• Laundry Use: The Wash Bag Method

Let’s get to the age-old, traditional method of soap nuts (soapberries) laundry washing. That is, using the dried soapberries in a wash bag. It is extremely simple, but the most difficult method to wrap our brain around. It is simply such a different and unique way to wash laundry. Never use soap nuts without a wash bag. That would be very wasteful, plus you would likely get bits and pieces of the soap nuts in your laundry. Do not put soap nuts into the detergent compartments (either loose or in a wash bag). Doing so will not permit the agitation that helps the soap nuts release their saponin – their all-important active ingredient.

With traditional soap nuts wash bag usage, forget about your washing machine’s compartments entirely. Put five or six soap nuts (approximately a half an ounce) into a muslin or cotton wash bag. Tie it closed and simply toss the wash bag right in with your laundry. Period. That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether your machine is standard, HE, front-loading, top-loading or whatever. All we want to do is get the wash bag to be “washed” right along with the rest of your laundry.

NOTE: Be sure that the soap nuts do not contain seeds. (You can tell very easily if they do. The seeds are large, like a seed in a cherry. There are some soap nuts being sold on the market that are not de-seeded. The seeds are big, very hard and black as coal. They have no cleaning benefits at all, and can potentially leave spots on your laundry. This is not to mention that since you purchase soap nuts by weight, the seed will weigh about as much as the shell (the part that produces the saponin). Beware of very cheap prices.

Certain things are necessary to understand how to use soap nuts traditionally and to achieve the best results from them. Some basic points:
1) The dried soap nuts must become saturated with water. The dried fruit will become softer when it is releasing saponin at a desirable rate.
2) Heat is a catalyst that can be used effectively to more quickly soften the soap nuts and facilitate a faster release of the saponin.
3) Good water flow in and around the soap nuts and laundry, plus agitation are key factors to effective and ongoing release of saponin throughout the wash. Overstuffed laundry loads will not produce desirable results.
4) Cold water merely reduces the degree to which the saponin is released. There is no need to remove the soap nuts during the commonly cold rinse cycle. Saponin is so benign that a little in the rinse cycle has no negative effect whatsoever.

The traditional method of soap nut usage is the most economical method of use. Soap nuts’ cost per load is far less than most commercial detergents – particularly the so-called “natural” laundry soaps. Plus you will need no fabric softener or dryer sheets anymore. You will typically get around five loads per half an ounce of soap nuts. When washing and rinsing in cold water or when using an HE washer, you can often extend that to 6-7 loads. Tip: If you choose to, you can remove the wash bag prior to the rinse cycle and that will also extend the useful life of the soap nuts. This is not necessary at all. It may simply get you an extra wash or two per soap nuts wash bag.

If using a cold-water wash cycle, it is best to soak the bag of soap nuts in a cup of warm water first. Make a soap nut “tea” so to speak. That will help to stimulate the release of saponin from the soapberries. Then pour the cup of liquid and the bag right into the machine, add your laundry and start washing. If you have a pre-wash cycle, that’s fine. It won’t make a difference. Many people do not do take this extra step, and get great results. Water hardness and the exact water temperature are other variables. One person’s cold can be many degrees different than another’s. Softer water will allow the soap nuts to begin working more quickly, too. Hence, it is best to simply experiment to determine what works best for you.

Overstuffed laundry loads is the #1 reason for less than desirable results - regardless of detergent type.

Over-stuffing laundry loads is the #1 reason for "less than desirable" wash results - regardless of detergent type.

Be certain not to over-stuff your loads. If water is not flowing adequately through the fabrics, no detergent of any kind will work well. You should always be able to see your laundry intermixing and moving about. If nothing appears to be moving about freely, then your  laundry load is packed too tightly. Overly packed loads may save water, but at the price of having laundry that has not been properly cleaned.

Once you begin using soap nuts you will quickly understand just how simple they are to use. I feel that much of what I write is not because we need to learn so much about how to use them, but rather to explain the many things that we have come to believe about doing laundry that are just plain wrong. Given the fundamentals above, you would figure most of this out for yourself through trial and error. However, I hope that to help shorten your learning curve, bring clarity to certain issues about using soap nuts, and minimize any confusion that occurs during the course of changing our ways of doing laundry.

Through the course of business I meet many people in the laundry business. As one professional specialty laundry cleaner of many years put it, “Most people shouldn’t do their own laundry.” He stated that there are just too many things that most people do not fully understand about what actually causes the proper cleaning of their laundry. That’s very interesting, don’t you think?

We learn more about soap nuts and saponin every single day. The list of benefits that the soap nut offers us and our environment gets longer all the time. It is ultimately my goal to move on to addressing all these wonderful benefits and the many other soap nuts uses. Mother Nature handed us a remarkable gift when that first soapberry tree took root. I look forward to sharing all I have learned from soap nuts. They will change our lives forever.

14 replies
  1. loving the green life
    loving the green life says:

    this is the best post i’ve found about how to use soap nuts correctly. it’s so different using soapnuts that it can be confusing. thanks the clarity in your writing. you covered all my main questions and i’ve only read a few articles so far.

