Thursday, September 24, 2009

Soap Nuts Review - Do They Work? Are They Cheaper?

There are many places where frugality and going green intersect and soap nuts is one of them. If someone told you soap doesn't grow on trees, they were misinformed. The soap in these nuts is activated by heat and water and is an excellent natural laundry detergent.

Months ago I found a good deal on laundry detergent, about $0.07 per load. I use cloth diapers and my baby's skin was getting rashes more frequently than seemed normal. Of course, the "natural" chemical laundry detergents were often more than $0.30 per load, and I didn't want to go back up to $0.10 per load detergent, as I was worried my baby was developing sensitive skin. I had heard about soap nuts from Passionate Homemaking and looked into it.

After a little investigating, I found NaturOli brand to be the cheapest because they use pieces of the nuts, instead of selling the whole nut in tact.

How does it work? Well, you get this big bag of nuts and a little canvas bag. You put five nuts in the bag, and throw it in your washing machine in the place of laundry detergent. Hang it up to dry between loads and those five nuts are good for five loads. Or, you can boil it down to an extract, which I do, and I get ten loads out of five nuts.

NaturOli says you can get 5 loads out of 1/2 ounce of soap nuts, or 5 soap nuts. That is 800 loads out of my 5 lb bag. I paid about $65 for my bag or about $0.08 per load. Where I make the extract, I get my loads for $0.04 per load.

If you have been making your own laundry detergent from bar soap, which there are many online recipes for, you are paying anywhere from $0.03 to $0.08 per load, depending on where you got your recipe. I don't have a food processor, so I never tried the homemade detergent, which usually requires a bar of soap to be grated finely.

The work involved in making the soap nut extract is pretty simple. I put eight soap nuts and and four cups of water into my crock pot on high for six to eight hours. This boils down to about three cups of the concentrate. I use two or three tablespoons of the concentrate, as recommended by NaturOli, depending on the size and dirtiness of the laundry load.

Do they work? I haven't had any problem with the washing. In fact my husband's work pants are cleaner now than with our old detergent. Also, there is no soapy build up on cloth diapers, which makes the diapers more absorbent.

The downside? The downside I have seen people online complain about is that there are no suds. I do get some suds, though, since I use the extract, but not nearly as much as with store bought laundry detergent. I think results are better measured in how clean the clothes are, but if you are emotionally attached to the sudsy water in your washing machine, these may not be for you. They also are not scented. Your clothes will smell like nothing. Some people put a fragrant extract in with the nuts, but I don't bother. I don't mind the smell of nothing.

One odd thing is that the soap nut extract can rot, since it is an actual nut. You need to keep the extract in the fridge, but the bag of nuts is fine in a cupboard. I've never had any rot on me, and it usually takes me two to three weeks to go through my jar of extract, so I don't think this is too common if you take care of it.

Soap nuts are also good for general household cleaning. I've been using a water and soap nut extract mixture for scrubbing as I've had some pregnancy nesting instincts lately. There are several other household uses I'm looking forward to use them for, including dish washing detergent. I've been using them for laundry for about three months. I'll keep you updated about new uses for soap nuts I try and love, or uses they don't work for.

Where do you get them? NaturOli soap nuts can be found at their website. You can also find them on Amazon.com. What I did when I purchased my 5 lb bag was a search of "Naturoli coupon code." If there is a valid coupon code going for NaturOli's store, it may be cheaper than Amazon's price, but it is wise to compare prices. I had a swagbucks gift card for Amazon, so I bought them from Amazon. It also looks like Amazon's price has gone down since I bought from them. I paid $65 for my 5 lb bag, shipping included, but now it is going for closer to $55. If you get a smaller bag, it will cost more per load. But if you are not comfortable shelling out $55 up-front for a large bag of something you don't trust, it is worth getting a smaller bag first to see if it works for you.

Has anyone else tried soap nuts? What do you do for a frugal or natural laundry detergent?

25 comments:

Mrs. Money said...

I make my own, but after your review of these I am considering trying them!

