Why I Don’t Make Laundry Detergent

The information provided in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.
It is not a substitute for your doctor's care plan or advice.

I love making DIY Home Products, but one thing I DON"T make is homemade laundry detergent. Find out why and find out how to use soap nuts instead

Homemade Laundry Detergent. It's one of those things that almost every crunchy mama makes, right?

Well, not this one.

You know by now that I get a real kick out of MYO (Make Your Own) projects, right?

My husband says I get this little mischievous smile on my face when I figure out a way to make something that we've been buying (or not buying because it is just way too expensive :-)), or even when I just think I'll be able to do so.

I really feel like I am beating the system or something.

Kind of like winning a mini lottery!

Making your own products can be a big help when  you are trying to reduce toxins in your life.

Today I am going to tell you one thing that I do not make – and that is homemade laundry detergent.

Here's why.

Years ago (too many. I'd really rather not think about it :-)) when we lived in the Chicago area, we were living on very little money (ummm..like $13,000 per year).  Let's just say that $13,000 a year doesn't go very far in Chicago :-)!

My oldest was born and I was forced to leave my job.

Well, really I chose to.  My boss reneged on a work-at-home offer and so I quit, not wanting to leave my son with anyone else.

So saving money was a really big deal to me.  Really big.

I was buying the loss leaders at the grocery store (we got a lot of funny looks and stares with our grocery cart full of 10 cent oranges or 10 cent yogurts :-)), buying nothing new, and we even lived with my inlaws for 2 years.

Anyway, I had a friend who made her own homemade laundry detergent and for some reason it really mystified me.

I have no idea why, but there are sometimes projects that stump me for awhile.

I feel like I just can't get myself to do them for some reason.

Other things like that have been :

making bread (I ended up with the most amazing whole wheat bread recipe – in our pre-gluten free days)
making candy (I finally ended up learning how to make lollipops in our pre-sugar-free days)
making lip balm or deodorant (this is coming soon!)

Laundry detergent was one of them.  I would just buy an allergy free brand at a local store and make it last as best I could.

Well, fast forward about 8 years to our home in Michigan.

I finally got up the gumption to make my own homemade laundry detergent.

I bought myself some Pure Kirk's Castille Soap (because those recipes featuring Fels Naptha just wouldn't cut it for this all natural gal.  That soap has colors and chemicals and a pretty intense artificial fragrance that really throws me for a loop.  Ick.

I grated that soap (I think my grater is permanently soap flavored now), heated it all up in my now soap-flavored calphalon pot (:-().

And used it.

And hubby wasn't happy.

Maybe it was the lack of fragrance, but he really wasn't happy with what was going on with his t-shirts.

And I didn't like making the soap.  I got pretty depressed when I saw the bucket was almost empty.

So I tried something new that I am going to introduce to you today – soap nuts!!

What?  Nuts that make soap?

Yes.  Really.  And they work (i.e. no more complaints from hubby).  Actually it's the hulls that make the soap.  Pretty neat eh?

And it's more than just interesting, it's good for your wallet.

First, let's talk about what soap nuts are and how to use soap nuts.

What are Soap Nuts?

From Naturoli's website:

soap nuts are the dried shells (or husks) from the soapberry (or soap berry nut). These berries are the fruit from a quite unique tree species. These shells contain a substance called saponin that produces a soaping effect. Saponin is a 100% natural alternative to chemical laundry detergent and cleansers. It can replace many chemical detergents such as those containing sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) that are becoming well known by consumers for being a skin irritant and health hazard.

NOTE:  Soap nuts are not nuts – they are a fruit.  So even if you have an allergy to nuts, soap nuts should be just fine for you :).

Why I Love Soap Nuts

1.  They are all natural – no chemicals going on my clothes, on my family's skin, or into our environment.

2.  They are very reasonable.  Just pennies per load, especially if you buy the larger bulk sizes.

3.  They are super easy to use!  And my pots and graters don't end up tasting like soap!

4.  The resulting used-up soap nuts are compostable :-)!

5.  Soap nuts leave no smell.  I mean, I like nice smelling things, but this way, all you get is clean.

How to Use Soap Nuts

Yes, it's pretty weird using nuts in your laundry. But they are really easy to use and no, you won't end up with nut butter in your laundry :)!

