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Can Soap Nuts Replace Laundry Detergent? We Found Out

Using soap nuts for laundry has been a buzzy topic, but how well do they work? Here's what happened when we put them to the test.

Written by
Morgan Cook

Yes, you read that title correctly: Doing your laundry with nuts is a thing. Soap nuts (or soap berries), to be exact. When you toss them in with a load of clothes, they supposedly act as a natural cleaning agent—one that can also be composted after use. (Zero-waste laundry, FTW!)

Incredibly intrigued by these seemingly magical nuts, Brightly's resident sustainable living expert, Alyssa Barber, tried them out in a new YouTube video. The soap nuts are supposed to last 83 wash loads, and you're said to be able to reuse the same 4 to 5 soap nuts for up to seven loads of laundry. That equates to about 13 cents per load, which Barber says is more cost effective than other eco-friendly laundry products.

But at such a low cost, one has to ask the question: Does using soap nuts for laundry actually work? Here's what she found out.

What Are Soap Nuts, Anyway?

Soap nuts are pretty much exactly what they sound like: nuts that act as soap. "These berry shells apparently contain a natural cleaning agent that's supposed to work like any other standard soap," Barber says.

The soap berries originate from the appropriately-named soap berry tree and contain a natural agent, called saponin, that works as a surfactant. "It claims that it lifts stains and dirt off of your clothing, then it's washed away with water," she adds.

You'll also find surfactants in your standard store-bought detergents, but they're likely chemically based, while the kind found in soap nuts is natural. It's also important to note that these nuts don't technically contain soap, so they won't leave build-up or residue—a major plus for some people.

Can Soap Nuts Replace Laundry Detergent?

Is using soap nuts for laundry effective? According to Barber, kind of. She first experimented with the soap nuts by washing a large comforter, which was covered in "wet dog" smell. After a cycle with the soap nuts, she found that the comforter came out smelling like "nothing."

Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing—the nuts accomplished their most important task, which was to remove the wet dog smell. They just didn't leave the fresh, clean smell that you may be used to with typical laundry detergent. The soap nuts also failed to remove the few makeup stains that tarnished the comforter.

Barber didn't give up there, though. She continued to experiment with a load of clothes, which she found to be a bit more successful, as some of the stains did come out. But even though the clothes were clean, they didn't smell like anything. (Again, this is completely fine and may even be a good thing if you're sensitive to scents.)

The Final Verdict on Using Soap Nuts for Laundry

Soap nuts are a somewhat effective option, but may not suit all your laundry needs. "They wash, they clean, they take away odor, they take away some stains. It's just not a really vigorous wash," says Barber. "You might have to hit it with a stain stick or add some white vinegar as fabric softener."

Barber says she'll likely continue to use them for small or delicate loads, but they probably won't be her go-to for her everyday laundry needs. For that, there are plenty of other eco-friendly products that are sure to impress on all fronts.

Watch the full video for all of Alyssa's thoughts on using soap nuts for laundry: