Cleaning with soapnuts (AKA soap berries) might seem like a new, eco-friendly trend, but the practice has actually been around for centuries. People in Nepal and India as well as Native Americans have known about the amazing cleaning powers of soapnuts for hundreds of years. But if they are new to you, keep reading and be amazed at what this all-natural, sustainable cleaning product can do.

large bowls of soapnuts

What are soapnuts?

Sapindus mukorossi — the Soapnut Tree — is native to India and the Himalayas, and it produces a small, black berry-like fruit that can be harvested between September and February. When the berries are deseeded, and the shells are dried, you can use them to clean anything and everything, but they are most often used as a laundry detergent.

Soapnut shells contain saponin, a natural surfactant. When soapnuts get wet, they absorb water and release the saponins, which circulate in the wash water to remove dirt, oils and particles from clothing. In comparison, commercial laundry detergents mostly contain chemical surfactants, and some have been linked to cancer.

Related: How to decode confusing labels on common household cleaners

The tree itself has some amazing environmental benefits. It has a six-month harvest time each year and can be harvested for almost an entire century, which means one tree can produce a lot of soapnuts. The tree also helps in the fight against climate change, because it converts carbon dioxide into oxygen and cleans the air.

But the berries are even more impressive. The shells are 100 percent biodegradable for easy composting, they are safe for septic systems, naturally hypoallergenic, gentle to sensitive skin and they don’t damage fabrics, skin or surfaces.

Medicinal properties of soapnuts

Ayurvedic medicine is a holistic healing system that has been using soapnuts for thousands of years, for everything from solving skin problems to helping people to quit smoking.

Soapnuts are used to treat eczema and psoriasis, and they have a natural anti-venom property that can remove poison from snake and scorpion bites.

Some research has shown that soapnuts have anti-cancer properties that can prevent tumor cell growth.

Soapnuts have also been used by smokers to help reduce tobacco cravings, and they have also been known to relieve migraines.

soapnuts near flowers and wooden comb

A shampoo alternative

You can ditch shampoo and wash your hair with soapnuts. They are a natural, inexpensive alternative that will leave your hair soft. They are also great for hair growth and preventing hair loss. The vitamins in soapnuts will make your hair shiny and smooth, and if you use them regularly, soapnuts can reduce split ends, tame frizz and detangle.

Soapnuts can fight dandruff, because they are antifungal and antibacterial. They also have insecticidal properties that can kill lice. There is one word of caution when it comes to soapnuts: you want to make sure not to get them in your eyes. Because of those lice-killing properties, they can cause your eyelids to swell.

Sustainable pet care

Liquid soapnut solution isn’t just great for human hair; it can also be used to shampoo your pets. A soapnut detergent works well for washing pet beds and cleaning toys. Because insects hate soapnuts, you can spray your pet with the solution to repel fleas and ticks.

Person holding hand full of dissolving laundry pods and a hand full of soapnuts

An eco-friendly laundry detergent

Soapnuts are the perfect, plant-based substitute to conventional laundry detergents. All you have to do is place four or five soapnuts into a muslin bag and throw it in the wash. They will make your clothes fresh and clean, they don’t leave behind residue and they even remove stains.

You can also reuse them several times, and then compost them when finished, making soapnuts a zero-waste laundry detergent.

Natural skincare

Soapnuts can prevent dry skin, because they are a natural moisturizer. Using them as a face cleanser can brighten your complexion and even out your skin tone. Using soapnuts as a body wash will cool and cleanse your skin without causing damage. This all-natural product can also help fight acne and soothe eczema.

Skin rashes and allergies are no match for soapnuts, because they don’t dry out skin like many store-bought options. They are hypoallergenic and non-toxic, so you can use soapnuts on your baby’s skin — they may even work on diaper rash.

soapnuts near glass jar and bar of soap

A green all-purpose cleaner

You can clean your entire house with soapnuts. Just a couple of mashed berries mixed with water will create a powerful, natural solution that can clean glass, cabinets, kitchen surfaces and dishes. They are odorless, so if you want a fragrance, simply add a few drops of essential oils.

Soapnut liquid soap solution is also great for cleaning electronics, polishing jewelry or even washing your car.

How to make a soapnut cleaning solution

The basic recipe for soapnut cleaning solution is two to three berries for each cup of water. You mash the berries and add them to water before boiling for about half an hour, so they release the saponins. Once the water is cool, strain it through muslin cloth and add essential oils, if you prefer. You can store the solution in a jar or put it in a spray bottle.

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