1.  Put 4-5 soap nuts in a small muslin bag (you buy some of these with your soap nuts).

2.  Put a large clip on the bag (this is my handy dandy idea – keeps that soap nuts bag closed tight and keeps it from getting lost in the wash.)  I LOVE the large Twixit Clips for this purpose.  See below for more info on these great clips!

3. Toss in washing machine before your clothes go in.

4.  Remove from laundry after washing (Naturoli tells me it's really OK to dry them if you miss this step!)

5.  Re-use 3-5 times.  Well, truth is I use mine about 6.  Cheapskate frugal mama!  Told you I like to save money.

6.  The above directions are for a warm or hot water wash.  If you are going to wash in cold water, soak the soapnuts in a cup of hot water (from the tap is OK – thanks for the tip, Katie of Kitchen Stewardship…Silly me – I've been heating water in a pan.  But then, especially in the winter it can take awhile for our water to heat up) for about 3-8 minutes prior to using to activate the saponin.

Below is a handy dandy photo of my tiny bag of soap nuts secured with the Handy Twixit Clip and my “heavy duty” plastic container that I use:

Why I Don't Make Homemade Laundry Detergent | How to Use Soap Nuts

More Tips on How to Use Soap Nuts:

1.  The biggest tip in my mind is using the Twixit Clip on the bag.  Otherwise I can only imagine how many lost soap nuts bags I'd still be looking for (they're not very big!)  You can use the Twixit Clips for so many other things around the house that it's great to buy the whole set even if you're only using one for your Soap Nuts bag.  You can see more ways I use them in my posts on How to Store Nuts and Seeds,  The Easiest Way to Freeze and Store Berries, and Easiest Sun-Dried Tomatoes.   No more pesky twist ties!!

2.  I use about 6 soap nuts because I have a front loader and it washes a bigger load.

3.  Use a heavy duty container for pre-soaking your soap nuts if you are using cold water for washing.  I once decimated a plastic container since it couldn't stand up to the hot water :-(.

4.  After loading the soap nuts into the washing machine, I set the plastic container on top of the washer.  Then when the load is done I just find the little bag (with the help of that big clip) and drop it in the container, all ready for the next wash.

5.  When it's time to pre-soak the nuts, I just fill up the container with water, drop it in a saucepan, heat it up and pour it back into the container.  Wait a few minutes and run it down to the laundry machine.

6.  You can tell the soap nuts are done when they look grayish and are falling apart.  Sometimes this frugal mom tries to get just one more load out of them though :-)!

7.  Thanks to a reader asking….soap nuts can be used in HE machines.

Why I Use Naturoli's Soap Nuts

There are a bunch of soap nuts companies out there.  I spent a bunch of time researching them (what else is new???) and found that though other brands are cheaper, they may not be real soap nuts.  They may not clean as well and they are sometimes not deseeded, meaning that they weigh more.

That means you are paying for the seeds as well which do not do the cleaning.  For me, I chose to purchase these since they appeared to be a great value and I have been pleased with them.

Another Homemade Laundry Detergent Alternative

If you are giving up on making your own homemade laundry detergent (like me) and you would like another option besides soap nuts, then here are some other options.

We are using Ava Anderson's Laundry Pods and are very pleased with them.  They are super convenient (just toss one in the back of your front loader) and do a great job.

Find out more about Ava Anderson here.

Update 1/16: I left Ava Anderson due to many labeling issues and wrong / missing ingredients in products. I've been on the hunt for a new laundry product and I LOVE this laundry ball!

SmartKlean Laundry Ball

Super easy to use and it lasts for 365 washes!

Other DIY Household Products

So….I don't make homemade laundry detergent, but I do make…….

Top Photo Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/sophistechate/3015591720/

Post Updated 6/6/17.

Do you use homemade laundry detergent?

These comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Whole New Mom, LLC.


    Speak Your Mind


  1. Soap nuts, thats it??? Sound just too easy. I too am always looking for ways to save, now that Im not working. Thanks for the info

  2. Abby Lowe says:

    But is this a sustainable way of doing laundry? Where do these fruits grow? Will they be endangered of being wiped out? Where is is native to? You may have found a solution that leads to bigger problems.

    • Hi Abby. According to the company that I started with, they are sustainable. I am trying out the laundry ball in the post and am loving that so you could try that if you like.

