Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

Heather Dessinger

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Around here, normal is just a setting on the dryer. We rub dirt in our armpits, formulate makeup from kitchen ingredients, and use a garden weed as our first aid ointment, but since we’re not nudists we also have to do laundry once in awhile. Or fifty times a day.

After years of using our powdered homemade laundry detergent, I’m still just as in love with it as ever. Living on a farm gives me lots of opportunities to test its cleaning power, and it’s definitely up to the challenge. However, many of you have asked for a homemade liquid laundry detergent recipe, so I decided to do a little research.

Though the phrase “just add water” may work for a lot of things – gremlins and sea monkeys for example – it turns out it doesn’t work for my powdered detergent. That’s because washing soda loses potency when suspended in water for more than a few days, and even borax versions don’t seem to have the staying power of their powdered counterparts.

So is there something that DOES work? Yes! I’ve recently been experimenting with a homemade shampoo derived from soap nuts, and though my hair care formula is not “there” yet I happened upon a FANTASTIC recipe for homemade liquid laundry detergent.


But I heard they don’t work!

Soap “nuts” are actually berries that contain saponin – an all-natural detergent. They have been used to make soap for thousand of years in by many cultures, but you may have heard in crunchy circles that they’re duds.

That’s because unlike products with chemical foaming agents such as sodium lauryl sulfate – aka SLS, which has been linked to eye and skin irritation, organ toxicity, reproductive toxicity, and environmental toxicity –  they don’t produce a ton of suds. (source) Fortunately for us, those synthetic foaming agents are really just for show – we don’t need them to get clothes clean.

“After numerous generations and billions of dollars spent to teach you that suds equal cleaning, it is not easy for me to change that perception in a few sentences. Suds indicate the PRESENCE of a surfactant – most of which are chemical surfactants (like the infamous SLS). A surfactant is something that reduces water’s surface tension allowing the water it to break up dirt, grease and grime from fabrics (or anything). . . It improves cleaning results. It is also VERY rapidly consumed by the dirty substances (it’s doing its job). Standard detergents are formulated with additives that CONTINUE to produce suds – not because they are needed, but rather because you WANT to see them . . . . Continued sudsing is NOT required for effective cleaning – not at all. Today’s new HE washers prove this! They REQUIRE detergents that produce very little suds. Suds can actually damage an HE washer.” (Source: Soap Nuts Pro)

Or as Christopher Sicurella, founder of NaturOli, put it:

“Experiment and let the results speak for themselves . . . do not use suds as a barometer to gauge results. Results are determined when your laundry has dried. Does it look and smell clean and fresh? Is it soft and absorbent? This is where you gauge results. This is where it counts. I had to laugh one day as a woman explained her first experience with soap nuts. She said, “I felt like I was just washing in water.” But stood in amazement at the dirtiness of the water coming from a “not all that dirty” load of laundry. She was astonished at how fresh, clean and soft her laundry came out. (She’s another one who will never look back.)” (source)

So there it is: Money doesn’t grow on trees, but soap really does! And you can use it to clean and soften your laundry – how amazing is that?

Why make soap nuts into a liquid?

Are you wondering why you can’t just toss some soap berries into the wash? Well, you actually can, but there are a couple of catches:

  • Soap berries can be used for several washes, but you have to keep track of how many times each berry has been used and you need to store them properly between washes
  • If you’re washing in cold water you’ll need to soak the nuts in hot water for 5-10 minutes before adding them.
  • You also need to remove them before tossing clothes in the dryer

Personally, I was always accidentally throwing my soap nuts into the dryer or forgetting how many loads I’d done with them. I have other things to keep track of!

Soap nuts liquid is much more like traditional liquid laundry detergent, and it’s just easier in my opinion.

Will soap nuts stain my clothes?

Soap nut shells (which are pictured in this post) will not stain clothes at all. However, the seeds inside the soap nuts can stain. Make sure to only buy deseeded soap nuts. I like this brand.

Tips for getting the best results

  • Use a presoak cycle
  • Don’t overfill the washing machine – in order for dirt and grime to wash away the clothes need room to agitate
  • For whites, use an oxygen-based bleach such as Oxyclean Free to brighten.
Easy homemade liquid laundry detergent made from soap nuts. Great for regular laundry AND cloth diapers. #homemadelaundrydetergent

Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

Makes about 24 oz. detergent (about 12-14 loads)


  • 24 – 30 soap nuts (Quality can vary widely from company to company. I like this brand.)
  • 12 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid or 2 teaspoons salt (Optional. Helps to keep the liquid fresh longer. I use this non-GMO citric acid as a dishwashing rinse aid)
  • 16-20 drops essential oils (optional, I like to use lemon or tea tree)


Add soap nuts and water to a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about an hour. You’ll know your soap is ready when the soap berries are light tan or grey – that’s a sign that all the wonderful saponin has been extracted.