I use a cheese grater to grate my soap instead of a food processor. It really works well! Here's my recipe: http://ultimatemoneyblog.com/laundry-detergent-recipe-how-to-make-your-own-laundry-detergent

I have always wanted to try soap nuts. Thanks for the great review!

Diana Par-Due said...

Lovely! I think this is a really good idea. I've been trying to find a completely natural alternative to conventional laundry detergent that's reasonable.

Captain Cleavage said...

My baby sister had very sensetive skin as well and thats why my mother started making her own butt wipe oil for diaper changes. She would just use a wet washcloth with some olive oil...my sis never had a rash again. :)

These are cool! I use them for my clothing but for some reason I can't use them on the hubs cloths (some stains just won'y come out...paint and grease being one of them)

Emily said...

Captain Cleavage, my husband's pants have some paint and bleach stains, which will probably never come out. I pretreat with Dawn dishwashing detergent for grease, because Dawn cuts grease, just as I did when I used regular detergent. I'll have to try that olive oil for the babies.

K said...

Thanks for reviewing these! I had seen them on Passionate Homemaking and wondered! Also, it has been exciting watching your number of followers exponentially grow! I think there were 7 when I found this site, and now look!!

Deliver This said...

I have read articles about our culture's fondness for suds and learned something that I thought was very interesting. The fact is that suds don't necessarily = cleaner. I wish I could find the article again because it basically stated that a lot of times the suds/lathering properties are there only because we as Americans need to see the lather in order to think it's doing it's job.

Meg said...

I use this recipe:

http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/laundrysoap.htm

I don't use a food processor, a cheap cheese grater works just fine, then I cook it in a really old pot I found at a junk place. The soap doesn't have to be really fine, because it goes into the heated water and melts down. Then I pour it into an old bucket that has a lid.

The lady who owns the above website calcuted hers out to be .1 per load. I haven't checked her numbers though. I also know the price of some of the materials would vary depending on location and availability.

MBZ said...

I buy Sun and Earth detergent when they offer Buy One Get One Free on their cases. With free shipping I paid $38.94 for 600 oz.AND got a bunch of free samplers (1-4 oz) of other products--cleansers, dish detergentsoap, etc. I use 1 oz per load--so $.065 per load.

Emily, are you adding the cost of the electricity to run your crockpot when you calculate your costs for making the extract?

Emily said...

MBZ, I am not adding in the cost of electricity, nor have I seen others who make homemade detergent calculate the cost of the electricity for using their food processors or boiling their mixture. However, I would say that the cost of electricity adds less that $0.01 per load. If is costs $0.10 to run the crockpot on low for 8 hours, it makes sense that it would cost about $0.15 to run it on high for the same amount of time. I get sixteen loads out of a batch. I could reduce that by making multiple batches at a time, but it might affect it's shelf life to make too much at once.

Treva said...

When you make the extract in your crock-pot do you leave the lid off? I don't like to make assumptions so I thought I would ask!

These sound very very cool. And I may consider getting them once I finish using up our "free & clear" detergent (skin sensitivities in the house). By that point I will have a giftcard from somewhere that I could possibly apply to an amazon purchase and that could lower the cost for me.

Excellent post!

Emily said...

Treva, I keep the lid on when I make the extract in the crock pot.

Rachel said...

Never heard of soap nuts till now. Would I be willing to use them? probably. But cooking them down into an extract, I don't know. I use All free and clear most of the time. It works really well for my allergy prone skin. I have made the homemade soap before. My husband didn't like it, but I think it was due to the suds thing.

Blessed said...

Hi Emily, I just today found your website, and am catching up as quickly as I can. : ) Do you know if these nuts can be used in a high efficiency washer, which does not have a full tub of water agitating with the clothes and nuts/extract?

Emily said...

Blessed, I take towels and blankets to the laundromat, the rest I do by hand, where there are high efficiency washers and they come out perfect. I found this link that says their the best detergent for HE washers because they are low sudsing.

http://www.articlesbase.com/environment-articles/soap-nuts-the-best-high-efficiency-he-detergent-for-top-and-front-loading-washing-machines-752059.html

Lori said...

