Are Soap Nuts the Best Cloth Diaper Detergent?

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Last updated on December 3rd, 2016

soap nuts cloth diapers

A few months or so ago I started using cloth diapers. They worked fine at first and then they started leaking. I was at a loss. I talked to their maker and she suggested changing the detergent. I did that but we still had occasional leaks. I tried vinegar, which worked better than a detergent but I was afraid to use too much or too little. Later, I read that vinegar is not good for diaper covers (I wash covers and diapers together). Finally, I had a breakthrough.   I found something that worked absolutely perfectly. It eliminated the ammonia smell from the urine, it made the cloth diapers fluffy and thus absorbent, and there is no harm to the baby or the environment. What do you think this mystery product is? Soap nuts. Never heard of them? In this post we will talk about soap nuts and how to use them as a natural cloth diaper detergent. By the way, you can use them on all your laundry.

Soap nuts are actually not nuts but dried berries that come from small trees or shrubs, primarily harvested in India. When soap nut shells come in contact with water, they release the saponins which circulate as a natural surfactant (cleansing agent, soap) in the wash water, freeing dirt, grime, and oils from clothing. Crazy, right?

I got some soap nuts a few months ago tried them as a dishwasher detergent. However, they did not work well (the dishes came out greasy), and so I put them aside.

I then decided to try them in the laundry with the diapers, since I was depsarate and nothing else seemed to work. I was skeptical at first, but the soap nuts worked like a charm! According to multiple reviews I read online, soap nuts work in any type of washing machine and in soft or hard water. And I have hard water, which makes any type of washing more challenging.

 

How To Use Soap Nuts on Cloth Diapers

 

I always thought that soap nuts are for people who are willing to forgo certain convenience for the sake of the preserving environment and health. It turned out that it is very easy to use as a cloth diaper detergent. This is what I do:

  1. Do a quick wash and rinse with cold water (cold water does not let stains set in; I read that using baking soda helps for the stains but have not tried that yet);
  2. Put 5 soap nuts in a muslin bag that came with the soap nuts;
  3. Put the bag into the washer;
  4. Set machine to hot-cold cycle and start (most machines have a cold rinse).   Don’t worry about the bag with the soap nuts still being in the washer during the rinse, as saponins are not released in cold water);
  5. Remove the bag when the laundry is done and dry it (I use the same soap nuts 3 times).

That’s it – don’t add bleach or detergents or fabric softeners – none of them are needed.

And the best part is that you do not have to do an extra rinse as you have to with detergents!!!

So it is pretty much the same way you wash cloth diapers with detergent, except that you have to use a bag. You can wash any type of laundry with the bag of soap nuts, just make sure you use a cold rinse.

 

How to Buy Soap Nuts

 

There are about 12 species of soap nut trees. I can’t say for sure which one is better but I read more positive reviews about Sapindus mukorossi, and am going to try them next. Also, Sapindus mukorossi is used in Ayurveda, a system of traditional Hindu medicine. When buying soap nuts, I recommend you look for the following:

  1. Do not buy cheap soap nuts that come from China;
  2. Buy soap nuts certified organic by USDA;
  3. Make sure that they are de-seeded as the seed may stain laundry and add to the weight;

 

Where To Buy Soap Nuts

 

Bubble & Bee Soap Nuts, $9.99 for 5.5 oz

This is where I bought mine. They are the Sapindus Delavayi variety and come from India. Since it was my first purchase of soap nuts, I do not know if they work better or worse than other varietals of soap nuts.

 

Other Places You Might Want to Try Soap Nuts

 

Eco Nuts, $9.99 for 8 oz

They are grown in Nepal and packaged in the US. The variety is Sapindus Mukorossi, which is, according to this source, one of the best. They are sterilized. Apparently, they are the only producer that sterilizes USDA certified soap nuts. Eco Nuts say that it is necessary because the conditions they are harvested in are not sanitary. It is a pretty strong claim. Also, they do not disclose how they sterilize them but assured me that they do not use any harmful chemicals or any chemicals for that matter. At this point, it seems that to me that the sterilization is more of a marketing technique but I can’t say for sure. When I get new information, I will update the post. In the meantime, if you have tried Eco Nuts, please let us know about their performance.

 

NaturOli Soap Nuts, $39.95 for 4 lb

This is a really good price. They are Sapindus Mukorossi, come from India and are processed in the US. The online reviews are 5-stars.

 

Conclusion About Soap Nuts

 

I highly recommend them. There are numerous benefits to the environment and the wallet, and are healthy to boot. My only regret is that I have not tried them sooner. Please let me know what you think and share your experience using soap nuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 Responses

  1. All Natural Katie

    I have tried soap nuts before, but not with the cloth diapers because my natural detergent has been working well so far. I recently tried a Soap Nuts Liquid Laundry Detergent, but didn’t quite feel like it did as good of a job on the 2nd day cloth diapers. Your experience makes me want to try the soap nuts with the cloth diapers.