Allow the soap to cool and strain out the soap nuts. If you are adding citric acid or salt to extend the shelf life, this is the point in the process to do that.

To add citric acid: Dissolve 1 teaspoon citric acid into 2 tablespoons hot water and add it to your homemade laundry soap.

To add salt: Dissolve 2 teaspoons salt into 3-4 tablespoons hot water and add it to your homemade laundry soap.

How To Use Soap Nuts Liquid Laundry Detergent

Shake before using. Generally, 2-4 tablespoons per load is a good rule of thumb. If your kids crawled through mud, use more. If it’s a small or light load, use less. You may also find that you need to increase the amount used if your water is very, VERY hard. However, in most cases 3-4 tablespoons should work well.

Shelf Life & Storage

Soap berries are just that – berries. When you make soap nut laundry detergent you are essentially making fruit juice. Of course, this kind of fruit is not edible, but it sure does clean well. As you may have guessed, like all fruit juices it will eventually ferment without a preservative. While that’s awesome for making wine, it’s not great for soap. How will you know if this has happened? It’s easy. Fresh soap nuts liquid has a “light apple juice” smell, while soap that has gone bad will smell sour. (source)

In other words, you’ll know. Below are some general shelf life and storage guidelines you may find helpful:

Store your soap nuts liquid in a clean, airtight jar out of direct sunlight. It will last for 1-2 weeks at room temperature, or about 3-5 weeks in the fridge. As described in the instructions above, you can add citric acid or salt to extend the life of your liquid. Sea salt will also work, though not quite as well.

Another option is to freeze the liquid in an ice cube tray and then toss a few cubes in per wash. This tray can hold 4 tablespoons of liquid per ice cube, which is handy.


I have a high efficiency (HE) washer. Can I use this recipe?

Yep. It’s actually ideal because as mentioned above it’s a low sudsing formula.

I’m allergic to nuts. Can I use soap nuts?

Yes again. Soap nuts aren’t actually nuts – they’re berries.

Will This Work For Cloth Diapers?

Absolutely. “Soap nuts are wonderful for washing cloth diapers. Unlike chemical detergents, they will not clog the fabric causing the diaper to loose its absorbency and they will not cause diaper rash. In addition, soap nuts will clean and remove detergent residue from diapers.” (Source: NaturoliFind their soap nuts here)

Questions? Leave a comment below!

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding Mommypotamus.com in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world. 

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77 thoughts on “Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent”

  1. There are lots of soap berry trees near my home. At what point should the soap nuts be picked? Is there anything that needs to be done to them before seeding and boiling? Thanks for any help!

    • Wow, I’d love to know where you live! I’m not familiar with the harvesting process, but I’m sure someone has written about it.

    • Hey! I live a little northwest of Austin, and yes, we have lots of soap berry trees in our area. according to Global Healing Center, “The berries can be harvested during the winter months. When the translucent berries begin to turn yellow in color, to black and fleshy, it is time to harvest.”
      And to preserve them, “Once gathered, the leathery skinned fruit can be dried in the sun on canvas, and stored as soap nuts. Make sure to crack open the berry and deseed before storing and using. Keep the layers shallow for even drying and to keep them from heating.”

      • ……wonder if you can grow them were we are and if the dehydrator would work. No sun in winter here. not like when I lived in Texas. 🙂

      The berries can be harvested during the winter months. When the translucent berries begin to turn yellow in color, to black and fleshy, it is time to harvest.

    • I personally just put in the liquid into the washer. I have not had any issue and I have been using soap nuts or soap nut tea (which is almost the same as the recipe above) for a year now. But again, that is my own personal experience.

  2. I’d love to try this. About how many soap nuts come in the 1/2 lb pkg you have linked? Trying to figure the cost per batch of this recipe. Thanks for all you share, your recipes for house AND kitchen are wonderful!

    • I know this is a long time after the fact, but I just paid $3.80 CAD for 85 g (approx. 30 berries). Not counting the costs of water and electricity for processing, it works out to 11 cents per load at 60 mL or 4 tbsp per load if you have a yield of 2 L like I did, or 33 cents per load if you get 700 mL which converts to 24 oz. I have yet to run a load of wash with my first ever batch, so not sure if I stewed the berries long enough or how this is going to work out in “very hard” water.

  3. How cool! I would LOVE to see a recipe for liquid dishwasher detergent too! My powdered version works great, but gets rock hard after a couple of days from sitting under the kitchen sink. I tried to “just add water” like you were saying doesn’t work so great with your powdered laundry detergent. Well, it resulted in huge volcanoes of foaming/bubbling liquid all over my kitchen. Yeah. Lol. So, if you ever find a great liquid dishwasher detergent recipe, I would love to hear about it!

  4. Is this better than just throwing the bag of soap nuts in the washer? Or just easier because you don’t have to keep track of loads? Love your site!

  5. I love soap nuts! I use them for shampoo exclusively. I like to take about 3 hand fulls (15-20 soap nuts) add in a nice 6″ sprig of fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves, a couple teaspoons of marshmallow root and some rooibos tea ( maybe 2 tea bags worth) then simmer it all together with 6 cups of water for a couple hours, add more water to bring it back to 5-6 cups and bottle. I use a teaspoon of rosemary extract, 10 drops of rosemary essential oil and 20 drops of lavendar essential oil in each 16 oz bottle and I keep the bottles I’m not using in the fridge. The one I’m using goes into the shower.

    Wet your hair well, put on a good amount of soap nut shampoo – it won’t lather and then let it sit while you wash something else. Depending on how oily my hair is that day, I may let it sit until the end of my shower before rinsing out. Sometimes I use apple cider vinegar rinse, but usually I don’t need it.

  6. And also wondering about how much to measure out in ounces/grams of soap nuts for this recipe? I purchased their soap nut broken pieces (on the half shell) because it was cheaper than purchasing their “select”. Thank you!

  7. Crazy idea, but…I wonder if it’s possible to ferment liquid soap nuts laundry soap? Fermenting preserves food, so I wonder if it would also preserve this? And if so, how to go about it? Another experiment for some adventuring person to try!

  8. We have extremely hard water and a front loader. I read on some soap nuts company’s website that they “may not work in extreme hard water”. I am just not sure about trying this out…thoughts? I also wonder about adding in a scoop of washing soda with each load- would that help soften the water to allow the soap nuts to work?

    • Vinegar may help with this. We have hard well water and I use vinegar as softener and bleach. It seems to cut the hard water. And help keep the washer clean.

  9. I tried using liquid soap nuts for my laundry for about 6 months or so, mostly because I had a new baby that I didn’t want to use toxic detergent on, and well the more and more i washed the diapers the less absorbent they became, it was to the point where if I dripped a few beads of water onto them it would roll right off. Same with my towels they stopped absorbing. Sadly I finally had to quit using them which was a huge bummer because I was so excited to find something for laundry so natural. My soap nuts did contain the seed though so maybe that has something to do with it. I have a ton leftover so maybe I will get the seed out and try again. Has anyone else had this issue? Maybe my nut wasn’t of good quality? Who knows.

    • KayDee, unfortunately there are unethical resellers out there. Since most soap nuts are sold by weight, shipping soap nuts that contain seeds allows a seller to charge more and deliver less. I don’t know who you purchased from, but that is a red flag to me. Sorry you had that experience!

  10. Do you still add a Downy dryer ball with 1/4 cup of vinegar to your load to normalize the pH or is that no longer necessary when using soap nuts? Excellent recipe, Heather, keep up the great work! 🙂

    • That’s a great question, Cathy. The pH of soap nuts is generally around a 4-6, which is far less alkaline than most detergents. I don’t think vinegar is absolutely necessary in this instance, but it would still add a degree of softness.

      • Is it ok to use vinegar with colored laundry or only whites?
        I love these recipes, plan to get supplies, and try them all soon.
        Thank you so much, you are amazing!

  11. Heather, I’m ready to make this laundry soap but I’m a little confused on the recipe. It says it makes about 24 oz. (which is three cups of water) but calls for “12” cups of water? Does nine cups of water evaporate or is that a typo?

  12. I love Soap nuts! I used them for a year before leaving home and still lots of them waiting for me back there!:) Thanks for the tip for the whites! I was wondering how to stop mine turning a bit gray-ish over time:)

    • You should also be able to use the “bluing” products that whiten clothes. If mommypotamus has tried this and it doesn’t work, please let us know?

