs on when cycles change either. That’s a major pain. The “normal/casual” wash is 56 minutes in my HE unit. It’s 72 minutes with the pre-wash cycle enabled. (Which I typically use unless in a hurry.). Either way, once started, I forget about it until it buzzes at me - finished and ready for the dryer. I get plenty of great, clean loads out of my soap nuts (usually using 5 or 6 dependent upon size, and getting 5 or 6 good washes before replenishing the wash bag). If you’re trying to squeeze out 10 loads before replacing, you’re being silly – and making extra work for yourself. Your last loads likely won’t be well washed either. There’s FAR simpler, better ways to optimize use of the saponin. I’ll get into that later. For now, just hang on to all your used shells (store them dry). You’ll be amazed at all we’ll do with them!
Do soap nuts really work? They seem too good to be true.
That’s precisely how the commercial detergent and cleaner producers want you to think. To be perfectly clear: SOAP NUTS REALLY WORK! They are new to us because throughout history money has been greasing all the wheels of commerce. Soap nuts would have thrown a big wrench into those gears. (Addressed in detail later.) A friend of mine who served in Vietnam, recalls locals gathering berries from the jungle to wash and clean. This was strange to him, but they worked great. These berries were soap nuts. Do they work? Oh, yea…
Should soap nuts be “wet” or “dry”? What’s better?
Superb question! And an important one, too. People are often confused about this. If you think of them as dried fruits (berries) it will help immensely to understand. When they are first harvested, mukorossi will be yellow to golden in color and very moist (juicy). That’s why they are dried (often sun-dried initially) to make them manageable for processing and de-seeding. Imagine the gummy mess that tons of fresh cherries would turn into after being handled for weeks or months. We are NOT talking refrigerated produce here. Everything “juicy” is due to water content (moisture) - not saponin. It’s outright BS to think of berries “dripping” with saponin as a good thing. That’s utter nonsense – and nasty, too. See pic at right.
Easy proof: Saponin can be dehydrated – NO moisture. Don’t confuse this with soap nut powder (ritha) which is simply the ground shells. I’ve only seen this pure dehydrated saponin in NaturOli’s lab. But even regular ritha powder is very potent if pure (without fillers) – and very dry. 2) A liquid 200X saponin extract is about as dense as tar or tree sap. The only thing wet soap berries have is more water – and unwanted excess weight. My preferred soap nut has just a slight tackiness – not sticky, gummy, or slimy – just a noticeable tackiness. Then I can store them to stay that way, or dry further. Lighter color is better only from the standpoint of indicating freshness. General rule of thumb: Lighter, fresher. Darker, older. Most folks don’t ever see them when still yellowish. They darken to a reddish color by the time they are ready for resale (maybe 90 days from first harvested). If you noticed the comparison picture with some really light brown berries in the post about “China-grown” soap berries. The light ones look to me like what should have been discarded or put into the “grinding bin” to become powder during sorting. When harvested there’s always some oddballs like that. Such is Mother Nature.
I bought soapberries stating certified organic, but what I received had no organic seal? I was told they don’t need to be marked.
Wrong – and this is commonplace. I’ll try to make this quick because I delve more deeply into the issue in other questions and posts – in particular regarding the scams from new Chinese sellers. They are relentless scam artists. Odds are 99.9+% that you’re being lied to (otherwise, they are completely ignorant of the law, which is highly doubtful). Many sellers use “organic”, and/or “certified organic” in product names and descriptions that are in direct violation of USDA regulations. They’re usually small fly-by-night sellers (or possibly new, and just don’t know any better). Genuine USDA “Organic” agricultural products are strictly regulated to ensure they’re chemical free. Violations have stiff penalties. Organic approval comes at a price (both time and money) that the scammers will never pay. Return them for refund, and report the seller to the National Organic Program (NOP). Just mentioning the NOP should make getting your money back easier. btw: I’ll try to prepare an article about all the fraudulent organic certificates being forged these days to scam buyers. It’s incredible! And predictably, most that I’ve seen are from our “China-grown” soapberry sellers. Learn more on reporting an organic violation.
I bought soap nuts that I believe are from China. Is there a problem?
Yep. And you probably found them on Amazon, eBay, or some other auction-type site. They were really cheap, so you tried them. First let me apologize. I wanted to finish a new post prior to addressing this FAQ (I’ve been getting similar questions since 1-2013). Hopefully it’s not to late for you to remedy the problem by returning them for a refund. Both Amazon and eBay do have buyer protection return policies that may prove very helpful – particularly Amazon if they fulfilled the item.
Please see the post about “China-grown” soap berries. It’s quite thorough, and I did a lot of research for it. My opinion: Return them or trash them. Period. They’re so cheap that IF you need to return them, you may not financially come out ahead. That will be your decision. Looking at the bright side, you’ll be much better informed after reading the new post. Given the cost, consider yourself lucky. – Your tuition bill should be low.
Quick update: The new Chinese sellers are shrewd. Recently I’ve seen some raise their prices. They just jack up their “regular price” to appear less “bargain basement” priced. It’s just a shell game to throw buyers off. They’re very good at their game. YOU just have to be smarter.
Do soap nuts need to be “sterilized”?
Not at all (unless they’re from China – and if so, trashing them or using them for compost would be a far better option). I’ve had a little flurry of questions about this since a company pitched potential investors on a TV show. As one of the investors pointed out, in marketing it’s important to differentiate your product. We all know that. What’s crucial though is for us to separate what’s meaningful and/or beneficial from what’s just “marketing” as I refer to in the “12 Tips”. Marketers in all industries strive hard to create distinctions for their brand. (i.e., “Ours is better because…”) In the past five years that I’ve been studying and writing about soap nuts, and of the meta-tons I’ve seen sold worldwide, there’s been ONE documented case of contaminated soap nuts reaching store shelves or consumers (and that was in powdered form found in Canada that was packaged overseas.) Batches were recalled. You can see the post “Why from the USA” for more info on that incident.
This is common sense for most that use natural and/or organic products. Be it shea butter, lavender buds, eucalyptus branches, or even the food products from your local organic market there’s certainly no need for sterilization. Wild crafted products that are responsibly harvested by reputable farmers and suppliers under sanitary conditions are free of both hazardous chemicals and natural contaminants. Of course there can be exceptions like mentioned above. We even have a rare meningitis outbreak in the US currently – and that was traced to have come from a sterile drug lab.
“Officially Certified Organic” is tough and expensive to acquire. ALL Ecocert and USDA Certified Organic companies must pass stringent testing in order to maintain their certifications. Products are traceable down to specific batches and lots. Imported agricultural products to the US (and worldwide) are carefully monitored, scrutinized, examined and routinely tested. The regulations and procedures are VERY strict. I’m very pleased that Official Organic Certification has been acquired by reputable exporters, suppliers, and retailers.
Outrageous and irresponsible as it may be, all evidence points to this sterilization process being solely a sales driven marketing “feature” – nothing based upon any consumer need at all.
Apparently caught off-guard by a backlash of inevitable inquiries and comments that consumers raised on Facebook, the company seemed to struggle with their responses – the most interesting relevant questions and comments kept being deleted. It got so bad that Facebookers were asking them to not delete their questions. (I’ve never seen anything like that before…) Two people that I know personally are even blocked now. Everything negative, controversial or potentially revealing or problematic is now ALL GONE.
What I found very interesting in my preliminary research is that there is a list of “acceptable” methods of post-harvest sterilization for Certified Organic products authorized by the National Organic Program (NOP) Rule. It’s primarily for food products and ingestibles, but the approved methods involve use of:
- peroxyacetic acid
- acetic acid
- ethyl alcohol
- isopropyl alcohol
- ammonium sanitizers
- hydrogen peroxide
- and/or ethylene.
Surprised? I was… So, draw your own conclusions.
As mentioned before, this whole issue is counter-intuitive, even counter productive. Claiming a need for sterilization is a very clever marketing scheme to be sure: Just scare consumers away from using any another brand. However, being based upon some unfounded, unverified, and undocumented “claim” – that’s unconscionable. It crosses all ethical bounds – even worse than the most underhanded of political tactics we’re seeing so much of today!
Frankly, I’m quite happy to stick with all-natural, chemical-free Certified Organic soap nuts. The above “approved” list of chemical cleaning agents appear to be taking a big step backwards from my goal of having a more toxin-free home and lifestyle.
