Why I Don’t Make Laundry Detergent

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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.

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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 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 the 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 use 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 of 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.

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…….

Homemade Foaming Soap
Amazing No Streak Glass Cleaner
Simple Natural Dishwasher Rinse Aid
Plastic Wrap Substitute (well, not really :))

Update on Soap Nuts–aka Can You Have a Soap Nut Allergy?

So, I feel kind of funny adding this BUT–years after writing this post, 2 of us in the family had reactions to soap nuts.

Online it seems that a soap nut allergy is really rare and even some soap nut companies seem to say that it’s not possible, but we definitely had reactions. It might have been something on the soap nuts, but I could never figure out what that was, so we just chose to avoid them after that.

So I went on a hunt for a good natural homemade laundry detergent formula again and found it. I also also developed this DIY Baby Laundry Detergent that’s great for sensitive skin needs too.

Whatever you prefer–Homemade Detergent or Soap Nuts or store-bought, please just do your best to avoid the toxins!

Have you ever used Soap Nuts?

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  1. for the diy laundry soap what about English Ivy leaves? Lots of saponins there!! I’ve tried it and I wonder if there’s any detractors to this. Figured you would know LOL.

    1. So glad to hear it! I hope it works out well for you! If you are so inclined, after trying it we so appreciate 5 star reviews. They help us out and they also help readers to find great posts / recipes. Thanks in advance!

  2. Hi, what’s the total number of loads you get from the entire bag of Naturoli’s soap nuts?

    This sounds very interesting. I’ve never heard of soap nuts before.

    1. Hi there-it depends on the size. 6 soap nuts yields about 4-6 loads as I mentioned in the post. So for a sample bag that’s what you would get. Hope that helps! I will have soap nuts based detergent available soon that’s fantastic and super eco friendly. Should be on the blog soon.

  3. So…you leave the wet bag of soap nuts in a container for the next load. Do you find that they gather mold or mildew, I would think they would need to dry before a new load.

    1. Hi there – I would leave it opened up. They dried out pretty well. I do have some related posts coming soon :).

  4. you’ve probably read some of my other comments by now where i mention this, but to reply here, yes, very happy with it. and i am washing tough things: family cloth, crusty snot rags, and even white kitchen towels we use for everything (in place of paper towels). i use very little, so as not to risk leaving a residue. probably 1/8 cup for a tough load (poo, kitchen gunk), and probably half that for a load of clothing. we use a Miele front-loader and it’s got a “sanitize” setting we use where appropriate. we use cold water for everything else (even crusty snot rags are fine in cold water, we just wash those with our clothing since there’s not enough for a full load). and note—sorry if this is tmi 😉 —for an unclean break on the pot, we use a small pitcher of water + hand to help clean the bum before the wipe, so there’s not tons of smeary poo on any of the rags, but there’s still a little bit on many of them. blood, too, and it all seems to comes out. i’m 100% comfortable smooshing my face into a hot pile of freshly laundered family cloth. we live in los angeles and have a solar system that over-produces electricity (more than we use) so the dryer is a no brainer for things that benefit from an extra helping of heat for germ-killing. 😉 we use the extra hot cycle for both family cloth and kitchen stuff (and bath towels). gentle heat for everything else, when we’re not drying clothes on the line (which happens when we have time, which is only some of the time). all our clothes are clean and odorless.