Soapberries (also called soapnuts) are a low-waste and biodegradable alternative to conventional cleaning. In a search to live more sustainably and conscious at home these berries are a holy grail.
Soapberries are the fruit of the Sapindus mukorossi tree – hailing from India and Nepal. The small fruit contains saponin which is essentially the soap in soapnuts – or more accurately an organic compound historically used to make soap!
They are versatile, effective, and most importantly, better for our planet. At the end of their life, they can go right back into Mother Earth – no waste or pollution!
Using soapnuts needs a little time for experimentation before you find the best way to use them. There are a plethora of ways you can use soapnuts, but these are the ones I’ve tried and tested and loved the most.
- Soapnut Concentrate (the base for all your cleaning desires)
- 30g Soapnuts
- 300ml Water
- Essential Oils of choice (I used lavender)
The process for this is simple, and you can do it two ways depending on how much time you have – there isn’t much difference in the result.
Place Soapnuts and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer – for 10-15 minutes – then increase the heat for a gentle boil – not a rolling boil otherwise you’ll lose too much of the liquid. Leave it at a gentle boil for 10-15 minutes, by then the water should have reduced and turned caramel brown. Strain it and let it cool. Et voila! Now you have your Soapnut concentrate.
This method takes a little longer but is great if you don’t want to keep checking up on your low-waste cleaner in the making! Bring the water to a simmer and cover with a lid for 20 minutes, then increase the heat for a gentle boil for a further 20 minutes. Then follow the same steps as the first method.
I think that soapnuts are the kind of thing that works best with experimentation, things like water hardness to where they are from making a difference. I recommend trying them out and exploring how they work best for you.
- Load them up with your laundry
This is the most effortless way I have found to use them and takes less than 5 minutes.
Take 6-8 soapnuts for one load of laundry (or 30 grams) place them in a mesh bag -you can use a small muslin bag or anything similar, I used a mesh grocery bag – cleaned of course. Once you have a little soapnut bag pop it in your next laundry cycle (it works best with warm to hot water. They don’t leave a particularly distinctive smell, so I pair this with a refill fabric conditioner (this is an optional step) or, for a more low-waste alternative a few drops of essential oil of choice. They are also reusable you can reuse one soapnut bag up to 7 times!
- Sneaker Cleaner – an effective, non-abrasive way to clean your sneakers – and shoes.
- 1-2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1-2 tsp Soapnut Concentrate
- A basin or bucket filled with warm water
Essentially, this is a better version of ‘’warm soapy water’’ for sneaker cleaning. It works with anything from knitted sneakers to nubuck leather boots! You can adjust the 1:1 ratio depending on your shoe cleaning needs. With this recipe, I cleaned three pairs of (muddy and snow stained) sneakers and boots.
- Hair Cleanser (alternative to shampoo)
For this, I highly recommend experimenting with a few recipes because I think it has great potential. But for me, it was a little too strong, and my hair felt quite dry after I used it.
I have tried it in two ways:
First, I tried it diluted with aloe vera gel with a 2:3 ratio; 2 parts concentrate with 3 parts aloe vera.
My hair didn’t feel exceptionally clean – by clean, I mean the same way it feels after I had used a shampoo bar or a more conventional shampoo.
Second, I tried the concentrate on its own. Arguably, my hair felt clean.
However, it felt quite dry, so I used a little conditioner. My hair was fine after a day or two, but I think there is a better way to use it as a shampoo, but I have not found it yet!
- All-Purpose Cleaner (anything from showers to countertops)
- 1 Part Soapnut Concentrate
- 2-3 Parts Water (1:3 for every day/gentler use, the less water, the stronger it will be)
- A few drops of Orange Essential Oil* (optional, the amount is up to you but 3 is a good starting point)
That’s it! If you haven’t noticed already, most of these take a small amount of time with little effort. I find that a plethora of sustainable and ‘’eco-friendly’’ alternatives can be incredibly time-consuming and take a lot of effort. Not that that is a bad thing, however I think it makes conscious and sustainable living a bit easier.
*Orange essential oil is favourable for cleaning, especially for kitchen and bathroom surfaces.