Natural Surfactants - Soapnuts

Welcome to the final installment in this mini-series on natural surfactants. Today, we'll look at my most recent acquaintance: Soapnuts (also called soap berries).

These amazing little fruits can gently wash your hair and skin, and even do your laundry!

Soapnuts: Dissecting the Name

Soapnuts (INCI: Sapindus Mukorossi) grow on trees from the botanical family known as Sapindacceae (among which lychee is also a member). 

The genus – Sapindus – actually gives us the first half of the INCI name. Breaking this name down even further explains both the main characteristic of the plant as well as its native country:

sapo = soap and indicus = of India

So, Soap of India. 

(Isn't it cool when an INCI name makes enough sense to where you have a fighting chance of remembering it?)
To do a load of laundry, put 5-6 soapnuts into a small cotton bag, close and toss it in the washing machine. It's that simple. This little bag was even included with the soapnuts.

Dissecting the Fruit

A soapnut is a small, leathery-skinned fruit that provides an all-natural, ready-made soap from its pulp. All it requires is the addition of water and a bit of agitation to create soapsuds and cleansing action.

Compared to soapwort (the other surfactant in this mini-series) with its 20% saponin content, soapnuts weigh in with a 15% saponin content.

Household and Medicinal Use

Soapnuts have been used for cleaning for hundreds of years by natives to Asia as well as North America. They've also found other uses throughout their long history of use.

Their beneficial qualities to the skin have made them a favorite for ayurvedic treatment of psoriasis and eczema. 

The insecticidal properties of soapnuts have also made them a favored remedy for head lice. (I haven't tried any of these things – yet)

Doing Laundry

My main experience with soapnuts to date has been in the laundry room, where their efficiency has been convincing enough for me to permanently drop laundry detergent from the shopping list. 

They can handle everything from delicate silks to jeans, towels and sheets – even my dishrags come out clean.

Soapnut Laundry Bonuses

  • Soapnuts seem to have some sort of built-in, natural fabric softener. Everything comes out of the wash soft and lovely and stays that way (even if you line dry). 
  • They are incredibly inexpensive. A one-kilo bag (enough to last at least a year) costs approx. Dkk 150,- (that's £17,5 – $28 – or €20) 
  • They are 100% environmentally friendly 
  • Washing with soapnuts is ideal for people with allergies or sensitive skin 

Soapnut Laundry Drawbacks

  • Although they will clean almost everything, soapnuts are not efficient (grease or blood) stain removers 
  • There is no built-in 'whitening' action (which would actually be a bit weird, but in a laundry setting, it's worth mentioning) 
  • The smell of soapnuts is 'vinegar-like'. This is, however, easily remedied by adding 5-6 drops of lavender essential oil directly on the little soapnut bag right before you put it in the washing machine. Voilá: instant lavender-fresh laundry! 

Wash your Hair With Soapnuts

In this Discount Solution article, there is a description of how to make your own soapnut hair cleanser.

Skin Care with Soapnuts

We'll be getting into skincare with soapnuts in future posts. I have a few projects ideas lined up on my to do list.

Where To Find Soapnuts

I just mentioned soapnuts at my local health food store here in Denmark and they ordered some for me (spørg efter vaskenødder). 

The Other Articles in This Mini-Series

Natural Surfactants: About Saponins

Natural Surfactants: Soapwort