Over the years, a “what-if” question I’ve asked is, What if I don’t have______ or can’t obtain________? During my childhood in Zambia, that question was sometimes more than hypothetical when we encountered shortages of various staples items—including toilet paper.

One year at boarding school, we were told that toilet paper was currently unavailable in the stores and that when the school’s supplies were out, there might be no replacements. So we were advised to use only three squares—more only if we really needed it….I recall that the shortage did not outlast the school’s stock-on-hand, so there was no gap in toilet paper availability. However, the real possibility of running out made us conscious (for life) of being very careful only to use what was absolutely necessary.

Of course, there are alternatives to using toilet paper at all, which would be the next step towards becoming more self-sufficient. Stay tuned….

All that in introduction to another commodity that may not always be available: laundry detergent.

I’ve recently been experimenting with soap nuts, a natural laundry detergent “product” that grows on soapberry trees (Sapindus mukorossi) found in Asia. I’m using a brand called Eco Nuts®, available for purchase at Urban Homestead Supply: as soap berries and soap berry liquid for HE (front loading) machines. So far, I’m very pleased with how the soap nuts clean regular clothes. I have a top-loading washing machine and use the warm wash/cold rinse setting.

My conclusion, to date, is that the soap nuts are a very satisfactory substitute for the laundry detergent I previously used (Trader Joe’s Liquid Laundry Detergent). I still pre-soak the extra dirty clothes (in Borax or Washing Soda) and scrub stains (with Fels-Naptha® soap) before running them through the regular washing cycle.

(Check out some tips for doing laundry with soap berries and, specifically, for washing diapers.)

It has been unusually humid for Southern California, so clothes have been more sweat-soaked than normal. The soap nuts remove any unpleasant odors, leaving the clothes fresh-smelling (but not perfumed).

There are lots of other uses for soap nuts to explore (for example, as shampoo).

Have you used soap nuts for laundry or other washing? Have you grown a soapberry tree?




  1. Veronica V. says:

    i love soap nuts! They leave very little scent or residue. wonderful for towels, it keeps them absorbent.

    • Treechild says:

      I thought the towels were a little softer than usual for hanging out to dry (no fabric softener or dryer sheets). Thanks for letting us know of your experience with soap nuts!

  2. Lana says:

    I have been using soap nuts and really like them. They get my clothes clean and fresh, and I don’t need to use dryer sheets because they come out so soft.

    • Treechild says:

      Thank you for letting us know of your positive experience using the berries–especially with using a clothes dryer.

  3. mary w says:

    Are the soap berries imported from Asia or grown here? I’m never sure how to determine such’s clearly better to use natural soap rather than chemicals. But if its shipped from 1/2 way across the globe it may not be worth the trade-off.

    • Treechild says:

      The Eco Nuts soap berries are from Nepal. Yes, local options would be best. In this case, because they are so small and light, perhaps the trade-off is not as bad. However, it would be interesting to find out if someone has had success growing them in the U.S.

  4. Purplefireweed says:

    There are several soapberry trees endemic to Hawaii. I do not have access to one, so I use Eco Nuts or buy from a woman who sells the nuts locally. A friend is sprouting several varieties; they are slow growers but great to include in your orchard plan. A variety also grows in Florida. So yes, its possible to find more local sources. Also, in the Cascadian NW, there is a native soapberry bush that first peoples utilized for washing.

  5. kay says:

    I wanted everyone to know about a old form of food preservation used at South Pacific Islands and in some parts of tropical Asia. Pits were dug in the soil to ferment fruit or starch food.(usually bananas, breadfruit, or banana relative starchy stalk) I understand they were about 8 feet deep and lined and covered on top with banana leaves. It becomes like a sour pudding and can last over 20 years in the pit, which is really amazing! It was a way to preserve food, used in the daily diet and always helped people survive on tropical islands the year after a hurricane when food trees and crops had been destroyed. I read there are a few pits still in use in Fiji and a few still in Asia, but as fridges come into the rural areas they are disappearing. Thats all the info i have found on this so far. No one is doing this here in Hawaii yet, as far as i know. I wonder if it requires an onnoculant or starter. I also wonder if it could be done on the mainland, just being buried deeper than the freeze line and covered thick on top with straw and soil layers. Canna is a temperate plant that could replace the banana leaves in lining the pit. Wish i knew more about this, let me know if you know about this. Mahalo, Kay

  6. Holly says:

    Soap Berry trees are native here in San Antonio ,TX and grow all over the place. The flowers they produce in the spring are one of my favorite scents!

    • Nova Lotus says:

      Do you happen to know the species name of the soapberry trees that grow in texas?

  7. Arrow Durfee says:

    Are you nuts?
    You are using soap nuts but first rinsing your clothes with borax and fels napha?
    This is nuts…. and a waste of money.
    Learn how to make laundry soap from fels napha, borax and washing soda. Do a search and you will find the recipe. Costs about .25 cents per gallon and good for up to 60 loads.

    • Thomas says:

      I would bet that reading that article one more time may clarify any misunderstandings that you may have. And maybe instead of insulting someone and attacking them, you could be a bit nicer. You are wrong on a few points, and i will take the time to outline them for you. As someone who has been using homemade laundry detergent for quite sometime, i have gone through many revisions, using fels naptha and homemade lard soap as the base, adding scarce amounts of borax and washing sodas.

      ” this is a waste of money ”
      Had you read the article you would know that she is only presoaking her extra dirty laundry, not all of it. Science tells me that X amount of soap can only clean X amount of oil from an object. So if there is X amount of soap, but X+X amount of oil, you will need more soap and a longer cycle to boot. Contrary to popular belief, soap does not do anything to dirt, instead it targets oil and water ( hypophillic and lipophillic properties )

      Also, you did not include your recipe for this fels naptha ( which i should add is petroleum based, just fyi ) laundry soap. I will include my recipe as a kindness, but im going to ask that you dont use it.

      1/2 bar gratd fels naptha. Or ~2oz homemade soap, 0% superfat
      1c washing soda
      1/4c borax ( toxic, but not in small quantities, add more for harder water )
      2 gallon pail full of hot water

      Remove 6 cups water and boil. Add grated soap and stir untill melted. Add borax and soda to the 2 gallon pail and mix well. Add melted soap. Stir or blend with a stick blender. Add fragrance or essential oil to taste. 4oz small load, 6oz medium load, 8oz large load. HE washer safe! Half quantities should be fine for an HE


  8. Nick Story says:

    Try using organic soap if you want to get rid of harmful chemicals that are commonly used for soap manufacturing. Ask for mild melt and pour soap bases at the soap suppliers shop, and become ready to produce home-made soap that will not be harmful for skin and clothes.

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