  2. fun with soap nuts
    fun with soap nuts says:

    This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting reviews about soap nuts. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work.

  3. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    How to use soap nuts makes much better sense now. I’m getting better results from my soap nuts than ever. Exceptionally good info. Thanks!

  4. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    Very helpful article! Hopefully the soap nuts pro can help me a bit more:

    1) If the soap nuts are not softer to the touch from the pre-soak, are they still ready to use and releasing saponin sufficiently? I pre-soak my laundry in warm water with the soap nuts added for about 15 mins prior to running the wash cycle, but at the end of those 15 mins the soap nuts are still hard to the touch. My warm water cycle is only about 90 degrees, so perhaps that is why.

    Should I change anything? Let the soap nuts soak longer to soften them up or is that not necessary?

    Hi Matthew,

    Glad to help. You actually shouldn’t need to pre-soak them that long… I don’t know where you got your soap nuts, and there are very significant differences. Be sure that they do NOT have seeds. “Whole” soap nuts with seeds will tend to stay hard because they don’t allow good water flow. Often the brands with seeds are also trifoliatus (regardless of what they STATE they are. i.e. Mountain Rose still won’t get that issue corrected.) Trifoliatus are, by nature, harder and drier. I will usually use trifoliatus only for making powder or liquid. Stick with mukorossi for best results when raw and used in the wash bag method.

    Mukorossi should become softer (more pliable) easily within 15 minutes. If there is a seed in it, nothing softens the seeds. They are like little rocks. You don’t want to use those. They cause spots.

    Water temperature is actually not a big deal either way. Once moistened the soap nuts will work in cold to hot. I wash in cold all the time with no difference in effectiveness.

    Has this helped a little????

  5. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Thank you for posting this website and all your articles. I appreciate honesty! This website is truly all a consumer needs to read to understand the specifics on what to buy and how to use it. I am so thankful I found this site before I bought and used my first batch of soap nuts. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    The “thank you” is for YOU, Lisa! Am just glad we can help! I’ve been seeing some incredibly hyped-up stuff online lately. Good for you for having the smarts to do your homework! We’re always here to help!
    – Chris / SoapNuts.Pro

  6. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    If I’m doing several consecutive loads of laundry, should I allow the soap nuts to dry between loads? I’ve been soaking the nuts to soften them in hot water, and then using a cold water wash cycle. Thanks for posting all of this wonderful information on your site! Very much appreciated 🙂

    Hi Shannon!
    Just leave them wet. Just allow them to dry out between washing sessions. It’s not a major deal one way or the other. By presoaking them it simply helps them to start releasing saponin faster. It’s mainly a matter of the machine and cycles used as to whether a presoak matters. I usually use a presoak cycle, so I just toss them in (wet or dry). If you do a “quick wash”, presoaking would be good. Make sense? Thanks for the compliment! Glad to be of help. Sorry to take so long to get back to you. (I somehow overlooked your comment.)

  7. Esther
    Esther says:

    I’m new to using soapnuts in my laundry and am wondering how I will know it’s time to use fresh ones.

    It’s easy, Esther. Firstly, when squished about in hand you’ll notice a significant decrease in the lather being produced. Also the soap nuts will noticeably lose their color and become grey. After 5-6 normal loads they will start losing their effectiveness in the washer. Do read Part 3 of “Beyond Laundry” for it discusses making liquid from the otherwise spent shells and optimizing their usefulness. There’s still lots of saponin that can be extracted from them. Simply put those used ones aside. It takes “cooking” them up to get ALL the remaining saponin out. I hope this helps a bit!

  8. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    I use Eco nuts brand specifically at the moment, I ALWAYS ONLY do cold water wash throug the entire cycle. I’m pretty new to soap nuts, the first brand I tried were dark,little bits and sticky. I didn’t like them. Eco nuts are more efficient and nice. I may try NaturOli some day as well. Anyways because of me using cold water only through the whole cycle I used Eco nuts suggestion of the soaked soap nuts in muslin bag in hot water for 10 minutes. They suggest 10 minutes. My worry is the water is clear but when I squeeze them it’s soapy should it be brown? The other brand turned the water brown so it made me feel like something was going on. My clothes always smell good and have a mild soapnut smell.

    Hi Sharon! I’m a bit confused by your comments, but will take a stab at it. There should be color to the water after soaking, but it is relative to the darkness of the berries. Very newly harvested berries are yellowish and the saponin is light in color. They darken with time. Eco Nuts and NaturOli are good brands, but the soap nuts will appear different depending upon both the year’s harvest and their age. There are A TON of cheap off brands these days. Avoid them. It’s tough to say what they are. I’ve been amazed at the low quality I’ve seen this past year. Avoid any Chinese berries (I don’t trust any of them). Get verification of USDA organic. Don’t believe that organic in the name or description actually means CERTIFIED. More often than not, it doesn’t mean anything. Lastly, order by weight. Nobody can predict your results for you. I think you’ve got a sense of what’s working and what’s not – trust your OWN judgement. You’ll do fine!


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