  3. Hi Adrienne! I am new to your blog, and am in love. I’ve read, and spent way too much time here already! 🙂 I was wondering though, any update on what you use? How was the “Smartklean Laundry Ball”? I was also wondering, what were the issues that presented with your, and your youngest’s allergies? Contemplating whether to try the soap nuts or not!

    Thanks for all you do!!

    • Hi there!

      So nice to get such a lovely message – thanks! No update at present. I actually still have some supposedly natural stuff left and will do the ball after that. Well, I can try to do it perhaps. I just was in ER last night all night so I’m not that mobile right now but maybe I can take a run at it for you. I wouldn’t be worried about the soap nuts and I have some I could sell you at a discount if you’d like to try them. We read it’s extremely rare to have an allergy and since then my son has used soap nut shampoo w/ no issues. I suspect it was something w/ the batch. But please do what you like and I’m happy to fill you in on the ball later — maybe my family can get the ball tried out while I’m having this mess :(.

  4. Are soap nuts suitable for cloth diapering?

  5. I was introduced to a detergent called SA8. THE..BEST..DETERGENT I have ever used!

  6. My wife and I use:

    1 Bar of Zote
    1 Box of Borax
    1 Box of Washing Soda

    I am very allergic to the dyes and fragrances and this is the only recipe that we have found that does not cause me to break out into hives. It costs us total wise of $15 and we save over $300 per year in laundray detergent.

  7. Koreen Pacher says:

    Are they safe to use in a HE washer?

  8. but… Most saponins, which readily dissolve in water, are poisonous to fish. So, if everyone uses this, and the water goes to the river and oceans… this can be terrible, too. (too, because i am trying to find alternatives to laundry soap in behalf of the environment)…

    • Oh interesting. Hmmmmm…I haven’t done any research on this. Actually I am having some issues w/ the soap nuts. Can you share the data on this and have you found alternatives?

  9. Anyone see how there is soap berry liquid? Could you use this the same way as soap berries or maybe include washing soda/borax with it??

  10. So i am curious, When looking at the attached link to purchase some nuts, it looks like they come in 3 pound quantities. Having never purchased soap nuts, and not knowing the estimate weight per nut, about how many nuts, or loads can you do with 3 pounds??

  11. this post just had me search for something i recall that also did the same thing.


    before shampoos, chinese used to use this to wash their hair. I wonder if it can be used to launder clothes?

    • I have no idea. Interesting. I would think it’s a different process as the powder picks up oil but with clothing it’s typically not oil we are trying to remove.

      • From what i recall, they also had to boil it in order to have the saponis seep out and have it work. From some of the pictures from some of the other sellers on that site, it looks like grind up soap nuts.

        • Oh that might make sense. I saw that ground up soap nuts are in some Indian shampoos too.

        • First, I must admit that I am super skeptical of the granola mommy movement. I think that sometimes, we moms just need to be validated for our giving to our families. Don’t misunderstand my here, I do like granola (super sugary and super yummy), but it seems that this cool, natural, make your own laundry soap living has just been another fad. I have made my own laundry soap, and wound up with slimy lumps of bar soap. The kicker is that it really didn’t save my family money. What I want to know is what the heck is the most econimic way to get my family’s clothes clean.

          • It is hard. I am considering going back to a DIY recipe but I don’t have time now. Hopefully soon!

          • Thanks for responding Adrienne. I came to this post because I heard that many modern laundry soaps actually work better in lower temps- therefore saving money. I was wondering if the homemade borax types were in the mix or not, but I don’t see the use in spending the same amount of $, but 10x the amount of work just to claim that what you’re doing is granola righteous

          • I don’t know the answer to that question. I like avoiding toxins and synthetics whenever possible but I’m learning more about the downfalls of doing so – especially as I see skincare and cosmetic companies lying about their ingredients and/or them having mold and bacteria contamination issues. Thanks for reading.

  12. Today’s definition of Castile soap means any soap make solely of plant oils. Traditionally, Castile soap originating from Castile, Spain, was made only of olive oil. Seasoned soapers will argue only 100% olive oil can be called Castile. That said, if you run a 100% olive oil soap through a lye calculator it’s cleansing property will be 0. A nice mild and conditioning soap, but not suitable for household/laundry cleaning.