>>> Please read the NOP Rule for yourself regarding postharvest handling and operations. <<<
(Courtesy of the Arizona College Of Agriculture and Life Sciences)
AN ASIDE: Regarding that TV show presentation. The company made many false (downright delusional) claims that they were quickly called out on. The company was literally laughed off the set. Horribly embarrassing… On the upside though – the concept of soap nuts was recognized as having significant potential, and likely to continue its rapid growth. The potential investors clearly saw that – in spite of the poor marketing and questionable presentation. Most disappointing was that only one brand was presented. Incredibly, saponin was never even mentioned. As I state in my “Welcome” page, what needs to grow is consumer awareness. The crucial issues were never presented: – that saponin is a 100% natural surfactant, – that soap berries are an abundant and sustainable source for saponin, – that saponin is a safe alternative to toxic sulfates and numerous hazardous chemical surfactants. There was no mention that soap nuts have won TWO Green Dot Awards, and proclaimed as “possibly the most significant green innovation in history for everyday household cleaning needs”. The opportunity to convey these vital points was lost. Another opportunity will surely come along. Hopefully the important messages will be presented next time. What good does any “sizzle” do – if you forget to serve the steak?
What are the “pros” and “cons” to soap nuts?
Awesome question. Impossible to properly address in an FAQ format. Throughout all the pages, posts and plethora of topics covered in this site, I try to touch upon BOTH “pros” and “cons” sensibly and realistically – one by one. Boiled down to the sheer essence of what soap nuts are, I could say that they are a source for a safe, natural surfactant, or an eco-safe alternative to sulfates and a myriad of other toxic synthetic chemicals, but I’d rather just state that they are Mother Nature’s own personal “soap” – at least for now. That’s a BIG “pro”. (If they’re good enough for her, they’re good enough for me.) Now, will they do everything for everyone when it comes to cleaning needs? Of course not. There’s numerous “cons”, or things that they won’t do. ALL will be addressed here in time. For the moment, what strikes me as the biggest “con” is in our mindsets – it’s in how we think, even in how we define what “clean” really is as individuals. Now, this is a far cry from a specific answer (if an answer at all), but the answer will become much more specific and detailed as we drill deeper. The very last thing I want to do is to offer some TV-commercial type answer to what is a VERY important question. This entire site is a STUDY into ALL the pros and cons. It’s not to merely sell you something. I hope it does far more than that. As for the single biggest “PRO”, it’s that soap nuts/saponin offer the means and potential to improve the lives of our generation, and ALL those that will follow. This simple little gift from nature has provided us much: It’s self sustaining and grows wild across the globe. It can’t ever be patented by “big business” (no more than a peanut can be). It’s something that significantly benefits our health, that remedies many chemically-based based problems many suffer from – and that simply improves the overall quality of life on this planet - and our everyday lives. The “Green Dot” jury stated “the most significant green innovation in history…” The more I learn and understand, the more I realize that was an actually an understatement. What we do with them/it is up to us. Will we see it – and recognize the full potential? I hope so…
Can I buy soap nuts here?
No. SoapNutsPro is not a store. It is a guide for you. Please refer to the “Welcome” page for much more about the site’s mission and goals. You’ll also find more about my background, experience and qualifications in this business. For both consumers and sellers alike, I like to think of my responsibility as writer and moderator not as one to simply catch fish for you, but rather, to teach you how to fish. – Like the saying goes, doing the latter will allow you to eat for a lifetime.
I have nut allergies. Can I use soap nuts?
Excellent question! Absolutely. Soap nuts are not NUTS at all. That is simply a popular common name for them. They are fruits of the berry families – not of the nut family at all. To see a Mukorossi soap nut before it has been de-seeded and dried, it’s soft and looks like a big yellow cherry (outer skin, juicy pulp and big seed). A more appropriate common name is soap BERRY.
Are Eco Nuts and Soap Nuts the same thing?
Yes, both are dried, raw soapberries. “Eco Nuts” is simply a retail brand name – the most retail-oriented of the brands I know. The brand received national publicity due to a pitch on Shark Den. (The presentation was poorly prepared, and an embarrassment to those of us who take saponin seriously. They received no offers of investment, and essentially were laughed off stage. The boat was missed completely. In marketing though it’s said that there is no such thing as bad press. Thankfully the sharks focused their dislikes at the brand - not the concept. The myriad of saponin’s major health and environmental benefits weren’t addressed at all. That’s was sad to see.) Anyway, being boxed, they are stackable, hence carried in more brick and mortar stores due to retail shelving logistics. I believe selling from store shelves to be their main business strategy and model. They tend to be extremely high priced per ounce, hence why marketed mainly by “loads” as opposed to weight, and as a laundry detergent alternative. There’s no consistent correlation from loads to weight between sizes available, and only a few sizes are offered. I view “Eco Nuts” as a first-time buyer’s introductory product. They are de-seeded mukorossi which is good, but anyone with any experience would never pay so much for so little.
Are Laundry Pods the same as Soap Nuts?
No. Be careful with this one. I’ve been seeing various “pod” or “nugget” type products that are nothing at all like soapberries. You’ve seen the obvious (typically very colorful) “pods” put on the market by major brands like Tide’s new Pods. However, there are others that are not quite so obvious. There’s even “plop-plop-fizz-fizz” types. The Vitamin Shoppe carries a “detergent pod” that’s basically just an Oxyclean in a nugget form. Such singe-dose delivery systems are simply that – new delivery systems. They have nothing whatsoever to do with soapberries or saponin. You must read the ingredients. The names are clever and can cause confusion. Btw: Per my last price check typical brand name single use “pods” cost 30-50 cents per load. Soap nuts cost a scant fraction of that.
Are soap nuts another scam?
Not at all. Soap nuts work – and work well. It’s common to see many searches for this, but those are only searches for folks are wondering – nothing more. It’s to be expected, which goes right back to the “too good to be true” question above. I have yet to find even one article that discredits the benefits soap nuts offer. An occasional negative review doesn’t discredit anything, nor make them a “scam” in any way. Some folks won’t even like them, and will prefer commercial chemical products. So be it. That’s normal. Soap nuts have won numerous awards in the “green” products arena, and have been recognized as highly effective by journalists and writers around the globe. NaturOli has won TWO coveted international Green Dot Awards. One for their work with soap nuts and saponin, plus one for their EXTREME 18X formulation (a saponin liquid concentrate). A Green Dot Award’s press release went as far as stating (and I quote), “NaturOli’s green detergents and cleaners’ use of saponin, which is derived from soap nuts, is possibly the most significant green innovation in history for everyday household cleaning needs.” – I think that about covers the scam possibility… Just recently (2012) they were even selected by the LA Times as one of the “Top 4″ grey-water safe detergents – plus ranked as THE most affordable. Soap nuts have more than enough strong credentials to remove them from any scam list.
Now, with that question answered allow me to drill a little bit deeper into this:
Are there scams WITHIN the “soap nut business”?
Absolutely! – And there’s many.
It’s almost inevitable that some scammers and unscrupulous creative marketing people/companies are going to find lucrative opportunities in any new market. I have (and will continue to) call them out every time I see one. I avoid naming names, but I give enough information that you should be able to figure out who the scammers are yourself. See the “12 Tips” on How to Buy Soap Nuts” to avoid the most common ones.
Deal with reputable sellers. The public is still learning. Only as consumers become smarter and more aware of the tricks, will the soap nut scams will fade away. You should note that the vast majority of the scams and exaggerations come from only a handful of companies – and they’re ones with histories of making blatantly false and often grandiose claims. It’s pretty easy to sort them out.
Are soap nuts safe for those with sensitive skin or problem skin conditions?
Completely. Soap nuts are highly recommended for those with allergies or sensitive skin. They are 100% natural, free of synthetic chemicals, and hypoallergenic. Soap nuts are wonderful for use by those who are sensitive to the dyes, perfumes and chemicals used in most commercial detergents and cleansers. Most people who are irritated by such commercial products find soap nuts their ideal solution. Sufferers of eczema, rosacea and psoriasis commonly report tremendous relief. Aside from leaving laundry free from chemical residues, the new found softness is a wonderful experience.
I bought a 16 ounce box claiming 360 loads, but am not getting that many washes. What am I doing wrong?
Absolutely nothing. What’s wrong is merely the claim. Retailers will sometimes overstate or exaggerate reasonable expectations in order to appear as if a better value than competitors. The problem is NOT YOU – it’s just various marketing tactics. Believe me, I’ve seen far greater exaggerations. I reference and picture one directly above that I found very recently. Geesh…It’s twice as bad as this claim. Guess some sellers are getting even more aggressive. Remember they are COMPETITORS for your money. All want to appear to be a better deal. Expect approx. 10 loads per ounce – regardless of brand – and you’ll have far more realistic expectations to start with, regardless of whatever “claims” they make. Think for yourself and do you own math. See the “12 Tips” for buying soap nuts for more on this issue. – The “#1 Tip” is to “Buy by Weight”.
When you buy almost anything, how do you quantify what you’re buying? Most smart shoppers will seek the lowest common denominator that is NOT subjective. When buying frozen or canned foods, you don’t rely solely upon the number of stated “servings”. Right? (Wow, I sure couldn’t do that in my house! I’ll usually eat two or three “servings” myself.) There’s no difference here. We usually use the “servings” as a guide for nutritional analysis. It may state “X number of servings”, and then we look at the number of units per serving (usually the ounces or grams). Only then can we calculate and compare the nutritional values – and costs – per unit with other brands – NOT what someone else arbitrarily thinks is an average serving size. This is pure common sense. So much so, that for costs, most major stores due the math for us. Those little “cost per X” hang-tags are great time savers. The critical number is always the non-subjective measurement - the net weight.
Note: It’s very common to see numerous small third-party retailers of soap nuts marketed in such fashion. You’ll find them on Amazon, eBay, small retail web-stores, and even in some local brick and mortar neighborhood stores. Why? – BIG profit margins. Less actual product equals lower cost. It’s another no-brainer. I believe sometimes the retailers and store owners truly don’t know any better - yet. I noticed a very reputable E-Store recently pick up such a brand - but then dropped it like a hot potato! – That should tell you something… Consumers always figure things out sooner or later. The last thing good, honest retailers want are complaints, returns, and unhappy customers.
Common packaging “CLAIMS” worth a closer look:
“360 LOADS” from a 20.5 oz box. (210-290 loads is closer.)
“360 LOADS” from a 16 oz (1 lb) box. (160-200 loads is realistic.)
“100 LOADS” from a 6.5 oz. box. (65-80 loads is closer.)
“100 LOADS” from a 5 oz. box. (50-60 loads is realistic.)
“10 LOADS” from a 1/2-oz box. (5-8 is more like it. Particularly when new to soap nuts who are usually those buying such trial sizes.)
These are ALL exaggerated and “best possible case scenario” types of claims that are misleading. – Watch out for such claims. The actual product weight is typically downplayed (and sometimes difficult to find). Sometimes only the shipping weight may be mentioned and that can fool buyers. There’s a BIG difference – and it’s an easy thing to overlook. Much like a “Venus Flytrap” seeks out new prey, for many new and unknowing soap nut users the end result is NOT a happy one.
I don’t see suds. Are the soap nuts working?
Great question! (But difficult to explain.) After numerous generations and billions of dollars spent to teach you that suds equal cleaning, it is not easy for me to change that perception in a few sentences. Suds indicate the PRESENCE of a surfactant – most of which are chemical surfactants (like the infamous SLS). A surfactant is something that reduces water’s surface tension allowing the water it to break up dirt, grease and grime from fabrics (or anything). Think of it as something that would enable oil and water to mix. It improves cleaning results. It is also VERY rapidly consumed by the dirty substances (it’s doing its job). Standard detergents are formulated with additives that CONTINUE to produce suds – not because they are needed, but rather because you WANT to see them. You want to see them because you’ve been brainwashed to equate them to cleaning. Continued sudsing is NOT required for effective cleaning - not at all. Today’s new HE washers prove this! They REQUIRE detergents that produce very little suds. Suds can actually damage an HE washer. This is why soap nuts are ideal for these high-tech, more efficient washers. I find it interesting to watch the commercial detergent producers trying to walk this tightrope that they put themselves on. See the article on “Soap Nuts and Suds” for much more detail.
I bought soap nuts full of seeds. What do I do with them? Do I use the seeds?
No. Planting the seeds is the best (greenest) thing to do with them. This is becoming a big problem. Please read the post on “How to Buy Soap Nuts” carefully. It will explain a whole lot in more detail. The seeds are a way for sellers to bump up the weight of their soap nuts and reducing their cost at the same time. Usually it is the people that are new to soap nuts that buy these. Don’t feel bad at all! It’s common and happens to many. Many sellers don’t accurately spec their soap nuts, and newbies don’t know the difference. A bad scenario. You probably didn’t pay a lot for them, so that’s a good thing. Important: Be sure to de-seed them before using in the wash. Use only the soap nut “shell” (the pulp and skin). The seeds are as black as coal, and if left in contact with wet laundry for long, it’s very common for them to leave dark spots and stains on your laundry. That would be very bad. If you can return them without a hassle or a big loss of money, I certainly would. Otherwise, it’s a good lesson learned. You’ll know to be sure next time.
Can the wash water be used to water my garden after using soap nuts?
This is a very important question for it actually is addressing the bigger issue: “Greywater” Gray-water (or graywater – I keep seeing it spelled differently) systems are on the rise as one of the most ecologically friendly systems we can have at home. It’s amazing how much water (from laundry, dishes, shower/bath, etc.) can be reclaimed for irrigation and other purpose not requiring potable water. Officially that’s about 60-75% of the water we use! Gray-water systems are quite simple relative to treatment of black-water (sewage). I won’t get into this in detail, but even plumbing codes have been being updated in order for us to better utilize our natural resources. Soap nuts are like a dream come true for gray-water systems. Probably the biggest issue with effective gray-water systems is linked to high levels of toxic chemicals in our household cleaning products. These toxins can be harmful to vegetation and impair seed germination. And they don’t break down. However, soap nuts are 100% biodegradable! Even beyond that, your garden and lawn will become healthier! I’ve read loads of testimonials that attest to this. Since I’ve been using soap nut wash water on my own plants and yard they are greener and lusher than ever before. Albeit, there is little hard science to support this yet, I believe there are both anti-fungal and pest repellent properties inherent to saponin. Hence, vegetation is provided a natural level of protected from fungus, infestation and likely many common plant diseases. I look forward to more research being conducted in this area. Be sure to use the spent shells in your garden soil (or compost them). Your plants will appreciate it! - SEE RELEVANT PRESS RELEASES BELOW:
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19, 2012:
NaturOli Soap Nuts selected by LA Times as a “Top 4″ gray-water safe detergent! Plus tied for #1 for lowest cost per load! (Gray-water is basically ALL “non-toilet” water!)
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 9, 2010:
The prestigious Green Dot Awards announce NaturOli Beautiful, LLC of United States to be Awarded Honorable Mention for the entry titled, Soap Nuts and Saponin. In the jury’s own words, “NaturOli green detergents and cleansers. Use of saponin, which is derived naturally from soap nuts, is possibly the most significant green innovation in history for everyday household cleaning needs.” (That’s “everyday household cleaning needs” – NOT JUST LAUNDRY!)
- It should be noted here that the following year (2010) the Green Dot Awards awarded NaturOli a Winner (3rd place) for their EXTREME 18X soap nut liquid super-concentrate. Some 500 companies from 25 countries competed for this coveted prize.
Can soap nuts be used in my high efficiency (HE) washer?
Yes. Because soap nuts are low sudsing they work EXCEPTIONALLY well in these washers. You may use the wash bag method (putting it directly in with your laundry) or use soap nut powders or liquids. Both liquid or powder can be used either by adding it directly in with your laundry, or by using the appropriate dispensing compartment (same as any other HE detergent). Frankly, I consider soap nuts to be the best high efficiency detergent available. Saponin leaves no nasty residual build-up which is the #1 cause of service problems with HE machines. NOTE: For best results when using the “wash bag” method it’s important to use your pre-soak cycle. A brief 5-minute pre-soaking can dramatically improve results.
With the unveiling of NaturOli’s Extreme 18X Soap Nut Liquid Concentrate and its pursuant two-time Green Dot Awards, I suggest giving that a good look. It’s an impressive product and is the easiest way to obtain consistently excellent results. Don’t let the small bottle fool you. A single 8-oz bottle will wash around 100 loads – or more! One or two squirts and that’s it. Btw: If you dilute only ONE oz with 16-20 ounces of plain tap water (nothing else), you’ll have the best glass cleaner you’ll ever find. You can tweak it as desired to replace the vast majority of cleaners in the home. Absolutely fascinating…
Inherently all HE washers will use less water, hence water flow and circulation are reduced. As discussed elsewhere in detail, the dispersion of saponin through your loads is vital. Therefore, a liquid will typically yield the most consistent results.