  13. I have been using the liquid in frozen ice cube form in my HE washer for a while now and they work great! The reasoning is because I actually had some go moldy on me, yikes!!
    I haven’t ever tried using them for personal care yet tho.
    Great post!

  14. HI, Just wondering, if using soap nuts alone, do you have to re-soak them every time after they dry or just soak them before the first use only? Thanks.

      • I have been using soap berries for a long time. I wash in cold water only and I’ve heard they don’t work or don’t work well in cold water which is just not true, they work fine in
        In cold but they don’t suds hardly any. If you put them in hot water there will be some suds that go away fast. I put 5 or 6 berries in a small cotton bag, tie it up or use a clip, I use a clip so I can clip it to an odd colored item so I can find it. I remove the bag before the rinse, some people wash in warm or hot, rinse in cold and don’t remove the bag. I have left the bag in and it seems OK but I try to remove it. I line dry everything because I live in AZ. I don’t use any fabric softener.
        One neat thing about the soap berries is that you don’t want to throw them away after you’ve washed 4 or 5 loads. I empty the bag and and save the berries, oh, I forgot to say that I break up the berries once they are in the bag before they get wet. Anyway, I save the berries until I have about half a cup. I put them in a stainless pan, add a quart of water. Bring them to a boil, simmer for an hour and let them sit until they are cool or the next day. Strain the liquid. I use this for a spray cleaner and it’s great but it will mold so either use it in a week or so or put it in the refrigerator. I’ve also used it in the mop water and as shampoo.
        I am amazed that there are soap berries around Austin and jealous too, I thought they came from Africa.
        This is a great blog!

  15. The instructions say to bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Because I covered it, the liquid is still just under 12 cups! Should I leave the lid off and simmer longer? The soap nuts are still fairly dark brown…

  16. Not to sound lazy, but if I just wanted to buy a good natural laundry detergent, is there a brand you would recommend?

    • I love the Branch Basics stuff for everything! I bought it primarily for cleaning the house but you can use it as a laundry soap, dish & hand soap and even shampoo! It’s totally safe and just ab all around great thing.

  17. Thank you for your post! I’m going to try this very soon. I’ve been using soap nuts for about a year with no problems. I do soak them prior to using.
    I have one question though, I forget on occasion that I ran the washing machine and have left the wet laundry overnight a few times. And now all the clothes that have been in that cycle have a water smell that doesn’t seem to get out no matter what I do.
    Any suggestions?

    • Hi,
      If you forget a load is in the washer just rerun the load and add white vinegar. Depending on size of load, how stinky it is, or if it includes towels I use between 1/2 cup to 1 cup. Also, vinegar is great to add to loads on general principal during hot weather to prevent the load from going “sour”.
      Hope this helps!

  18. Hi,
    I love your site.
    Thank you so much for sharing the results of your experiments. I am just preparing it now and I have a question concerning essencial oils.
    At what point should I add them? When the mixture is cold or while it is still warm?

      • Thank you. 🙂 The detergente is working perflecty.
        Also, I was looking at the nuts/berries and, though I have added a little more water and repeated the process, they still don’t look greyish. So I was wondering that maybe there is still saponin left.
        From your experience, is it possible to repeat the process and still extract good quality saponin?

  19. I have been using soap nuts for about six months and have been very happy with them. Like you said, it was a pain keeping up with how many time they had been used, so this recipe will help tremendously. I see no reason that the liquid could not be frozen to improve longevity. Since I have lots of allergies, I am really happy that my clothes have NO smell at all when they are dried, and they are really soft. Towels are more absorbent than before. Since I am a white vinegar addict, I am going to substitute it as a preservative in my first batch. Thank you for the recipe!

  20. Hi! Just found your site…was wondering if this DIY soap is good for ppl with allergies or sensitive skin? That’s the only reason I have been reluctant to try anything other than what I’ve used for years…All Free and Clear.

  21. Hey Heather!

    Thank you so much for circulating female plant knowledge through your work. I will be trying this recipe soon.
    May the cosmic divine feminine in you expand.

  22. I already know I will not be willing to take the time to make the liquid every 1-2 weeks and then worry over spoilage – that’s too much stress. However I’m curious about grinding the nuts into a powder (seed free nuts of course) and using that powder instead of having to soak the nuts for cold washes. I, too, had great difficulty remembering how many times I’d used them. I also dried them on accident a few times too, and eventually I felt they were too much stress. But boy howdy did they get clothes super clean!

    Reckon grinding the nuts to powder would avoid needing a presoak step for cold washes?

    And has anyone used soap nuts to wash dishes by hand?

  23. I tried this on my cloth diapers and unfortunately they smelled like urine after washing. (I bought the soap nuts from Mountain Rose Herbs). Could have been something I did wrong in simmering them but my final result had the same dark color and was sudsy looking.

    • You did nothing wrong. Soapnuts were never intended to be used as laundry detergent and they are highly ineffective. This post was a complete fail as far as I’m concerned and I’m surprised that Mommy Potamus has been duped into believing that soapnuts are an effective cleaner when they aren’t.

      • I disagree. Soap nuts are effective. On regular clothes and cloth diapers. I have been using it for the past 3 months and find that the ammonia smells I had while using commercial detergents were gone when I switched to soap nuts. So no, they are not as effective as commercial detergents, they are better. (At least better than the detergents that are available to me). Smells can not be blamed only on the detergent. Check ur wash routine, wash more frequently and rinse out overnight diapers before storing in the dry pail.

  24. I was just thinking that I would freeze my soap into correct portions, maybe in an ice cube tray or muffin tins. That way time wouldn’t be such a great factor. Just thought I’d put the idea out there in case anyone else is having issues with the last of the batch not quite making it.

  25. Hi Heather. Thanks for the recipe and esecially instructions on preserving soap nut detergent. I’ve been making this in small batches (4-6 loads) for a while now, but have often wondered how to make it keep longer. I use this detergent for everything from nappies to workwear to woollens and silk (occasionally). I add a small amount of eucalyptus oil to every load and everything always comes out smelling lovely.

  26. I got news for you. Soapnuts are one of the most ineffective cleaners I have ever found. And, contrary to what they say, soapnuts are not hypo allergenic. I break out like crazy and my skin itches any time I wear clothes washed in soapnuts.

    Oh, and lastly, I want to share this with you. I have many friends who live in India where soapnuts originated. They do not use soapnuts as laundry detergent ever. Why, you ask? Because they know that soapnuts are ineffective. They are gentle enough to use as a shampoo or body wash but not effective and cleaning dirty from clothing. And they are wasteful too. Most of the websites recommend that you do a prewash and then a wash. How many gallons of water is wasted for each wash when I can add one cup of home made liquid laundry detergent and it is about twenty times more effective?

    • I am from India and I never used soap nuts before because I never even heard of them until I googled for an effective natural cleaner. We are duped by the commercial industry (just like u are!) into believing that expensive artificial detergents with ingredients that are not disclosed to us, are more effective for cleaning clothes. Soap nuts are not cheap here, they are free. Yet people here prefer to shell out money for the toxic stuff because they just don’t know better. I asked around about the use of soap nuts and it seems people here did use it, but decades ago. Now the only known usage is for polishing jewellery. My mission now is to raise awareness among my own people to shift to soap nuts and re awaken a lost tradition.
      So stop spreading false information. It doesn’t require a pre wash. Stains should be pre treated but that should be done for all detergents. Also anything even natural stuff can cause allergy, so avoid it if u are allergic to it. But that shouldn’t mean nobody else can use it.

  27. I´ve made an batch of the liquid detergent and didn´t read far enough….so I ended up with almost 12 cups of liquid.
    While I´m happy with the results `though I dose somewhat higher and store it in the fridge, I´m curious how long it will stay good.
    I already made the window-cleaner (works!!) and the next project will be the dishwasher-detergent.
    As I make all my body-care products and soaps myself, I´m really happy to have found recipes for household-cleaners that won´t poison the environment!
    I´m a 61 year-old housewife from Bavaria, Germany and I love your site.

  28. I simmered the initial 12 cups ( 96 oz 1 cup = 8 oz) after coming to a boil as instructions (Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about an hour. ) the volume did not reduce to 24 oz ( 4 cups or 1qt). I had to simmer for 24 hours in order to reduce the solution to a little over a quart of the solution.
    Can anyone please reply if I did something wrong or if you also started with 96 oz and also needed to simmer for 24 hours.

  29. How many batches of this soap can you get out of a 1/2 bag of the soap nuts? Unfortunately, I do around 12 loads of laundry a week so according to the math I’d need a batch a week.