Just Add Cloth
May 032012
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Have you ever tried soap nuts for your laundering needs? No, no, they are not nuggets of soap. In fact, there really isn’t anything soapy about them, but they do clean your fabrics rather well. I have been intrigued by these odd little fruits for a while and was delighted that Eco Nuts decided to let me try them out for a review as part of my ongoing detergent series.

What are soap nuts? Well, they are a berry like fruit from the Himalayas that contain a higher than usual concentration of saponin. Saponin acts a natural surfactant and reduces the surface tension of water. Basically, it makes water “wetter” which helps it penetrate fabric fibers so the fibers can release dirt and buildup. Saponin may not technically be soap, but it is a component when making soap. In the soap making world, when our ingredients chemically react in the desired way, we call it saponification.

Despite the word nut, these are fruits and do not pose nut allergy risks.

There are several brands of soap nuts out there, but Eco Nuts have a proprietary sorting and handling process and they only put certain sizes and varieties into their brand packages. They hand pack each box in the USA and the consistency of the shape and size of Eco Nuts soap nuts mean these soap nuts generally last more wash cycles than some other brands.

Eco Nuts sent me a travel size sample of their soap nuts to try out!

My box contained up to 10 loads worth of soap nuts, which was about five nuts. It also came with a little canvas bag for placing the nuts in your washing machine. The nuts themselves look like hollow fruits that have been dehydrated. Each one was about half the size of a small apricot.

You place the nuts into the included bag, so that you can keep track of them and also so they don’t leave little pieces in your laundry. I have heard of some people soaking their soap nuts in a jar of water and making a tea out of them, but I didn’t try that. However, I think it would make them last longer.

As per the instructions, you simply toss the bag in your wash and wash on warm or hot. They won’t work as well in a cold wash. I used these for diaper laundry and just put them in with my pre-rinse and left them in through two hot washes and two rinses. Because I use a long and intense wash routine for cloth diapers, I think it wore out my Eco Nuts quicker than normal laundry would. Perhaps, this is where the tea method would be beneficial.

Soap nuts do not have foaming agents and do not create suds or bubbles. The suds you see below are from detergent buildup in my cloth diapers. We have hard water and have to use a lot of detergent, so I was not surprised to have soap residue in our diapers. It was all gone by the time it finished one wash with Eco nuts though.


When your wash is finished, you remove the little nuts pouch from your laundry before putting the clothing in the dryer. Drying them in the dryer will break them down. Then you just let the nuts dry between uses. Since rinse cycles usually use cooler water, they do not activate the nuts as much, so you do not need to remove them for the rinse cycle. I hung them on a cabinet knob in our kitchen near the door to the basement where our washing machine resides. When the nuts are wet in the bag, they smell like prunes, but they do not have any scent when dry.

Simple! So, do they work? Actually I was surprised. I was incredibly skeptical of soap nuts in general. How could some naturally grown and harvested fruit clean my cloth diapers, when I was having a hard enough time getting them clean with real detergent? I fully expected to pull my diapers out of the dryer and smell ammonia or barnyard funk on them. What I really smelled was nothing. Truly nothing. I used them on my son and the diapers worked just fine. There was no telltale odor when urine hit the fabric and he had no reaction on his skin. I was still skeptical that the nuts actually did anything so I washed diapers with nothing at all, and well, the results were definitely not the same. Gross, in fact.

The Eco Nuts worked perfectly for the first three rounds, but became less powerful for the fourth round. However, I need to remind you that my diaper washing routine includes a pre-wash, two hot washes, and two warm rinses. So, it was really more like the seventh round at which they began weakening. I imagine they really can last 10 loads in a smaller machine with a less intense washing routine.

I would tell you how well they worked after the equivalent of eight loads, but my husband put them in the dryer and they disintegrated. He felt bad.

Overall, I really liked Eco Nuts! When you factor in their reusable nature, the price comes out to cheaper per load than commercial laundry detergents. They come in a cardboard box instead of plastic, so they do not create as much waste. Plus, not only are they grey water safe, but you can just toss the nuts into your compost pile when they wear out! Soap nuts are definitely a more eco-friendly way to go as far as laundry is concerned. I plan on buying the large box for myself as soon as I go through my other stock pile of natural detergents. The name is fitting since I am a bit of a laundry nut!

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