You can make a homemade “tea”, boil up batches (best to freeze as like ice cubes for later use), or use Extreme 18X. (Don’t expect to get anywhere near as concentrated as 18X when making liquid at home. You are limited to just a low-concentration without commercial equipment and processes. The shelf life is very limited for home-made also.)
There are other “soap nut detergents” available in liquid form such as those from Almawin, Econuts and Greener Living. However, only 18X is actually close to 100% pure saponin (the active ingredient). It’s more of an extract rather than a pre-scented detergent formulation. All others I’ve tested are similar to what I can easily make at home. Why ship all that water when buying ready-to-use?
Should soap nuts be “sanitized”? – (As distinguished from “sterilized”.)
Certainly not good quality ones. See FAQ above on “Sterilization”. This a new question popping up recently, and frankly, it’s a total joke. Ironically this term began being used by the seller (or sellers) of the soapberries from China. There’s a whole articles on those, and the potential for serious contamination they carry. I’m guessing there has been so much heat, doubt regarding their quality, and public outcry over the dangers of chemical and biological contamination that Mr. R. got creative, and came up with the new term to try to calm the consumer concerns. (The strategy didn’t work out very well, as Mr. R. continually underestimates the average American’s IQ.) Per the dictionary:
1. To make sanitary, as by cleaning or disinfecting.
2. To make more acceptable by removing unpleasant or offensive features from.
3. To make less offensive by eliminating anything unwholesome, objectionable, etc.
Obviously, the term is vague, ambiguous and useless in this context. I must laugh. Don’t ya’ love salespeople? Hopefully Lysol is not involved.
Can soap nuts be used in my front loading washer?
Absolutely. See above about HE washers – it’s a very similar Q&A. By design, all front loaders are actually HE washers to some degree. Soap nuts are superb in front loaders and will surprise you at how they will keep the machine cleaner than ever before. The process of tumbling the laundry for long periods is equivalent to top-loading agitators in so far as the agitation of the soap nuts. This long period of tumbling facilitates the release of the soap nut’s saponin. However, water flow and circulation are compromised. A good pre-soak will help a lot to fully saturate the berries. Be very mindful of the cycles used and make adjustments accordingly. As discussed above, using liquid is the hands-down simplest way to get all the benefits of soap nuts – without taking the extra steps to ensure proper saturation, circulation, and agitation.
Do I remove the bag of soap nuts before the rinse cycle?
This is asked a lot! ! No need to at all. If you do, you may get more uses out of the soap nuts. Saponin is so benign that if there is any residual saponin (which would not be much) it will not be problematic, and is totally non-irritating to your skin. Interestingly, depending upon how dirty the laundry is, many soap nut users skip the rinse cycle entirely to save energy and water. Simply experiment for yourself. There are so many variables in doing laundry. It’s hard to do anything really wrong when following basic instructions. Always let the end results always speak for themselves. When you are happy with the results, you’re home. Your personal taste and objectives are key. Just use your best judgment, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
I bought soap nuts that are plantation grown from China. I’m told they are organic. How are these different from others?
Good question & timing. A few have asked recently. I’m basing my answer relative to comparison with India harvested mukorossi berries. It was only a matter of time before we would see soap berries from China. So far, there’s only a couple sellers. “From China” isn’t exactly an appealing selling point in the West. Usually they’re very cheap. After some research & making some calls, here’s both some thoughts & opinions that may be helpful. For far more detailed info about soap berries from China, see the in-depth TWO-PART series of recent articles.
1 – They are certainly not USDA Certified Organic. Sellers claiming “Certified Organic” have been found in violation of Federal law after investigation by enforcement agents of the USDA National Organic Program. As discussed many times, the term “organic” has little value anymore - unless it’s USDA Certified.
2 – They may be of the mukorossi strain, for it’s indigenous to China. But so are other species. Hence, I don’t know what you have for certain. Numerous species grow in China.
3 – I find “plantation grown” to be rather humorous. It sounds like just another silly marketing spin to me. It likely wouldn’t be a privately owned plantation (tree farm) as we Westerners think of them. And to my knowledge, no plantation has BEEN GROWN to maturity in recent years. That’s impossible (sans being genetically modified) since it takes up to a decade for mukorossi to become fruit bearing. The soap berry is a relatively insignificant fruit to the Chinese people. They’re very common there (with emphasis on use in personal care). Hence, this whole phenomenon just seems like a “cooked up” marketing scheme to me. I think somebody (or some people) from China simply saw a very lucrative business opportunity in the US – and just jumped all over it. It’s such a no-brainer, easy start-up business. And by using a Chinese supplier, one would have a VERY significant cost advantage. The only trick being somehow getting past the huge China “turn-off” factor that’s so prevalent in the US and West in general. That would be a major hurdle.
4 – When speaking with a seller, my questions were met with vague & incredulous answers. I don’t think they were prepared for such specific & pointed questions. Not one question regarding ports of entry, customs inspections, nor any inspection of any kind was answered definitively – very unprofessional. So, how did they get here?
1 – I’m not fond of the notions of “plantation grown” or “from China” while we have wild-crafted trees in such abundance in India & Nepal. Supply still far outweighs demand for the fruits. Megatons of surplus berries currently rot away on the ground each year. Only in years to come will there be benefits.
2 – I don’t believe the “plantation” hype, nor do I think there’s an upside presently. I see far more potential problems than possible good coming from it.
3 – Very frankly, I just don’t trust products from China. We’ve seen more than our fair share of US banned Chinese products in order to justify this sentiment. I don’t trust that the fruits are free of pesticides and/or anti-bacterial chemicals. I have no trust in that they’re properly stored in sanitary facilities and free from contamination by God knows what.
4 – There is primarily one thing that China truly excels at: Exporting cheaper products. And history has shown us that there seems to be little to no regard for consumer safety and quality control.
5 – Akin to the above, we also have Fair Trade issues. In India, there are strict labor laws. Wages in China are some of the lowest in the world, and we can only wonder as to the working conditions, and the facilities required to have a viable supply chain.
6 - I’m doubtful that there is any major harvest/processing/exportation infrastructure in place in China. Whatever small amount there is that reaches the US market is likely acquired “under the radar”. That’s not conducive to providing good product.
I want nothing to do with soap berries from China – regardless of price. I will remain loyal to our trusted Asian Indian and Nepalese exporters. I will not expect them to compete with “China’s prices”. My standards do not have a price tag – and they’re not determined by a low bidder.
Do I use my machine’s detergent compartments?
Yes and no:
Yes – if you are using liquid or powdered soap nuts. Use the appropriate one if your washer has compartments for both powder and liquid type detergents. Your washer will properly disperse it for you. A nice benefit to using the compartments is that the saponin will actually begin cleaning both the compartments and your machine’s plumbing as well. Commercial detergents can really leave a lot of nasty “gunk” and residual buildup. With a little time you’ll a big difference as your machine becomes purged of all that crud in it. If your machine has a musty odor, you’ll notice that going away, too. I’ve heard many service technicians rave about how soap nuts remedy the common mold, mildew and odor issues that plague HE washers. Note: If using powder, be sure it is ground very fine (dust-like fine) and any large chunks have been sifted out. You won’t need to use a lot either. Start with just a teaspoon for an average load, and adjust according to results.
No – if you are using the wash bag method. Just toss the wash bag in directly with your laundry. For best results, I can’t emphasize enough the two key factors: Agitation and circulation. When using the wash bag method, there would never be enough of either with the wash bag just sitting in the compartment. You want it saturated and tumbling about throughout the cycles. Get in the habit of using your pre-soak cycle, and don’t overload your machine. Just a little extra time goes a long way towards optimizing results. I leave the wash bag it through the rinse cycle, too. There’s no need whatsoever to remove it. Saponin doesn’t need to be rinsed out of the laundry as commercial laundry soaps do.
The two big brands of soap nuts seem to be Maggie’s and NaturOli. What’s the difference?
I try to avoid comparing specific brands – particularly when discussing the raw berries. The post “How to Buy Soap Nuts” was written to provide lots of objective data in order for readers to make informed decisions. However I must answer your question honestly. So first, technically, Maggie’s & NaturOli soap nuts are of the same species (Mukorossi) and de-sseded. That’s good, but it’s where all similarity ends.