  2. Liz

    Naturoil Soap Nuts price is for 4 pounds, not ounces 🙂 Thanks for sharing about these, I have been curious for some time about these, glad to know they work so well for you.

  3. Stacy

    I LOVE soap nuts. You can also use soap nuts liquid in place of dishwasher powder! Save the used soap nuts from your laundry and make the liquid as follows: place 20 soap nuts with 6 cups of water in a pot. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for one hour. Let cool. Strain the liquid into empty squirt bottles and store in the refrigerator. Add to the dishwasher as if it was regular liquid dishwasher soap. Add 1/2 of lemon (or a shot glass turned upright and filled with lemon juice) in the top rack to keep your dishes shiny. Also, used soap nuts are compostable!

  4. Elizabeth

    Hi Irina!
    I don’t need to wash diapers (yay!) but in regards to regular laundry, do you need to do the cold water wash and rinse before and use hot/cold setting for the main wash? It just seems like that is A LOT of water usage (especially during this drought time) plus extra electricity for water heating. Is there a simpler method to use with not-quite-so-dirty-as-diapers laundry? Thanks!

    • Irina Webb

      I absolutely agree. I hate using too much water too. And this is what I love about soap nuts – I do not need to do double rinse at the end. Yes – just use the same settings you would with a regular detergent. You can wash your laundry in warm or hot water. Normally all the machines by default offer a cold rinse. And you do not have to do prewash without soap nuts – that’s only for the soiled diapers. If the diapers are only pee (I normally prewash poppy ones manually), I do not do prewash. The important thing to keep in mind is that saponins are not released in cold water. Let me know if this helps.

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Jessica, I’ve heard of soap nuts liquids but I have not tried them. I am not sure if I see a reason to convert nuts to liquid. I like them in dry form.

      • Jenna

        I made my soap nuts into liquid and it has worked well for cold wash for the one week that I’ve used it. I almost never use warm/hot wash and liquid seems to be good for cold. I made homemade liquid and website I found recipe from suggests that homemade liquid lasts only 2 weeks in the fridge.

        • Jo

          Hi Jenna,
          Do you know a natural additive that can extend the shelf life of soap nut liquid more than 2 weeks ?
          Thanks,

  5. Kristin

    Hi, I just wanted to check in and see if the soap nuts are still working for your cloth diapers I plan to use them, but other moms advice against it touting ammonia burns. I just wanted to get at least one success story to keep me going on my plan. I don’t understand why they would use cloth diapers for environmental reasons but then wash them in Tide. Thanks!

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Kristin, I think you should definitely try soap nuts. It worked for us! I can’t guarantee your result because it probably depends on type of water you have and the brand of diapers you use. But I do NOT think you will ruin your diapers. If the diapers become less absorbent after a few months, soak for 5-6 hours in hot water with a few squirts of ECOS Clear dishwashing liquid. They will be better than new. I know I find it ridiculous too that cloth diaper makers recommend Tide to wash their diapers.

  6. Melissa

    I have been using Econuts after a failed attempt at making my own laundry soap which gave me a rash and left our clothes stinky. Our clothes are much softer but my husband’s sweaty shirt still stink terribly. I haven’t figured out if it’s just leftover from the previous soap and they are ruined, or if the Econuts aren’t cleaning well either. I have been using Econuts for cloth diapers for over 3 months. I don’t notice an absorbency issue but my son has a red bumpy rash. His diapers smell neutral after drying but when he pees the diaper smells like amonia. I don’t want to give up on soap nuts so I am trying to check my wash routine (length of wash, temperature, etc.) and hoping it works. I feel so bad for my little guy.

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Melissa: Do you use hemp or bamboo cloth diapers? I feel bad for your little guy too. It sounds like the diapers hold a lot of pee and need to be stripped. You can use dishwashing detergent and vinegar to do so.

  7. Karla

    Hi Irina, I found a recipe for a natural shampoo that uses soap nuts. In your opinion, are soap nuts safe to use on the scalp and hair? Thank you!

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Karla: I believe soap nuts are safe. I know of a shampoo that has soap nuts in the formulation. I tried it. I liked it at first but after 5-6 washes I got soap buildup, the same way I had it when I used bar shampoo. I know that bar shampoos work for some people though. But if bar shampoo did not work for you, soap nuts probably won’t either. Let me know if you tried your recipe. Would love to know what are other ingredients in that recipe and what you thought.

