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.
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: Naturoli – Find their soap nuts here)
Questions? Leave a comment below!