Here’s the main difference: NaturOli processes and packages the soap berries in the US. Maggies are packaged in Indonesia. Overseas processing and packaging is cheaper, hence why many sellers choose that option. The problem with overseas (usually Southeast Asian) packaging is quality control. It’s lacking by comparison. Years ago, Maggies were nicer: Big, good color, little tacky – ideal. Now (2010), they’re older, black, gummy – a turn off for new users. I can’t really explain why it is the case. See the “How to Buy Soap Nuts” article.
- 2012 UPDATE: Maggie’s is no longer in business. Guess that tells the story.
Can soap nuts or Extreme 18X be used as a body & face wash, or shampoo? I only find info for cleaning & laundry.
I’m working on this. The uses are simply so vast that’s it’s difficult to discuss all of them. But YES! Soap berry based shampoos have just recently become exceptionally popular. Given that 18X is a essentially saponin extract enhanced with glycerin and olive leaf extract, that automatically throws it into the personal care arena. Soap nuts (saponin) were used for skin and hair care long before ever used for other cleaning purposes. Throughout the ages the uses just grew and grew.
Marketing comes into play a lot here. Consumers tend to want one thing for one purpose. (We have 150 years of P&G brainwashing to thank for that.) NaturOli does not “line extend” more than needed (quite contrary to the typical marketing tactics), but selling the idea of a “one product does all” – and crossing over the lines between entire industries! – is a tough one for average consumers to grasp. But you are on the right track – big time. I tell folks all the time to pitch the rubber gloves when household cleaning with soap nuts or 18X. You’ll see what I mean. Your skin will actually feel silky soft and nourished after use.
More and more people are “getting it” when it comes to all the uses. It just takes time. I have heard of virtually every use imaginable – laundry, household, skin care, infant care, hair care… into infinitude …even toothpaste (of which some rave). If it works for you, go for it. Your imagination is your only limitation when it comes to EXTREME 18X. Don’t get hung up on what it says it does, imagine what it can do. Particularly, if tweaked to achieve your specific results desired. Think of it as a very strong foundation or base. What you build on it will be up to you. Just use that brain that obviously is functioning quite well.
I’m beginning a series of articles to address soap nut usage - “Beyond the laundry room”. Be sure to check for new pages and posts.
How do I start using soap nuts?
For laundry there are three primary methods:
- The soap nuts in a wash bag method. Put the wash bag directly in with your laundry. A half-ounce (that’s about 5 average sized de-seeded whole soap nuts) will typically wash 5+ loads.
- Use soap nut liquid concentrate. Dilute as desired and use as desired.
- Use soap nut powder. Powder is the least economical method for laundry, but it is easy. Due to differences in machines, and variations in fineness of the grind, use care when using soap nut powder in dispensing compartments. Be sure it’s very fine with no large pieces, or simply add powder directly in with your laundry.
For everything else: Your imagination is your only limitation. People are really catching on to how versatile soap nuts are. They are finally leaving the domain of the laundry room. The soap berry makes for a 100% natural alternative to the majority of household cleaning products and even hair/skin care. Even for those who have learned of simple natural cleaning alternatives like vinegar and baking soda, saponin is a surfactant. It’s a big missing link! We’ve never had a natural surfactant available before. Be them used raw, powdered, or as liquid – I highly encourage you to experiment. You’ll be amazed!
Do soap nuts work better in one form than another form?
Excellent question but difficult to answer simply. The big variable is YOU. Proper usage regardless of form is what is key. One of the most important factors leading to good results is adequate water circulation and agitation. This applies to doing laundry in general. Overloading a washer is one of the biggest mistakes people make. I will add these points:
- Soap nuts used traditionally in the wash bag method is the MOST economical way to use them (lowest cost per load).
- Soap nut powder can be wasteful due to a lot of saponin just going down the drain. Many folks use far more than is required. Use a teaspoon for measuring – never that big old scoop!
- Soap nut liquid concentrate is the most CONVENIENT method for most people, and best method for cold water washes.
My front-loading HE washer smells bad. Will soap nuts help?
Absolutely. This is a very common problem with HE and front-loading machines. I suggest using soap nuts to purge your machine of these foul odors caused by build up from use of commercial and chemical HE detergents. Do a few hot/hot washes with old rags first. You will soon notice your machine smelling much better. You will notice that residue build up will begin to dissolve and disappear. Many report that their machines becoming like new again after changing to soap nuts. Here’s a great article on this: http://ezinearticles.com/?Give-Your-Washer-a-Fresh-Start—Remove-That-Foul-Chemical-Residue-With-Soap-Nuts!&id=1785470
Can I use soap nuts in cold water?
Absolutely – If the soap nuts are high quality soap nuts with a high saponin content they should be fine right from the start. They should feel a little tacky. If they are dark and dry you should prime them so to speak. Soaking them or making a “tea” may be needed to facilitate the release of the saponin. It is also very helpful to break them into smaller pieces to further facilitate rapid saponin release. For laundry in general – regardless of temperature or detergent type – a little time pre-soaking will produce better results. If using soap nut liquid concentrate, water temperature is a non-issue.
I have very sensitive skin. Detergents cause me irritation. Will soap nuts help?
The odds are exceptionally good that soap nuts will be like a dream come true. I have found that nearly all experiencing irritation from commercial and even the “so called” natural detergent brands find soap nuts to be their total solution. There are many chemical ingredients in virtually all detergents, softeners and dryer sheets that can be causing your problems. Soap nuts are void of all such chemical ingredients.
I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). Will soap nuts help?
Yes. This is an increasingly common condition due to the enormous amount of synthetic chemicals used in detergents, laundry additives and cleansers that people are continually being exposed to. All the synthetic fragrances being used today have also been identified as a large contributor to the condition. Continued exposure to all of today’s chemicals is destroying on our natural immune systems. Soap nuts and saponin are a dream come true for Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) sufferers. Soap nuts contain no synthetic chemicals or fragrances. I strongly recommend using soap nuts for as many cleaning purposes as you possibly can – even skin care. You will experience relief very quickly if you do so.
What are sterilized soap nuts?
For the time being. let’s just consider it marketing hype and efforts to differentiate products. It’s intent is to “scare” you from other unsterilized brands, or to get you to part with more of your money. Soap nuts are mainly wild crafted (harvested from the wild) and they may or may not then be Certified Organic. Some retailers try hard to think of ways to differentiate themselves from others. Ironically, the only brand that I’ve ever seen claim this is supposedly Certified Organic, too. That’s totally counter-intuitive to me. Organic AND sterilized? And they’re NOT for human consumption! That’s silly. They would have to be either/or in my book. Hence, it’s just unsubstantiated “BS” imo. MUCH MORE is to come on this question.
Should I use whole soap nuts or pieces?
As far as “whole” SELECT or PREMIUM soap nuts vs. PIECES: (By “whole” I mean de-seeded. This is a term that people often get confused over. “Whole” often means with seeds. So, “whole” should be a red flag, and you need to inquire further. Never buy soap nuts with seeds. You get far less for your money (unless you want the seeds to grow trees, but even then you can just buy seeds separately and they’re very inexpensive). But anyway, it’s a matter of personal preference. Pieces are good option for a few reasons: 1) Cheaper per pound. 2) They release their saponin faster due to becoming saturated faster and they are more thoroughly agitated. 3) Excellent for those grinding powder or making homemade liquid. (Note: Soap nut pieces are not always available. They can be seasonal.) The only drawback to “Pieces” that I can think of is that you may not get as many loads from one wash bag because they will become depleted of saponin more quickly. So that makes it sort of a “wash” regarding cost per load. (Pun intended. lol!)
Do seeds help the soap nuts release saponin better?
I’ve seen a few sellers try to make that case, but I don’t buy it at all. Of course the folks stating this are selling the ones with seeds. I will only say that it’s pretty good creative thinking – but quite a stretch. Once the soap nut becomes saturated, the seed isn’t bouncing around in the soap nut. If anything, the seed is more likely to inhibit the water flowing through the pulp which is what we want. I’d just chalk that one up to some clever marketing – far from reality. I’ll state it again: Unless you intend to cultivate new trees, avoid seeds. Period. They can be difficult to remove, potentially cause spots or stains, and do absolutely nothing but add lots of weight.
Will soap nuts be as effective in hard water? Should I use more soap nuts in hard water?
Let me first ease your mind in that the vast majority of the water in homes across the globe is technically hard water. VERY hard water will affect the effectiveness of any kind off surfactant (detergent). Ironically saponin (the soap nut’s active ingredient) is a natural surfactant with inherent water softening and conditioning properties.
