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The Eco-Friendly Soap that Grows on Trees!

by Tiffany in Green Cleaning

try-soap-nutsWe all want our clothes to be clean and fresh right? But at what price?

Ironically the detergents that many people use to “clean” their clothes are actually leaving your clothes in worse condition than before you threw them in the wash. This is because conventional laundry detergents are full of toxic chemicals and these chemicals leave a residue on your clothing that may be absorbed by your skin or may evaporate into the air for you to breathe in. Some of the concerns in your laundry detergent are artificial fragrances, dyes, enzymes (which can burn your skin), and optical brighteners (which are meant to stay on your clothes and not wash off). Since we pretty much always wear clothes ;) our cumulative exposure is great.

This is one aspect of natural living that has always concerned me. About a year ago I created a detergent chart where I rated various detergents based upon the number of non-ideal (unnatural) ingredients they contained. The more natural and eco-friendly detergents got the highest ratings. But still I was always bothered by the fact that even those “natural” detergents were not natural enough. They still contained chemically altered or produced surfactants and more then a few moms emailed me to share this concern. Sadly there have been few options for eco-conscious consumers.

Well a few weeks back I was reading Mothering magazine and I was excited when I read about a 100% natural laundry soap called soap nuts. Soap Nuts are a natural soap that literally grows on trees! I was so excited in fact I dropped what I was doing and contacted the company. I had a great conversation with Dariel Garner, one of the owners and I was convinced that Maggie’s Soap Nuts where just what I had been searching for. Dariel was kind enough to rush me a box of soap nuts for review.

Dariel explained the fascinating history behind soap nuts and how they are relatively unknown in the Western world. Soap Nuts are the dried fruit of the Chinese Soapberry tree (Sapindus mukorrosi), similar to the lychee. A long time ago, local folks in the South East Asia figured out that when the nuts get wet, they release saponin, a natural surfactant, making them great for washing clothes! Maggie’s Soap Nuts are the only household cleaner made exclusively from Nature, by Nature.

A single soapberry tree produces hundreds of kilos of nuts per year! So they are very sustainable and fall to the ground in Indian and Indonesian forests where they are collected by folks who have used the nuts for centuries.

So the burning question is do soap nuts really work? I was delighted to find that they do! I have used them for several days now and I let my laundry pile up in anticipation of their arrival. My first load of laundry that was washed with soap nuts was a set of organic cotton sheets. It had just rained here in Ohio and my dogs were outside getting muddy. My son accidentally let them out of the mud room and they tore a muddy path down the hallway until they reached my bedroom where they jumped on my bed and rolled around on it. Yuck! Mud and dog hair were everywhere and a strong wet dog odor lingered. So I threw the sheets in the wash along with 4 soap nuts and viola .clean sheets. I slept on them that night to see if they were really clean and I was very pleased. I laundered cloth diapers after the sheets and that is another big test for this product but again I was pleasantly surprised and the diapers smelled very fresh and clean.

I also used the soap nuts to clean the carpet! I simmered a cup of soap nuts in about 4 cups of water, mashing the nuts by hand to release the saponins. Then I drained the liquid using a cheese cloth and I was left with a super concentrated liquid soap that I put in my Bissell carpet cleaner. It worked beautifully. The soap nuts work just as well as commercial soap products.

So how do they work? You take 4 nuts and put them in the linen bag that comes with the box, then use them 2 to 3 times according to the web site. I used mine 5 times. For heavily soiled clothes you can soak the soap nuts in hot water first to soften them up and then throw them in the wash. No fabric softener is needed. Maggie’s Soap Nuts naturally soften and add body to your clothes. Soap nuts won’t get your whites sparkling and white though. Dariel suggested using a bit of natural oxygen bleach. I suggested buying unbleached organic cotton clothing instead to avoid the issue. Soap nuts are great for delicates like wool and silk so that is a big plus.

I think soap nuts are quite possibly the greatest natural product I have come across in a long time. I love the soap that grows on trees! And there is great little free gift that comes in the box I either have some great new natural baubles to wear or I can grow my own soapberry tree! In fact I also found some soap nut earrings that look pretty cool. They would make a great conversation piece.

I hope you are as delighted by soap nuts as I have been. If you have tried them I would love to hear from you. :)

  • I saw them on a webstore. Very cool. But aren’t they kinda expensive?

  • I really want to try them, Ill have to save up LOL! I have a front loader machine, do you put them in the dispenser tray or in the actual washer? Do you crush them? I dont quite understand how they work LOL

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  • Anu

    Soapnuts…also called Reetha in Hindi(India). I used to use this instead of a shampoo back home in India. I always loved herbal products and my grandmom used to boil a few seeds in water and strain it for me….. which i used as a shampoo. I would love to start making my own shampoo if possible….here too for my kids. Chemical free!!

  • elizabeth ashe

    Wow that sounds so cool. I am going in right now to check out that sight. I am always on the look out more ways to become more closer to nature the right way in its purest form. This is another testament that great things can come in the simplest of packages. Wow!!

  • I am totally intrigued! I’ll be looking for these in my health store today. I’ve used Borax and vinegar for years, but I’m always on the lookout for other solutions. Thanks!

  • heather cohen

    I wanted to sing the praises of Nature Moms for bringing to my attention the product Maggies Soap Nuts. My daughter has extremely sensitive skin and I have had trouble finding any detergent that cleans and doesnt irritate her skin. What a wonderful product for children. Her skin is clear and smooth again and I am most grateful for this product. I realize that this product is expensive and I remember when I started going to alternative medicine doctors and buying organic food I was hit harder financially. however, I do believe that if people put their money where their mouth is in terms of insisting on products and foods that are nourishing and safe for the environment and our bodies, that eventually we will drive out all the cheap dangerous unsustainable products that our government pushes on us……let the revolution begin!! thank you

  • Susan

    Just wanted to let you know that I’m lovin’ Maggie’s Soapnuts! Not only do I use them in my laundry and get great results, but I’ve been washing my hair with it, too. You don’t get a lot of suds, but I’m finding that I don’t need conditioner, which is amazing since I have very tangly hair! The price seems reasonable since I can use the same nuts for a variety of uses, including washing windows and even my dog!

  • Cary

    Soapnuts are FANTASTIC! I bought a sample yesterday from my local health food store and tried them, then went back today to buy the large box. They are awesome on laundry and I even made the liquid. Add some cornstarch to the hot liquid to thicken it and it makes it easier to use as shampoo, handsoap, dishsoap, facial cleanser, and body wash. I showered with nothing but the thickened liquid tonight, and I’ve never felt cleaner (and I’m a hygiene freak). I will be using the liquid as a household cleaner also. I will be dumping all others in the morning! Good luck, I hope you love it as much as my husband and I do so far. This stuff is just amazing! And for all that it does, I think the price is wonderful also. But, the price doesn’t matter when it comes to preserving and saving our earth.

  • alison r. from NM

    Flipping amazing

  • Vanessa

    Hi you all! I love soapnuts too, it’s amazing to me that soap actually grows on trees, until I move to India and get my own soap tree, I guess I have to keep buying them. I wanted to let you all know that you can get soapnuts cheaper than at Maggies. It’s a place called Zamuta. Their website is, you might wanna check it out. Have a good day!

  • I wonder how softening they are? They certainly probably produce much less softer clothes to detergents. Now, don’t get me wrong; I think the idea is great (albeit the weird logo/picture at the beginning – what is that exactly?) but we do need to be realistic about them. Sounds great, though- although I was a little dissapointed about how they work with whites etc. I bet they cost a pretty penny as well to bring in to countries like mine that are much less developed. But, I’ll definitely be looking out for these and be asking about them.

  • Most commercial detergents have added chemicals/bleach that will produce whiter clothes. Soapnuts do not have anything added to them, so you will have to add your own whitening products. Try hydrogen peroxide – safe to pour directly on stains. You can also use lemon juice or some Oxiclean powder (which is powdered peroxide).

  • Oil paintings

    I was just wondering. What if a group of mothers would work together and process the soap nuts in order to prepare ready-to-use detergents out of these amazing soap nuts? That will save us time in washing our clothes right? So the problem now is how we store them. Well, since they’re basically nut extracts I’m sure in addition to saponins they also have oils so we must make sure that they’re in not-so-cold storage rooms to avoid getting rancid. What do you think?

  • Organic living

    GREAT web site! Wow! I just subscribed! I love the tips and I want to try soap nuts.

  • Natural Laundry Detergent

    I love soap nuts. They are the best laundry detergent I have ever used.

