• Soap Nuts & Soap Making

To make soap or grow soap? That is the question.

Soap making within ancient civilizations (primarily Roman, Greek, Babylonian and Egyptian) can be traced to Biblical ages (centuries B.C.). Animal fats, tallow, vegetable oils, clays, ashes, salts and numerous ingredients were commonly used. For this article, the different types of soaps are not relevant to soap nuts. Only the fact that they were man-made is very significant.

The soaps used by most of mankind throughout history were not picked from a tree, as are soap berries. Hence, soap producing berries are exceptionally unique. Just the idea of a fruit producing soap is tough to grasp. However, once embraced it becomes very intriguing. The level of excitement in people continually amazes me once they begin to see all the possibilities soap nuts offer us.

Soap was originally produced in large part as a medicinal product. Centuries later it became recognized as a cleanser. The early ancient Romans used olive oil for personal hygiene – not soap. A mixture of olive oil and sand was applied and scraped off in order to cleanse and exfoliate the body. Ancient Greeks also used exfoliation by other means as their primary method of cleansing and maintaining personal hygiene. At some point during the height of the Great Roman Empire soap (Latin: sapo) became widely recognized as a personal cleaning product. A soap making facility and soap bars of man-made soap were uncovered in the ruins of Pompeii. Soap nuts were not in the picture – at all.

There is little evidence that any form of soap was used in cleaning fabrics during ancient times. Water and agitation were the primary means of washing laundry. I’m certain that we’ll never go back to water and rocks for doing laundry, but this indicates just how little we know about how to clean fabrics properly – even today. A surfactant (such as soap nuts or any soap) would have simply made laundry day a little easier.

Sadly, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the importance of personal hygiene took a major dive throughout the lands ruled by the Empire. It is suspected that this decline in personal hygiene resulted in many of the major plagues in Europe during the Middle Ages. It was man’s greed that led to this decline.

During the centuries after the fall, European soap making began to really take off. It began being produced at commercial levels. In the 1600s, English King James I granted the exclusive rights to a single manufacturer in exchange for huge annual payments. It was even taxed and essentially became a luxury item. Soap was not readily available to the average consumer due to its high cost.

Bottom line: Man-made soap has been a major moneymaker for ages. Fortunes were made then – and still are still being made today. For all of Europe and the new western hemisphere the stage was set. There was no incentive for businesses to look for a natural soap – particularly something like soap nuts which abundantly grows on trees. Many powerful people had a great thing going. People were getting rich, and nobody wanted to change a thing – with the exception of making the businesses even more profitable via producing cheaper commercial soaps, detergents and cleaners.

Soaps, as we know them today, did not appear until around the early 1800s – not far off from when P & G first opened their doors. (Old-fashioned, glycerin-rich soap is nothing like what comes out of the factories today. Ask any true soap maker sometime.) For a great article about what man did with soap to trick us, visit: http://www.naturoli.com/mission/powermarketing.html

Does anyone find it ironic that one of the earliest known sources of a cleansing medium was naturally growing on a tree (olives), and today we are discovering another totally natural cleansing medium (soap nuts) growing on trees – over 2,000 years later?

Thankfully, a huge grassroots movement – the GREEN movement – emerged in this century and has placed an enormous emphasis on safe, chemical-free alternatives to today’s chemical laden products. In many ways the re-discovery of soap nuts is a direct result of this newfound emphasis and energy. Soap nuts are, as the “Green Dot Award” jury put it,  “…possibly the most significant green innovation in history for everyday cleaning needs…” Soap nuts will change what and how we think about soap. And also what we DO when it comes to cleaning.

Important note: In no way is this article to cast a shadow on today’s handmade soap making – quite the contrary. Real soap making is an art and a science. Soap-makers are a very special, wonderful breed that cares about healthy, nutrient rich formulations. Some small businesses and people at home are making genuinely fabulous, luxurious soaps – nothing whatsoever like today’s commercial soaps. At NaturOli we still hand pour pure, glycerin-rich soap bars and produce amazingly effective, moisturizing, chemical-free liquid soaps and washes. Most true soap-makers I know embrace soap nuts and saponin. Soap nuts make for another wonderful ingredient that can be used in soap making, plus they are appreciated for their myriad of other uses. Soap nuts will never replace true, pure, chemical-free soaps. Such soaps are a must-try if you have never experienced the quality and richness of them.