Sometimes online you will come across information that isn’t quite the whole story. If you read all the emails that I answer everyday, you’d quickly see that many folks still need to learn the just basics of doing laundry properly in the first place. Albeit “rock hard” water may prove to inhibit saponin’s effectiveness, same as any other surfactant, but it is far from negating its cleaning ability. (Personally, I have significantly hard water. Calcium deposits build up rapidly in my house, and I have no problem using soap nuts at all. Even making no tweaks to my water, my laundry comes out clean, fresh, fluffy and extremely soft.) Only a few seem to have problems and point to their hard water as the culprit. A few may be right. More often though I find other things they are doing that lead to less than desirable results.
In VERY hard water cases, some of those “tweaks” I just mentioned are use of sodium carbonate, washing soda (NOT baking soda), soda ash, borax, vinegar and some salts (Be VERY careful with salts. Be certain it is a water softening salt – most are not. Morton’s has 3 or 4 types that are good for water softening.) In bad cases any or all of these additives can help.
A far as using more soap nuts, why change anything until there becomes a need? About a half-ounce is the best place to start. That’s about five average size mukorossi soap nuts or the equivalent in pieces. Just adjust more or less depending upon the results you are getting.
I need an antifungal laundry detergent. Are soap nuts antifungal?
Yes. Soap nuts are naturally antifungal in all forms. Saponin deters the growth of most fungus and bacteria, too. For an exceptionally anti-fungal detergent I must recommend NaturOli EXTREME 18X – not only do to its extraordinarily high saponin content, but it has additional antifungal ingredients that are FOOD quality preservatives.
How do I add scent if I want one?
Avoid adding any essential oils into the wash water. The oils will cause fabric “wicking” and actually undo many benefits soap nuts offer. Doing so also increases the possibility of staining laundry. Some oils can leave spots. The best method is to apply your essential oil of choice to an absorbent cloth and use it like a dryer sheet. I recommend a very thick, bulky and absorbent (preferably a cotton – not a synthetic material) cloth so that you minimize any possibility of the oil coming in direct contact with your laundry.
I did not remove the wash bag, and the wash bag was dried in the dryer. Is this a problem?
No – not at all. Simply get the soap nuts wet again, and you are ready to go again.
Are soap nuts good for fine fabrics and natural sustainable fabrics?
Yes – superb! You can either use a gentle wash cycle or hand wash. Soap nuts make the best fine fabric detergent possible. Not only is saponin excellent for fine cashmeres, wools, silks, etc., but it is, hands down, the ultimate cleaner for natural sustainable fabrics such as hemp and bamboo.
Can you be allergic to soap nuts?
Soap nuts are hypoallergenic, however virtually anyone can be potentially allergic to something. I have documented only two persons out of thousands that had any sort of negative reaction to saponin, and it was a minor rash. If you have a history of high sensitivities and allergies to natural substances or plants, let common sense prevail. Do a simple patch test on yourself to determine if you have any reaction.
Will soap nuts remove stains?
Most of them. There are many variables. Soap nuts will remove average stains as well or better than most detergents (independent laboratory efficacy studies have proven this), but they do not entirely replace the need for some solvent-type stain removers – particularly on heavy grease stains. If you have badly soiled and stained laundry, reduce the size of the load to increase the water to laundry ratio, allowing more water flow through the fabrics to help break up most common stains. Allow your laundry to soak in the machine for 20-30 minutes (longer than a typical pre-wash cycle. A wonderful thing about soap nuts is that if you must use a harsh chemical solvent to remove a stain, the soap nuts’ saponin will go to work to break down that solvent helping to eliminate it and leaving your laundry chemical free. You can use a soap nut liquid concentrate to spot treat tough stains, too.
Are soap nuts good for washing cloth diapers?
Totally! Soap nuts are the best cloth diaper detergent – and will minimize diaper rash. I first learned of soap nuts from mothers using them for cloth diapers. Commercial detergents and soaps contain chemicals that build up in the diaper. These chemicals break down the fibers of the material and produce “wicking” of the fibers causing diapers to lose absorbency. Such chemical residue can be irritating to your baby’s skin. Also, soap nuts are very effective at removing odors and cleaning typically soiled diapers. Never use any fragrance, essential oils, or talc. All are potentially hazardous to infants.
Will soap nuts cause spots or stains?
Poor quality ones could. Seeds definitely can. Important to remember: Don’t over stuff loads for the wash bag can get wadded up with laundry leaving them wet and in contact with fabrics for too long. Give the wash bag room to circulate about, and don’t leave it in wet laundry for long periods. Discard any wash bags that have become heavily spotted over time. With good quality, and proper usage, you should never have a problem. If you’re washing your absolute finest white shirts or linens, I’d just use liquid to be 100% sure of zero possible problems.
I see very little suds when washing with soap nuts. Are they cleaning my clothes?
Yes! Absolutely! Suds should not be equated to cleaning power. We have been brainwashed to think this way through generations of marketing and advertising. The foaming you see with most detergents is because of the chemicals and fillers used. A surfactant is what facilitates cleaning – effective surfactants do not need to be high sudsing. Soap nuts produce very little suds, yet are working VERY effectively. Your laundry will come out cleaner, fresher and softer than you have ever experienced. You will not see many suds at all. The wash water will appear a bit cloudy, and you sure will see the dirt and grime being released from the fabrics. That’s what matters. Let the end result speak for itself. If your FIRST load using soap nuts is not satisfactory, reread the directions for soap nut use CAREFULLY and make adjustments accordingly. You will learn why.
Can soap nuts be used to clean down feathers and expensive fabrics?
Big time. I know a VERY expensive hemp clothing manufacturer that will use nothing other than soap nuts. Here’s a personal regarding DOWN and soap nuts. I love down. Have been washing down pillows and comforters for 20 years. I could not believe the results from my first soap nut washing. I used Extreme 18X and washed four down pillows. NEVER have I seen or felt them come out the way they did. The delicate down feathers were loose and easily plumped up – typically they are clumped together after washing. They dried in HALF the time usually needed (using a dryer on low temp). I did not even use a gym shoe (an old trick), as I typically do to beat them up and soften them. My pillows and comforters feel BETTER than new. I was amazed.
I see a few soap nut liquid detergents available. What’s the differences?
Most are virtually identical from what I’ve seen. They are about the same strength and usually scented. NaturOli’s EXTREME 18X is the one exception. It’s in a league entire of its own – a true extract. VERY concentrated! It’s used for all-purpose cleaning as much for laundry detergent. Follow directions when using. As hard as it may believe, you don’t need much at all. Just a squirt or two for laundry. I mix 16 parts water to one part 18X for the best glass cleaner I’ve ever used – with no vinegar (I hate the smell of vinegar!). Fight your instincts and let results speak for themselves. Fascinating stuff… It’s only unscented as of now. If you want scents, use an essential oil of choice.
Can I make my own liquid as strong as EXTREME 18X?
Let me just say this: I’ve tried without getting anywhere close. I started with a pound of soap nuts once, and boiled and simmered and strained them for many days trying. I ended up with something like a dark molasses with a strong pungent smell, not clear and watery like EXTREME 18X at all. (btw: I didn’t care at all for that smell that permeated my house during the cooking process either.) Guess there’s limits as to what can be done realistically make when working in the kitchen. NaturOli’s saponin extraction process remains a trade secret.
What other uses are there for soap nuts?
Saponin, the active ingredient in soap nuts, is a highly effective alternative to many common synthetic cleaning chemicals. This includes cleansers for household and personal hygiene. The known cleaning properties are wide and diverse. They are superb for not only laundry, but can replace many cleaning products in the average home. From dishes, to car wash, to fine jewelry and glass cleaning – soap nuts provide natural, effective solutions. Being so gentle, saponins are excellent for shampoos, and many personal care needs, too. Finally, there’s a good cleanser that won’t leave your hands rough, dry and scaly. Soap nut powder is the best scouring powder I have ever used. A soap nuts liquid used in your carpet cleaner will amaze you. Carpets come out like new. You can stop using rubber gloves, too. The list of soap nut uses is ASTOUNDINGLY long.
Do soap nuts work in dishwashers?
The public is split on this one. About half report that soap nuts work great, the other half report unsatisfactory results. Those reporting good results seem to be the experimental types who have worked out how to get good results from soap nut usage. Consider all the variables, such as the machine type, the form of soap nuts used, how the consumer used them, the dispersion method of the washer, etc., etc. Unquestionably, we will see a fantastic soap nut dishwasher detergent in the near future. It is so great for glass and dissolving so many substances that is only a matter of time. The results when hand washing with soap nuts and saponin is excellent. So, either be patient and wait, or experiment yourself. It’s a flip of the coin. Watch for NaturOli to unveil the first great saponin dishwasher detergent. EXTREME 18X is already fairly close. NaturOli’s expertise with saponin and their technology are, hands down, light-years ahead.
