Make Your Own: Natural Laundry Soap
Making your own liquid laundry detergent is as easy as making a pot of tea, and it requires just one ingredient. This is a perfect thing these days, when most of us are spending more time at home, looking for ways to be resourceful.
Say hello to this sustainable, organic, eco-friendly, wallet-friendly and totally natural laundry soap. It actually cleans your clothes and won't cause long-term build-up like DIY powder detergents do.
All you need is water and soap nuts.
Soap nuts are not actually nuts, but berries that grow on trees native to Indian and the Himalayas. They contain saponins, a surfactant substance that, when combined with water, produces a dirt and bacteria fighting soap. These berries have been used by indigenous cultures for thousands of years to clean.
Why we love soap nuts:
- They produce a gentle soap, so they can be used on delicate fabrics, wool and children's garments, along with heavy-duty items like towels and sheets, sweaty work-out clothes and dirty socks. Great for hand-washing and machine-washing alike.
- Leave no residue, and therefore won't clog natural fabric pores like other natural detergents. The lack of harsh chemicals in soap nuts protects from color loss or fiber breakdown. Plus, they won't cause long-term residue build-up in your machine.
- Free from chemicals, toxins, fragrances, etc. common in store-bought laundry soap (even eco versions). They’re also hypoallergenic and low suds, which is ideal for HE and European machines.
- Have a very small carbon footprint, requiring a lot less fossil fuels to ship due to their light weight and small size. And they require no bulky plastic packaging.
- Biodegradable. You can reuse soap nuts several times, and when they're done, toss them in your compost bin or your garden where they become food for soil microbes.
But do soap nuts really work?
They do. Let's be realistic, they don't provide the same bleaching action as harsh chemicals, which are almost always distilled from crude oil. But with a few smart tips, soap nuts can actually rival commercial laundry detergents.
I was skeptical at first. For the first month of using them, I continued to add other laundry detergent because I just didn't trust that the soap nuts would properly clean my family's laundry. We get dirty around here after all. But then came covid-19, and I found myself being surprisingly resourceful around the home, and surprisingly pleased at how well soap nuts work.
1 – Make a liquid soap (find instructions below). You can use whole soap nuts, tying them up in a small cotton bag and throwing them directly into the laundry before washing. But we've had much better results after turning them into a liquid soap. More effective, and also easier to use on a day-to-day basis. Making the liquid soap is incredibly simple, and it will last 50+ loads of laundry.
2 – Pre-treat harsh stains from grease, red wine, tomato sauce, etc. Soap nuts will remove only average stains, like most detergents. Of all the natural stain removers out there, I haven't found any as effective as gall soap.
3 – Don't overfill your machine. Soap nuts need proper circulation and agitation to do their work. Admittedly, I'm guilty of packing my machine to the brim, and usually it turns out fine. But it's worth mentioning that laundry probably gets cleaner when it's not too packed. Also, if you have hard water, you will need a little extra soap nut liquid, as is the case with chemical-based detergents.
4 – Use distilled white vinegar in the rinse or fabric softener compartment. Totally optional, yet results in brighter, softer laundry. Bonus: our All-Purpose Cleaning Spray works perfectly for this!
To make liquid laundry soap, you need:
- 50 grams soap nuts (about 20 whole)
- 1 liter water
Put soap nuts and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 30 min – 1 hour on low heat, stirring a few times to agitate and gently break-up the soap nuts. Cool completely in the pot. Strain through a fine mesh strainer.
Yields 1 liter of concentrated soap.
For each load, use 1-2 Tbsp of liquid soap as you would any other detergent. One batch is good for 35-65 loads of laundry, depending on how much you use per load.
Store in the fridge. It will be fine on the counter for a couple of weeks, but unless you do 50 loads of laundry in 2 weeks, then I recommend keeping in the fridge to extend its shelf life.
Where to find soap nuts?
They're becoming more available now. Check your local health food store, or online if you don't have local shops to support. Usually soap nuts come in big 1 kg bags though.
If you want to try them out, we offer a soap nut bundle that includes 50 grams of soap nuts, a small cotton muslin bag with drawstring and a thick recipe card with our liquid laundry soap recipe on it.