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Soap Nuts: What Are They & What Can You Do With Them?

using soap nutsWhat Are Soap Nuts?

Soap nuts are known throughout the world by many different names. Some include soapberries, soap nut shells, wash shells, soapberry nut husk, Chinese soapberry, and much more. These nuts are the husks or dried up shells, of soapberries. Just as other nuts do, soap nuts grow from a unique species of tree. Native to many areas in India and Nepal, soap nuts contain a chemical substance called saponin.


Saponin is commonly found in various plant species. In soap nuts, saponin causes the nuts to produce a soaping effect, making them a natural detergent. When you combine soap nuts with water, the released saponin produces a lather gentle to the skin. The saponin in soap nuts are 100% natural and can be used to replace many chemically altered, toxic household soap products.

How to Grow Soap Nuts

Soap Nuts is a deciduous tree that can grow to a height of up to 20 meters. The tree can grow for 70 years and have a trunk circumference of 3-5m. It does better in tropical and subtropical areas and becomes smaller in cold regions. Soap Nuts can be found in Florida, Hawaii, China, and throughout most of India. To some extent, the tree looks like the large Mimosa trees with its leaves measuring 40cm long. It takes about ten years for the tree to yield the Soap Nut berries. Flowering occurs during the summer season, and berries can be harvested in months of winter.

Germinating the Soap Nuts Seeds

The seed should be planted as soon as they are received and not be stored. Below are the steps that you need to follow to ensure your nut tree grows successfully:

Step 1: Weakening the seeds coat
To get started, scarify the seeds coat using a sandpaper or nail file. Some seeds may be tough to the extent that you will need to hammer them. This, however, should be done with a lot of care not to crush the seeds. Your main objective is to weaken the coat.

Step 2: Soak the Soap Nuts seeds overnight in hot or warm water
Heat the water for about 5 minutes and do not let it boil. Put the water and seeds in a vacuum-insulated flask and let it soak for a whole day. The flask will help to maintain the water temperature throughout the soaking. The process of soaking the seeds is crucial as the water activates the seeds to start germinating.

Step 3: Plants the seeds
It is recommended to plant the seeds during the spring or early summer. This part requires you to use good quality germinating soil and not dirt. The Soap Nuts tree has tap roots that grow vertically, and this makes it necessary to have a deep pot. The seeds should be planted at 2.5 cm depth. After planting, place the pots in a suitable location away from direct sunlight and preferably where the raindrops can reach.

The pots will need to be watered as soon as the soil begins to dry up. Avoid watering the it when moist to prevent any fungal growth. You should not add fertilizer to the soil before the seeds have germinated. Increased nitrogen levels in the soil can inhibit the whole germination process.

Step 4: Wait for the seeds to germinate
The process of germination can occur anywhere between the first and third summer month of planting. It can even take longer in cold months; you will have to ensure the pots gets some warmth and receive enough light.

Do not be troubled when the seeds coating forms a white powder, and the size swells almost twice the original. It signifies that your seedlings are about to shoot. You will be required to transfer the seedlings once they emerge to a plant bag or bigger container to protect the long major root. This tropical tree does better with rain, so water it regularly and keep it in a sunny area.

What Can You Use Soap Nuts For?

As common-day humans, the use of soap and sanitizers is a lifestyle occurrence. We shower with soap, wash our hands, clean our dishes, wash our clothes, and more. Anything you do right now that involves the use of soap or sudsy products can be replaced with the use of soap nuts instead.


Soap nuts are most commonly used for laundry. While you can simply throw some nuts into your laundry loads and let them work their magic, many HE and more modern washing machines won’t be very happy with you.

If you decide to just throw the nuts in, then you’ll want to use anywhere from 1 to 6 soap nuts per wash. This is dependent on your washing temperature. And better yet, these organic nuts are reusable. Simply give them a squeeze after each wash to check for a sudsy effect and toss them into your next wash.

However, if you prefer to make simple liquid laundry detergent at home from these handy nuts of ours. This is the recipe we enjoy using:

Make Soap Nut Detergent at Home

Use the soap nut laundry detergent recipe to make about 4 cups.


  • 6 cups of hot water
  • 30 de-seeded organic nuts
  • 15 drops essential oil of your choice

• Put the soap nuts into a pot and add hot water.
• Allow them steep for about half an hour.
• Cover the pan and allow them to simmer over low heat for half an hour.
• The liquid can then be strained into a bowl and set aside.
• Add the essential oil after the solution has cooled

Using soap nuts in the laundry requires you to add at least four tablespoons of the detergent to a laundry load of average size. For heavily soiled attires, you can add two tablespoons of borax powder in every pack. The soap nut laundry detergent recipe will ensure you are always using soap nuts in the laundry without much struggle.

Storage and Shelf Life of DIY Detergent

The homemade nuts oil cannot last long on the shelves, and you, therefore, need to store the liquid in a refrigerator for a period not longer than four weeks. However, freezing your detergent in ice cubes can help it last long enough. Silicone ice trays can go a long way in helping your ice cubes pop out easily. You can then keep them in an already used freezer bag.


You can even use soap nuts in the kitchen. Since the soap produced by these nuts rinses quickly, you’ll find yourself done with the dishes in no time. If you use a dishwasher, you can simply drop a few nuts into the cutlery basket and run the cycle as normal.

There are also a number of recipes for dish detergents made with soap nuts. Most include a combination of baking soda or washing soda, borax, soap nut shavings. We have a list of awesome soap nut recipe resources at the end of this post, so if we’re boring you just scroll on down to the end.

Household Cleaner

Use soap nuts around the house to clean as you normally would. Combine the nuts with other natural ingredients, such as vinegar or essential oils, to create an all-purpose cleaner. You’ll want to use the boiling instructions below to form a liquid from the nuts. Once that’s done, simply combine the solution with vinegar and a few drops of essential oil for the perfect all-purpose cleaner.  Plus, you will be able to bottle it up and use it for months of cleaning to come.

Car Washing

Easily clean off your car with some soap nuts solution added to your bucket of water. Depending on how soapy you want your water to be, you’ll typically find yourself using less soap than you normally would. Of course, there’s always time for a little fun with the extra suds too!

Using Soap Nuts in the Garden & Outdoors

For using it outdoors, soap nuts come in handy when you’re trying to repel pests. By having this solution sit idly near your outside sitting area, the pests will remain at bay. Mosquitoes and other garden bugs don’t like the scent of saponin, so having it around your garden can decrease their presence.

Then, if you want to use it in the garden, there are a number of ways. Contrary to popular belief, soap nuts will not harm your plants; it is liquid hand soap and other manmade soaps that will cause harm to your plants. Most people use it in their garden to benefit the overall health of their plants or repel pests.

Due to the many benefits of saponin, you are able to use the boiling method described earlier to create a sprayable or pourable liquid to use in your garden. Some of the benefits saponin can provide your plants include, but is definitely not limited to the following:

  • Can be used as a wetting agent
  • Helps to increase nutrient uptake
  • Aids your pesticides in sticking and coating the plant more efficiently
  • Promotes overall beneficial microbial activity in your soil
  • Works as both an anti-fungal and anti-microbe
  • Provides a cleaner way to flush your plants

While there are a number of other organic products that have saponin in them, soap nuts are known for their high amounts of saponin compared to other products. Looking to keep learning about saponins? Click here for an article on the benefits of saponins in the garden.