Are soap nuts good for pets?
Absolutely! Many people use soap nuts liquids for bathing their pets. The odor reducing properties of the soap nut makes for a remarkably effective pet shampoo. It will also deter fleas and other pests. I cannot recommend them more highly. Animals are exposed to an extraordinarily large number of horrible synthetic chemicals – and they are no more biologically immune to these chemicals than we are. If you own horses I strongly recommend making a liquid or use diluted EXTREME 18X to wash them down. Not only will their coats become absolutely gorgeous, but also it will deter the flies. Soap nuts are an absolute must for my equestrian friends.
Do soap nuts work as an insecticide and insect repellent?
Yes. Studies show that saponin inherently has exceptionally positive attributes as both. A soap nut solution will deter pest from your plants, pets and yourself. Soap nuts are an absolute must on your next camping trip! Imagine using a safe, natural, chemical-free, biodegradable insecticide. Amazing!
Are soap nuts treated with chemical or pesticides?
Obviously, I can’t speak for all soap nuts grown in the world. But let’s remember that the soap berry produces saponin that is a natural insect repellant. There is no need for any such treatment. Most of the highest quality soap nuts are wild-crafted (grow in the wild), hence only Mother Nature cares for them. As always, stick with well-known, knowledgeable and trusted suppliers to be assured you are receiving properly harvested and stored soap nuts. If soap nuts are plantation grown, it is difficult to know if any fertilizers may have been used. I avoid plantation grown soap nuts.
Do soap nuts prevent hair loss?
Soap nuts are certainly good for the hair and scalp. However, there are no real clinical studies that validate soap nuts as a solution for hair loss. There are historical references for its use for healthier hair, similar as there are with olive oil. There are reported benefits of soap nuts for healthier hair by many consumers, but few to none that claim prevention of hair loss. This is simply a “cant hurt” scenario. It would be irresponsible or misleading to outright claim that soap nuts prevent hair loss.
Does it matter that some of the soap nuts are pieces instead of whole?
No. “Select” grade soap nuts are properly inspected and sorted by hand to ensure consistent quality of your soap nuts. All small pieces are removed. Such hand sorted soap nuts will be de-seeded and mainly whole which makes measuring easier. However, since agitation is a catalyst in releasing the saponin, small pieces will work fine and even release the saponin faster. Do not hesitate to break up the soap nuts into smaller pieces if desired, (this is beneficial for cold water washes when using the raw soap nuts in a wash bag). Don’t be concerned if they become broken during handling and storage. NOTE: When available from a reliable trusted supplier, you can sometimes purchase sapindus mukorossi soap nut pieces. They are typically discounted and can save even more money.
Soap nuts have a vinegar-like scent. Will my laundry have this scent?
No. The scent of the soap nut does not transfer to your clothes. Amazingly, clothes come out of the wash smelling totally fresh and clean – like a clean, clear spring day. There is not even a trace scent of the soap nut when your laundry is dry. A pure soap nut liquid has an unpleasant scent also. It will not transfer to your laundry either, nor will it leave a scent after other cleaning uses. If you prefer a scent, you can some essential oil of choice to the soap nut wash bag before dropping it in the wash. The scent of the oil will remain. Alternately – AND EVEN BETTER – is to put the essential oil on a clean and absorbent cloth, and toss it in the dryer (like using a dryer sheet). This method is superior because any oils in the wash water can leave unwanted residue, and even undo some of the soap nuts’ benefits.
I use bleach in my whites. Are soap nuts a substitute for bleach?
No. If you desire to bleach your whites, adding your bleach of choice will not affect the cleaning power of soap nuts. I would only use an oxygen bleach. Better yet, try sea salt, baking soda and vinegar as more natural additives for brightening. These are much greener choices. A good long pre-soak also does wonders for whiter whites. Proper color sorting is obviously a major prerequisite.
If the soap nuts stay in the wash through the rinse cycle, do they keep releasing soap?
Soap nuts continue to release saponin during the rinse cycle. And that’s totally fine. Unlike chemical detergents there is no need to rinse saponin out. Soap nuts leave little to no residue in your laundry, so you can actually reduce the length of your rinse cycle and save water and energy costs, too. Many people report not using ANY rinse cycle at all when washing laundry that is not very dirty with great results. That’s a HUGE savings of both water and energy – very green!
Do I use soap nuts in addition to my regular detergent?
No. You could, but why? Soap nuts do a great job of cleaning your laundry by themselves. They are a natural alternative to chemical detergents. Use of them with a chemical detergent would be negating their primary purpose and benefit.
Should I use a fabric softener or dryer sheets with soap nuts?
Soap nuts naturally soften your laundry and reduce static. A great benefit of soap nuts is that they can eliminate use of additives and dryer sheets. I highly recommend using none at all. Due to certain combinations of fabrics and water conditions, sometimes additives may be desired, but the need will be dramatically reduced.
Is there anything that I should concern myself with in using soap nuts?
Soap nuts are not for consumption and would be unpleasant if eaten. Nausea would likely result. Given their “date like” appearance in raw form, a bag of soap nuts could look like food to a child or pet. Given their absolutely horrible taste, it’s quite unlikely that any child or pet wouldn’t gag at the taste, but I recommend using good judgment and common sense in the storage of them. As with all chemical detergents or cleansers, they should be kept out of reach of children and pets.
How do I store my soap nuts?
Keep them out of reach of children and in a dry environment. Moisture is the biggest enemy. It can lead to early saponin release and possible mold or mildew. They can be kept in an airtight container, but that is not essential. Many keep them stored in their original muslin bags. If you do a lot of laundry and keep them in the laundry room where there is a lot of moisture, then it would be best to use a “Tupperware” type of container. I put the whole muslin carrier bag in such a container. The wash bags should be left in open air and allowed to dry between laundry days. IMPORTANT: Soap nut liquids made at home will have a very short shelf life – a matter of days. The liquid definitely should be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated (or even frozen) to extend its shelf life longer than a few days. You can add citric acid to help a little, but not much. If you are storing any homemade soap nut liquid for more than 4-5 days, freeze it.
Should soap nuts be sticky?
This is another question where there are many variables. Overly sticky soap nuts have typically been stored improperly unless they are yellow or golden. If yellow or golden they are very fresh and will naturally be stickier. To some degree soap nuts should have just a slight tackiness although they are fine if dry. The tackiness is often indicative of a high saponin content. The saponin is what is sticky. If very sticky or gummy after they have become darker, allow them to dry out to prevent potential growth of molds or mildew. The saponin will not evaporate. Being a little dryer will help extend shelf life, too. Be wary of very small and dry soap nuts. These are often lower quality varieties (such as Sapindus Trifoliatus) being sold.
The soap nuts I bought have a lot of seeds in them. Is that okay?
No way! Since soap nuts are sold by weight those seeds add weight that has no use unless you plan to grow soap nut trees. I’ve seen them where they have not been de-seeded AT ALL. This is a plain and simple rip-off. The exporter saves labor cost and you pay for it anyway. Return them if you can. Typically ones with a lot of seeds are also lower quality soap nuts. A seed here and there is no big deal. Do remove them. Those black as coal seeds can cause dark spots on your laundry. Not good.
I have had soap nuts of different colors and they change color. Does this indicate anything important?
A dark soap nut will work just as well as a light colored one. It primarily indicates the age of the soap nut. The early harvests are yellow to golden. As they age, they redden and deepen in color. They will ultimately turn very dark brown. The most important thing to realize is that the saponin is present during all stages. Hence, do not allow the color to be a gauge of quality. The main exception here is if they have been improperly stored and cared for. This can cause for premature darkening indicating poor quality. At the end of the year soap nuts will be naturally darker. New harvested will start showing up in late winter and early spring. The exporters will typically fire sale the previous years’ harvest to make room for the fresh new harvest. Pay close attention to prices particularly during these months. Ask questions. Many seemingly good deals on soap nuts during the spring months are not the good deals you think they are. The new harvest will be much more highly valued.
Do I need to do one load after another until the soap nuts are used up?
No. At ANY point simply allow the bag of soap nuts to dry out between laundry sessions. This is a big myth that I’ve seen on the Internet, too. I wonder how some of these silly things ever get started.
Can soap nuts develop mold or fungus?
Of course – if left sitting in water or stored wet. All botanicals will. Even though soap nuts have natural anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties, remember that a soap nut is a still an unpreserved dried fruit. Simply treat it as such, and use plain old-fashioned common sense. Just because a lemon – which is totally loaded with citric acid – does not mean it won’t ever rot.
My homemade soap nut liquid smells fermented. Is it safe to use?
Excellent question! As with all botanical water-based liquids they can and will go rancid and could pose a health hazard. Soap nut liquid has a natural pungent odor, hence making it difficult to use its scent as a good barometer. Consider all the factors. Is it older than a few days? Have you preserved it in any way? Has it become cloudy at all? Frankly, if it is more than a few days old, unpreserved and smells fermented, I would limit usage of it to a natural garden insect repellent. Be safe – not sorry.
How do I prolong the shelf life of my own homemade soap nut liquid?
The average person does not have the chemical background to properly extend the shelf life for long and ensure safety. You can refrigerate it and add sea salt to help, but this will not greatly extend its shelf life beyond a matter of a few days. The best way for you to safely preserve your homemade soap nut liquid is to freeze it. Period.
What’s bad about soap nuts? Why would someone not want to use soap nuts?
Great questions! There is nothing bad about soap nuts. There is no reason not to use them unless you are one of the EXTREMELY rare people that has an allergy to them. Other than that, there are a couple good explanations as to why some people may not WANT to use them. Firstly, resistance to change. Change is on of the most difficult things we humans ever do. Some people are not (and may never be) ready to change everything they know about how to wash laundry. Changing generations of habits will not be for everyone. Secondly, there are those in the world who have an extremely high admiration for American made products. I’ve seen this primarily in those who are not native to the US. These people have lived their lives thinking of and hoping to live the American dream. For them, to use Tide is symbolic of success and accomplishment in their lives. We all must follow what leads to our personal happiness. If using Tide brings you happiness for such reasons, this author wishes you my most sincere and heartfelt congratulations for your achievements.
Why are soap nuts imported when we have soap nuts growing here in the USA?
That’s a superb and thoughtful question! I address it in some depth in the post, “All Soap Nuts Are Not Equal”. There are two main reasons:
- The quality of the soap nuts.
- The availability of the high quality soap nuts.
Please read that post. It boils down to the fact that we do not have premium quality Mukorossi soap nuts (or any equivalent quality species) readily available in large quantities in the Western Hemisphere. I believe it is only a matter of time before we do.
Are there soap nuts that are packaged in the USA?
Absolutely. I recommend only soap nuts that are packaged in the USA. If packaged in Asia for retail, there is no way for the consumer to be assured of receiving high quality. The quality control over sorting and packaging is much higher in the USA. MANY sellers have their soap nuts packaged overseas due to lower labor costs. Period. For an extra buck or so – if that is even the case – it is worth it to only purchase soap nuts that are sorted, inspected and packaged in the USA.
Should I buy organic soap nuts?
I love this question! ALL are and also are not. By strict definition, all soap nuts are organic (from the earth, so to speak). In many cases the soap nuts are called “organic”, but it means nothing. There is virtually no regulations, good or consistent criteria, supervision or enforcement of “What is organic?” outside of FOOD products. Misuse of the official USDA and Ecocert (the international certifying agency) organic certifications carry severe penalties. There are also strict usage guidelines. Hence, this is some assurance to buyers that they are legitimate organic certifications. But there have been very poor practices reported regarding many so-called “eco” or “green” associations providing certifications. The thought of profiteering, corruption and plain old sloppiness in such associations and organizations that are supposed to be providing a certification that consumers can TRUST is very sad. It’s so easy to get almost anything “eco-certified”. Submit a sample and pay the fee. Surely we all have noticed all the “eco” and “green” certifications that just came out of the woodwork in recent years. There are clever people making loads of money by taking advantage of the current scenario. We have all heard of “green-washing”, and are turned off by it. Many of these certifications are simply tools of the “green-washer’s” trade. Don’t get sucked into or be influenced by such scams. Just use common sense. Don’t believe everything you read. The best quality soap nuts (the mukorossi variety) are wild-crafted, and mainly grown on public lands. Mother Nature is the only one who cares for them. By their own nature, soap nuts are repellant of insects and pests. There is no need to treat them. Not much more than gathering and packing is done before being shipped. Bottom line: If you want the added assurance of being truly organic (grown and processed without use of any chemicals), stick to the major certifications such as USDA organic and Ecocert. Take the many others with a grain of salt.
Are Soap Nuts Fair Trade certified?
Yes and no. Soap nuts are certainly not “blood diamonds” to be sure. Obviously, I cannot speak for every resource, but can shed some light on the subject. Most soap nuts are harvested by villagers and families and sold to exporters via co-ops. In such cases the raw soap berries certainly are Fair Trade whether “certified” or not. Most US and Canadian sellers other than two that I know of for sure (or affiliates of those two) have their soap nuts packaged for retail overseas. (It’s cheaper.) In the cases where they are packaged overseas it is difficult to say what the work conditions are at the packaging companies. If they are packaged in India, however, India has very strict labor laws that are enforced. One very reputable exporter in India explained to me that they have not received a “certification” because they did not want to spend the 329,000 rupees ($7,000 USD) to the certifying organization annually. Given the strict laws and their adherence to them, they feel as though it is a rip-off. So, if the packaging is in India, the US or Canada and the company is legitimate, you can be almost certain of proper working conditions. If packaged in Nepal, China, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and others in the region, it is more questionable for the laws are vague and enforcement is obscure. (More research is needed.) Wash bags are typically part of the picture in soap nut use also. Printed boxes and other carrier bags of different types are also involved – and a major parts of the whole process. The bags and boxes can come from MANY different sources in any of these countries. If there is any violation of Fair Trade, it would be more likely to be found with the bag or box manufactures and printers – again particularly if produced in these other countries. (Don’t ever expect to ever know for sure where they come from, either.) I know of NO soap nuts, bags or boxes that have been genuinely Fair Trade “certified”. I’ve made it no secret regarding my feelings about “certifications” in general. However, my research indicates that the genuine “Fair Trade” certification is very reliable. To be best assured that you are only purchasing soap nuts that have virtually a zero chance of getting to your home with only proper work conditions involved in the processing (end-to-end), stick with soap nuts from India that are packaged in the US or Canada.
How do I know what are the best soap nuts to buy?
This is kinda’ humorous to me… I’ve tried hard to provide Pro readers good tips to help make informed, wise decisions. There’s many factors to consider. Of those factors, some may or may not be important to a buyer. What’s most important is up to the individual. Price is always a factor, but I think that’s FAR from the most important. There’s no way around the fact that a little study is required. Seek first to understand, and use your head. – It’s all downhill from there.
AUTHOR’S NOTE ABOUT CERTIFICATIONS:
When looking for green, organic or eco-friendly, sustainable products OUTSIDE of FOOD PRODUCTS, do yourself a favor and just cut through all the green-washing right from the start. Aside from the USDA and Ecocert, pay little to no attention to third party certifications and “green seals”. There are literally hundreds of them and certification is quickly becoming an industry of its own. Many are so new that they don’t even have logos or seals for them yet. If you want a couple major “eye-openers” just check out these Consumer Report links:
I could bury you in similar links. They are almost all identical. It’s outrageous. After doing a lot of homework, even the DfE (the EPA’s “Designed for the Environment” program) is of very little value for the consumer. Many companies are scrambling to become DfE certified. It sure sounds good doesn’t it? I’m going to leave you with this: I’ve studied the ingredients used in many DfE “approved” products. EWG’s (the Environmental Working Group) Skin Deep Database would rate them as “high hazard”. Go figure… Don’t you just love to see our tax dollars being put to use to help the marketing department at Method (and the many others like them) come up with more sales hype for us to weed through. Geeesh…
DID YOU KNOW? (Courtesy of Consumer Reports, Eco-Labels)
The “free-range” label doesn’t necessarily mean the animals went outdoors.
“Fair Trade Certified” means more than paying producers a fair wage.
Meat labeled as “natural” can contain artificial ingredients.
Final Author’s Note:
Answers often lead to more questions. I totally realize that. Write to me about specifics. I’ll do my best to help. Soap nuts are not difficult to understand, but you will need to change many things you have come to accept as facts. Invest the time to learn and keep an open mind. If you do so, you’ll soon become a soap nut expert. You will also gain a new and heightened awareness of what is happening all around us. You’ll become more cognizant of the difference between the sales hype and the truth.