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  • Val

    Been using soapnuts for some time now. They are brilliant! No need for conditioner when using them to wash clothes. I use 1/2 scoop of oxyclean if the clothes are really bad but most times soaking will shift stains.
    I have made up a liquid so it is used for hands hair etc.
    My hands are badly affected by cold but this year they have been fine no cracks or bleeding.
    It’s a mild insectcidal so the dog has a bath in it too!
    All this and helps the envionment too!

  • Wow- I am so happy to see so many folks getting excited about soap nuts! My good friend from Germany turned me on to them about 2 years ago and I have been using them ever since. It was about the same time my old college friend turned me on to a great micro fiber cloth. Well, being an environmentalist for over 40 years convinced me that these two products could do a world of good for our health and the planet-so Earth Care Market was born.

    Since that time I have stopped using paper towels and any ‘commercial’ cleaners. The Clean-it Cloth cleans with just water and it still amazes me what it can do. I own student housing apartments and it cleaned them all last year. It was faster and so much cheaper. The cloth even cleaned the crud off the walls so I saved on painting. Plus one cloth can last over a year and that is with everyday use.

    I am hoping that more people start using soap nuts because they really do work. They may not be as convenient as pouring liquid and throwing away a plastic bottle but with a bit of adjustment they can really work for you. I think the biggest challenge for soap nuts is using them for HE or front-loading machines.

    For HE machine I recommend making a soap nut liquid and using 1/3 cup in each the detergent and softener dispenser. They will not leave residue in your clothes but leave them very soft. There isn’t a smell left in them unless you add an essential oil to a cloth and throw it in the dryer. Essential oil added to the wash will just wash away.

    I just got turned on to another idea for the liquid which is to freeze it. Then just put 4 cubes into the bottom of the machine before loading your clothes. The soap nut liquid has to be refrigerated to prevent fermentation because it is all natural. I find I can leave it in the frig for weeks.

    I am sorry that this post is kinda long but I do want to say that I also use the liquid for hand washing dishes and it works great. But do not expect suds from the soap nuts because that is not how they work.

    I also have a Clean-it Stone made from 100% recycled glass for removing hard-water stains from toilets and porcelain. If you have second try because have some of the best prices on soap nuts on the web and tons of info about cleaning and all the hazards of cleaning with the stuff from the store.

    Have fun cleaning!

  • Chandra

    Hi there! Just read about soap nuts. Have NEVER heard of them before! Am researching them now and I know you reviewed the Maggie’s brand…have you tried the NaturOli brand? They seem to be cheaper and I was curious if I should shell out the extra money for the Maggie’s brand or if they all would work the same?

    • Hi Chandra,
      I have tried soap nuts from many different sources and I think that they are all basically the same so shop for the best price per ounce or kilogram.

      Soap nuts grow on trees in the forests just like acorns do here so they are all basically the same-just marketed differently.

      I hope you have tried them by now!


  • Chandra,

    I have only ever tried Maggie’s.

  • Dear Sir,

    Greetings from M.S.S. Asan Exports, India.

    We can supply good quality of Soap Nut Whole or Soap Nut Half Shells in 500 gms x 40
    PP bags in one master carton box packing or 1 Kg x 20 PP bags in one master carton box packing on FCL or LCL basis.

    We can print your company name and logo in the Carton Boxes.

    Also, we can supply printed cotton bags in different sizes.

    Kindly convey us exact quantity, packing details and port of delivery to quote our best CIF Prices.

    Visit our website:

    Expecting your reply.

    Best Regards,

    S.Mahalingam @ Prakash
    June 15/2009

    Our Concern Details :

    M/s. M. S. S. Asan Exports,
    12/1 Melaratha Veethi,
    Nagercoil – 629 001.
    Tamil Nadu, India.

    Phone : 04652 – 225621, 227422
    Fax : 04652 – 224373
    Mobile : 09486356569

  • GreenQueen

    I love using soap nuts, and I understand that they last longer if I only wash in cold water. My question is: How can I tell when the soap nuts are no longer effective. I’m having a hard time figuring out when it’s time to change them. (I want to use them as long as possible, but not if they aren’t doing anything anymore.)

    • Monique

      I haven’t tried them yet but I read that they are no longer effective if they no longer feel slippery when wet. I also read when the turn grayish? Hope that helps!