Soaproot vs Soapnut Hair Cleanser - Which is Best?

Here's my hair (and a slice of the phone that photographed it). It feels fresh, clean and – if I do say so myself – has a pretty healthy-looking shine to it.

My shampoo has been standing on the shelf for the past 3 months – untouched.

In the name of science (and my insatiable curiosity), I've been testing alternative hair-cleansing methods.

Some people call this going 'no poo'.

I don't.

I call it testing alternative hair-cleansing methods – I'm funny that way.

Regardless of the term, this exercise has been both enlightening and provided some surprising results – almost all positive.

So positive that repeat batches have been made. Several times.

Below are my notes on how decoctions of soaproot and soapnut have functioned as hair cleansers on my (fine, straight) hair for the past 3 months. At the bottom of the post you'll find links to learn how to make your own.

LisaLise Soapnut and Soaproot Hair & Scalp Cleansing Notes

Squeak Test

Both of these cleansers do pass the squeak test, but - depending on dose - you can expect a slightly different 'squeak' than what you get with a shampoo. The hair is clean enough to squeak, but doesn't squeak as readily (or loudly?) as it does after using shampoo. The best way I can describe it: the hair feels clean, but not stripped.

Dosage is Everything 

Dosage is something that has to be experimented with. I experimented with different amounts and leave-on time throughout the test period. The highest dose and leave-on time I tried was drenching my scalp with soapnut liquid (probably about 4 tablespoons) and letting it sit longer about 10 minutes. The resulting squeak test was the same as if I had used shampoo. And my hair still didn't feel stripped.

For everyday use (on my short hair), the dose was about a tablespoon of liquid per application, letting it sit for about 2 minutes before massaging the scalp, then rinsing out. This gave quite satisfactory results.

Pre-shampoo Coconut Oil Removing Ability

With a pre-shampoo coconut oil treatment applied, both decoctions were tested for oil-removing ability using an 'apply, rub around, then rinse immediately' method:
Soaproot  failed. Even after 5 applications, there was no (squeak) joy to be had.
Soapnut  did manage to pass a squeak test, but it took a total of 4 applications.

Smell My Hair

Even though 'smell my hair' isn't the kind of thing one normally says to another, it has been among my regularly used phrases during this test period. Friends and family have all been asked for opinions, and the reactions have all been surprisingly neutral.

My husband has been particularly hounded for feedback – especially after using (pungent and vinegary) soapnut. He has willingly subjected his nose to my wet, semi-dry, and dry scalp many times. His feedback has – as always – been completely honest and quite valuable. His most common answer – even after sniffing a wet, freshly soapnut-cleansed scalp – "doesn't smell like anything". His oddest answer was "smells like cinnamon" (I'm still trying to figure that one out).

Neither soaproot nor soapnut scent seems to linger in the hair/scalp.

Towel Talk

Having used soapnuts for laundry and experiencing what it can do to whites, I chose less-than-white towels during this soapnut/soaproot hair cleansing experiment. Despite close inspection, there has been no visible staining of any kind. Mind you, this has been a 3 month test period while the soapnut laundry thing lasted a year, so it might be too soon to pass final judgement.

How Often

With my regular shampoo, I'm an 'every-other-day' gal, so this experiment started with every other day application. After about 2 weeks I switched to every day use. Both worked for me. Despite soaproot failing the pre-shampoo coconut oil test, there was no noticeable difference in how my hair or scalp felt between the 2 when used on a regular basis.

The Overall Winner

Truth be told, both of these decoctions are winners. With its ability to wash coconut oil out of the hair, soapnut appears to have more cleansing power than soaproot. Soapnut has a mellower and more nose-friendly scent. However, since the product is applied to wet hair and doesn't really come near the nose, the scent factor seems a bit of a non-issue. Overall, it comes down to personal preference. I recommend giving both a try. Maybe you'll find it just as difficult as I do to choose an absolute favorite.

Want To Try? Start Here

Make your own SoapRoot decoction
Make your own Soapnut decoction


moody said…
Hi Lisa I have been using a combination of clays to wash my hair or soapnuts for a while now and was wondering if it would be beneficial to mix soapnut and soapwort together for my next wash. Also what would you recommend for thickening the mixture and preserving it. Thank you so much for all of your wonderful information.
LisaLise said…
Hey there Moody — that sounds like a great idea! To thicken and add a bit of conditioning action, I’d look to ‘hair guar’ guar gum and as for preservation you’re going to need broad spectrum preservation (use the max recommended dosage your supplier suggests)
Kimm said…
Be careful though. Indigenous Americans used to thicken soap wort to make a glue, so don't glue your hair. :)
LisaLise said…
Hi Kimm -- How interesting! I learned something new there-- thanks for the tip :D