25 replies
  1. Ben
    Ben says:

    I appreciate your site. Full of information, and you stop when you come to something you don’t know and admit it. I get soapberries from a local place where I live, but I was wondering if there was a way to make bar soap out of them. From what I understand, I could use glycerine to make my own soap, but at that point, it’s it mostly glycerine? Or is it possible to cook the soapberries and make a glycerine from the berries themselves?

    Thanks, Ben. To make a traditional glycerin-rich soap bar, you need to stick with traditional saponification methods using oils and salts. However, think of soap nuts as an ingredient for your handmade soaps. Of which, it is superb as one. You can enhance your soaps with a soap nuts liquid and even powder to create very unique soap bars. I use such a natural soap bar with soap nuts that is exfoliating and love it. I have used a variant (made for hair) and found it very effective at conditioning both my hair and scalp. Very moisturizing yet very cleansing. Nice. Be creative. Beyond that, you can make a pure saponin cleaning liquid by just boiling the soap nuts. The soap berry is an all-natural surfactant, hence its natural cleaning properties. Many soap makers have found soap nuts to be an exceptional new ingredient to use in their recipes. Have fun!

  2. Steven
    Steven says:

    This site is a manifesto! It’s about far more than soapnuts. This is about business, how we think, and the whole world we live (survive) in! You make some heavy and prestigious points! You got me thinking about many things. Consider me a new and loyal reader. I’d love to hear your views on more issues! It’s easy to feel your passion. I’m glad I found you!

  3. Yaro
    Yaro says:

    Hey, Just wanted to let you know that your content regarding soap nuts, soap making and business in general, and industry and marketing is very impressive. Your writings are intriguing. You share exceptional insight. I’ve become a big fan.

  4. marie
    marie says:

    I should have taken pictures! All my life my skin broke out (48) and no amount of chemicals would help; just made it worse. Now diabetic, my breakouts end up as sores and some on the shoulders/back don’t go away. Had them for 5 months, seriously, nothing helped. Now I say HAD because I started dousing them after showers this past 3 days and most are gone!! I slightly boil the soapnuts (2ea) for 1/2hr, leave the bag to steep for a day. No reactions or weird twitches so far.

  5. Moira Stole
    Moira Stole says:

    This post is really the best on how to use soap nuts. I concur with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your future updates.

  6. Iva
    Iva says:

    Nice article! I’m a natural soapmaker, and agree with your conclusions. Phenomenal clarity in your writing btw. Much success to you!

  7. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    This is the perfect website for any person who wants to find out more about soap and soap nuts. You certainly put a new spin on a lot of things. Excellent!

  8. Nicholae
    Nicholae says:

    I kick myself in the butt every time I see a site as good as this. I should stop bludging around and start working on mine own. 😉 I’m inspired by what you have done. With soap nuts laundry detergent no less. Very, very, very impressive.

  9. a soaper
    a soaper says:

    Merely want to say your article is brilliant. Soap nuts and soap making… Funny how the dots connect. The clearness in your post impressive. Thanks a million and please keep up the delightful work.

  10. Darnell
    Darnell says:

    I too love to blog. This is great! Soap nuts are so fascinating. I’ve been using soap nuts liquid and powder in some of my natural soaps that I make myself. They are coming out wonderful. I believe my soap nut soap bars are the nicest I’ve made yet. Extremely rich and nourishing. Love them!

  11. Darrel
    Darrel says:

    Thanks-a-mundo for your blog. Really looking forward to read more. I make soap at home and just heard about organic soap berries. This is really cool stuff. You make a lot of sense. Now I’m excited to use them in my next batch!

  12. A Visitor
    A Visitor says:

    I’ve been reading your weblog and i like the content of it very much! I’m leaning a lot about soap berries and love using them. 🙂 informative blog! I could’nt be more impressed.

  13. reed
    reed says:

    This is among the best blogs discussing soap nuts Ive ever studied. Youve got some skill here, man. Youre definitely on my list of best bloggers. Please keep it up for the internet needs someone like you spreading the word. Most people still don’t know what soap nuts are and can do.

