Soap Nuts: An Alternative to Toxic Soaps and Detergents

Soap Nuts: An Alternative to Toxic Soaps and Detergents

Astuti Khan
Senior Sourcing Officer (Myntra Fashion Brands)
Myntra Jabong Pvt. Ltd.
Dept. of Fashion Technology,
National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT)


Soap nuts have been a craze in the eco-friendly world for quite some time now, and it’s not really surprising. Considering they are 100% organic, natural alternatives for washing (yourself and your stuff!) and have some amazing benefits, they’re a strong competition to the conventional detergents out there. If you don’t really know much about them, we’re here to tell you exactly what these berries can do!

soap nuts
Figure 1: Soap nuts

What are Soap nuts?
Soap nuts essentially are not really nuts, but berries that grow on Sapindus Mukorossi tree, found in India and Nepal. These berries have a cleaning agent called saponin on their outer shells. It works as a surfactant that helps target stains and dirt from your clothes and wash them away. Other detergents contain chemical surfactants, some of which have been proven to be carcinogenic and toxic. Soapnuts instead provide a natural, harmless alternative.

How can they be used?
They can be used for a variety of things, be it for doing laundry, taking a bath or even dishwashing.

Soap nuts can be put in a muslin or thin cloth bag and tossed into the washing machine along with your dirty clothes. The agitation helps saponin come off the shells and start washing. It is odorless and gentle in action. Also, it does not discharge any color, so you’re all sorted!

cloth washed by soap nuts
Figure 2: Cloth washed by soap nuts

When dealing with tough stains or especially stinky clothes, soap nuts might need to be used in hot washes as that’ll intensify the process and help clean heavily soiled clothes. But we all know that hot washes are bad, bad, bad for our clothes and the environment. A significant amount of energy that goes into doing laundry is especially needed for heating water. Also, this energy comes from power plants that work largely with fossil fuels and other non renewable resources. During this whole cycle too, numerous byproducts are released into the atmosphere. You don’t really need hot water, you just need a cleaning agent, water and agitation. So, the alternative for this would be to have a normal wash with a side of bicarbonate soda for whites or white vinegar to target stains.

Best way out would be to make a concentrated soap nut cleansing liquid, and store it for regular use. Just add a couple of berries in boiling water. Allow them to boil for some time as the water reduces. After 15-20 minutes of this, take it off the heat and let it cool. The strained liquid can be stored in a jar or bottle.

Now here’s the best part:

  • For all your whites, add some bicarbonate soda along with this solution.
  • For your delicates and regular laundry, use the solution as it is.
  • For tough stains, rub some lemon juice over the stain before tossing it in the wash or use with white vinegar.
  • For dishwashing, the solution is more than enough, but vinegar can always be used for additional cleansing.
  • For bathing, add an essential oil of your choice to the solution. It can be used as a body wash as well as a shampoo! Apple cider vinegar can be used as a hair softener after washing (awesome for acne prone skin!)
  • For an all purpose cleaning liquid, dilute the solution, store in a spray bottle and you’re good to go.

There you have it! And guess what? The same nuts can be reused 3-4 more times to create a cleaning liquid, before they need to be disposed of, a.k.a composted! Just think about how far a jar of these precious little nuts will take you!

Soooooo many:

  1. These help eliminate the use of loads of toxic chemicals that are a havoc to both your body and the environment.
  2. They are hypoallergenic, so no skin irritations or allergies (especially useful for people with sensitive skin)
  3. Versatile and flexible with its usage
  4. Easy to use, by itself or as a cleaning solution
  5. Helps save energy and water as it can get rinsed off easily
  6. Does not form scum with hard water
  7. Big tick for being a sustainable product, as it is a renewable resource
  8. Soap nuts are biodegradable, so they can put in the green bin, or turned into compost or just thrown out into your garden or yard to wither away


  1. May need to be used in a hot wash for heavy cleaning, if you don’t want to opt for additives like vinegar and bicarbonate soda
  2. You might face some difficulty in finding a good seller with good, authentic products at a reasonable price.
  3. These basically sound like reasons not to try soap nuts instead of real cons, no?
soap nut plant
Figure 3: Soap nut plant

Some cool facts!

  • Soap nut trees are mainly found in India and Nepal, they’re grown on the Himalayas!
  • The tree takes over 9 years to start producing berries, but after that they continue to do so for almost a century!
  • Their harvesting period is of 6 months, from September to February. So, the soap nut supply is literally there for half a year, every year.
  • These trees are good at turning CO2 to O2, so apart from the super cool soap nuts you get, they also help in cleaning the air!
  • Soap nuts are 100% biodegradable, so you can just throw them out in your garden when you’re done and nature will do the rest of the job for you!



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