  8. Karla

    I have not tried the recipe yet. I was waiting to see if soap nuts would be safe to use before I purchased the ingredients and made it. The recipe comes from thehippyhomemaker. Below you can read the info on the recipe. Since I have no knowledge on the optional ingredients, I do not plan on using them. But if you have any input on them, please let me know, I would not mind adding any of them if they are beneficial. Once I have used it for a bit I’ll come back and let you know how it worked for me. Thank you again for all your help. I find your blog so helpful. I truly appreciate all the hard work you do.

    Herbal Goddess Soapnuts Shampoo
    by the hippy homemaker

    INGREDIENTS

    2 cups distilled water (I love to replace the water in this recipe with hydrosol, coconut milk, or aloe Vera juice when I have them on hand!)
    5-6 de-seeded whole soap nuts (or 10-12 halves, I have also added soapwort to this before and got a fantastic shampoo! You can either combine the two or you can substitute one for the other if you don’t have soapnuts on hand.)
    1 Tbsp. Marshmallow root (this helps give your shampoo a conditioning “slip” that makes your hair even softer!)
    3 Tbsps. hair healing herbs (I like to use horsetail, oatstraw, and hibiscus, but you could also add chamomile, peppermint, lavender, or even calendula for great healing properties to your hair and scalp!)
    ¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar (I like to infuse mine with herbs that are great for my hair like marshmallow root, horsetail, green tea, etc.)
    ¼ cup aloe vera gel
    1 tsp. Guar gum powder (optional – though this is optional, this gives the shampoo a much more gel like quality so that you don’t use too much during application. This consistency helps me to save more shampoo and therefore money. I also find it’s just easier to use when in the gelatinous state rather than straight liquid.)
    ½ tsp. Citric acid (optional – I add this with the colloidal silver to provide a small amount of preservation.)
    colloidal silver (optional – I add this to all of my hair recipes because it not only helps with hair growth and healing but is a known anti-fungal and can be used in conjunction with citric acid to provide a small amount of preservation. )
    20 drops essential oils (I like to use peppermint sage, grapefruit lavender, or chamomile rose as some of the mixtures that I do. Always research the essential oils that you choose to use in your body care products.)

    DIRECTIONS

    Combine distilled water, soap nuts, and marshmallow root in a small pan. Bring to a boil and turn heat down to simmer for 20 minutes.
    Remove from heat and add any herbs you might be steeping. Leave to steep until the liquid is cool. Strain herbs from the liquid with a mesh strainer or cheese cloth. Stir in citric acid, if using, until dissolved.
    Combine tea liquid with apple cider vinegar, aloe vera juice, and colloidal silver. Using a whisk, whisk in guar gum powder until dissolved into the shampoo and is thickened. If adding essential oils, whisk in now too.

    TO USE: Pour a sufficient amount into your wetted hair and massage into your hair as you would soap shampoos. Let sit in your hair for five minutes, rinse. If needed, you can follow with the apple cider vinegar rinse. NOTE: This shampoo is great on babies head and children’s hair too, but just like castile soap and other soaps, this will sting if it gets into the eyes. Avoid getting it in the eyes!

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Karla: the only comment I have here is that because of so much water in the formulation, bacteria and mold with grow quickly even if you keep it in the refrigerator. So I think colloidal silver or some other preservative is a must here. I have never seen silver in a shampoo. I wonder why. I hope it is not bad for the hair. I would recommend using potassium sorbate, a food grade preservative. But I do not know how much. Please keep me updated. You applaud for trying to make your own shampoo.

  9. Lisa

    I cloth diaper and thought using soap nuts sounded great after reading what you wrote here so I looked it up on the Fluff Love and CD Science Facebook group. Unfortunately everyone on there says it’s not good to use them on cloth diapers because it causes a build up on the diapers which can trap bacteria. The best natural detergent for cloth diapers is said to be Seventh Generation. This website is a great reference: http://www.fluffloveuniversity.com/how-to-wash-cloth-diapers/detergent-index/

    • Irina Webb

      Thanks, Lisa. The problem here is that for cloth diapers petroleum-based detergents work the best. Seventh Generation is not necessarily as natural as they market themselves. ~Irina

  10. Tricia

    Hi! I know this post is old, but I’m still curious 🙂 I have a baby due in 6 weeks and I’m trying to figure all of this out before then. So, my first question is, do you do a wash and rinse without the soap nuts first and THEN do a wash with them in the load? Secondly, it’s been about two years since your post, would you still say they work well?? Thanks!

  11. Amina Abdurahman

    Hi,
    What type of cloth diapers did u use? I have a mixture of natural fibres (hemp and cotton) and lots of micro fibre inserts too. I use soap nut liquid for regular laundry but never tried it for cloth diapers as per popular advices on the net. If u had success with it on synthetic fibres, I’d like to try it because I had enough with commercial detergents not getting them clean enough (ammonia smell)

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