  14. emma
    emma says:

    I can see that you are an expert at your field! I am launching a “natural soap” site soon, and your information will be very handy for me. Thanks for all your help to understand soap nuts better. With kind wishes!

  15. D. Wernick
    D. Wernick says:

    I’m a soap maker by trade and hobby. Am learning about soap nuts and I’m fascinated. I really like and appreciate your post. Much obliged.

  16. Beatrice
    Beatrice says:

    I am new at soapmaking…….soap nuts are sooooo interesting…..how do I go about adding them to my soap recipe ? Can anyone tell me. Can I superfat with it……remember I am new at this.


    Hi Beatrice! The best advise I can give you is to directly call NaturOli. They make MANY natural soap bars using soap nuts in many ways. I love ’em! They have cleansing bars, shampoo bars, even soap bars for pets! You can call 1-877-Oli-Life toll free. Super nice folks. Ask for Jess or Donna (both are master soap makers). Tell them I sent ya’!

  17. Alexis
    Alexis says:

    I have a small soap and bath bomb business, and I’m always looking for biodegradable ingredients. I’m trying to develop a special bath bomb or bath product that will take the place of a bubble bath. I don’t know much about soap nuts, and am wanting to know if they actually “sud”… I’m not looking for the usual, fluffy bubbles, as I know that is only gotten through using harsh, non-biodegradable chemicals. Thanks so much, this whole site is just a wealth of information!

    Thank you Alexis!

    Absolutely they will suds up. And not overly like the chemical “sudsing” ingredients. Most commercial products have a plethora of such ingredients – that are specifically for the “suds” show. There is an article here that I wrote specifically on “The Truth About Suds”. It’s rather fascination… We are sooo brainwashed! Saponin is Mother Nature’s non-toxic natural alternative to SLS and all the other sulfates. It sound like a great fit for what you are doing. I’d recommend experimenting with the raw berries, powder and NaturOli’s EXTREME 18X also. You can buy all in bulk at NaturOli’s Warehouse. fyi: The powder actually “fizzes” on its own a little – and you can of course increase that effect with non-toxic additives.

    I am leaving your email and web site posted. I ONLY do that when I like the business. Maybe I can send some new folks your way! You can always write me directly at [email protected]. Good luck!

  18. SuperK
    SuperK says:

    What Biblical ages?? You are misguiding the people. Soapnut are used since more than 10,000 years in India. Its detailed uses are also documented in valuable ancient scripts.

    Hi, Please be aware that “biblical ages” is used in a very broad sense. It basically just means VERY, VERY long ago. Note that it doesn’t even reference WHICH bible (and there are many as you surely know). In all my research about soap berries, it’s difficult to pin down an oldest reference. We were probably all a lot hairier, and hadn’t had fire for long when SOMEONE first discovered them. Thanks for your input!!!! Please feel free to share anything that documents age. I’d love it – and certainly cite you as the source!

  19. jason w.
    jason w. says:

    I have been using soap nuts for some time now and have noted that many people over complicate the use of them. A man of the folks I do business with has asked me about using soap nuts for shaving cream, wanting some kind of recipe.

    So here goes make a strong soap nuts liquid. (I use 4 berries to a cup of water. Then buy an old school shaving brush the kind used with mug shaving soap, put a small amount of the liquid in a mug and froth it in to a creamy foam then shave with it. Using this gives me the best shave I have had in years not to mention how much it softens my skin and prevents razor burn. If you have a problem with pimples, look for them to clear up.

    Great input, Jason! Thanks!

  20. Atiya
    Atiya says:

    I am from India. I have been using soapnut for a very long time. I remember seeing my mother cleaning her gold/silver ornaments with it. Soapnut is so so very versatile. I use it to wash my baby’s feeding bottles. I have even made a facewash out of it. I clean my toilet/bathroom with it. Its such a gift to us!


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  1. Soap Nuts says:

    Soap Nuts And Soap Making: Beside NaturOli we still pour pure glycerin soap, and rich produce surprisingly effective, moisturizing, chemical-free liquid soaps and washes. Most saponin true soap makers embrace soap nuts to make wonderful soaps. I use as a natural soap and exfoliating soap with nuts and love it. I have used a variant (designed for hair) and found it very effective, both conditioned my hair and scalp. Very, very moisturizing cleansing. Nice!

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