Great article!

There are a couple of things though to clarify. Soap nuts are NOT nuts they are berries. Chris, the Founder of NaturOli often compares them to a cherry because they have a firm skin, a medium thick pulp and a big seed (stone) in the center.

For those who don't want to cook the soap nuts to make the extract you can also make it like you make Sun Tea which is what I do.

Also if you put some sea salt in it and/or refrigerate it will keep longer. The salt will keep yeast and bacteria from growing which is what happens in water-based botanicals that aren't preserved.

I have a ton of other uses on my site for anyone who wants to find other ways to use soap nuts in their efforts to be green and save money.

Anonymous said...

I read this article and thought it was cool . . .except that I'm living in France and I had a feeling I wouldn't find soap nuts here. But I did--they're called "noix de lavage." The cheapest I've found is 8 euros per killo or 2.2 pounds. Seems like an ok price, but I'm going to check out the coop and see if I can find a cheaper price in an actual store. . . Anyway, I just thought I'd let you know, these are clearly available in Europe! Very excited to transition to something new at the end of my detergent box!

snowblanca said...

I'm going to take a look at these soap nuts. Though I'll second Meg's comment about Family Homestead. The soap doesn't have to be finely grated, just grated to melt easier, but if you cut it up in small piece that would work too, just keep it at a lower temp and longer.
http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/laundrysoap.htm

It's only about a .01 a load, and the ingredients can be used to make other homemade cleaning products like dish cleaner and stuff. Here's a link for some other recipes. http://www.ecocycle.org/hazwaste/recipes.cfm
I haven't tried everything yet, but what I have is good.

I_Minn said...

I just found your blog yesterday and I am hooked!

I have the soapnuts a try someday. I just made the powdered laundry detergent yesterday and have used it for 5 loads today. I love it! I use the regular cheese grater with the smallest grate and it works fine.

natalie said...

Emily, I haven't ordered yet, so I can't confirm this or give any review of quality, but Mountain Rose Herbs has soap nuts for $6/lb... here... http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/search/search.php?refine=y&keywords=Soap+Nuts

I'm planning on ordering from them when I run out of my current supply.

Emily said...

natalie, That looks like a great price, but I recently found this article.

http://ezinearticles.com/?Alert---Poor-Quality-Soap-Nuts-Found-Being-Sold-in-USA-and-Canadian-Markets&id=2252428

It was written by a CEO of NaturOli, a competing soap nut company, so I'm not sure what to think. It's worth a try, as it is so inexpensive. Let me know if they work well!

liveoncejuicy said...

I make my own laundry soap out of Borax and Fels Naptha. I just grate the soap on a cheese grater. Easy peasy. I've never used a food processer. I'm wondering though, if it wouldn't dissolve right doing laundry by hand unless it's grated finer.

Briar said...

Emily, I just found your blog recently and have to say that I love it.

I wanted to add that Mountain Rose Herbs is one of my all time favorite resources for bulk herbs and essential oils (I make a lot of my own toiletries) and I'd trust their soap nuts as a good buy.

In fact, I think I may have to try some myself. =0)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Briar. I trust Mountain Rose Herbs to be great quality. I make and sell organic bath & body products as well as organic salves and I always go to them with my business. I have never had a problem!

Anonymous said...

I know this is a very late comment, but I just recently found your blog, which by the way, I'm loving! I use Charlie's Soap-http://www.charliesoap.com/products.asp. Their products are natural and last a long time. They ship their items very promptly and the cost is not that bad.

bekah said...

Thanks for the write up. I got a chance to try soap nuts as a winner from Passionate Homemakers soup nut give away, and I liked them. Even though I like them I haven't gone out a bought them since the nuts are cheaper then the already concentrated and I liked the concentrated. (I am afraid I would let the nuts rot somehow if I just threw in the bag of nuts!) But now that you explained how to easily make the concentrate in the crockpot I am going to give it a try. I think it would be especially good for my daughter who has very sensitive skin and has even broken out on some "free and clear" detergents.

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