A Cheap and Easy Alternative to Homemade Laundry Detergent

By | December 2, 2014
What I’m about to say is going to sound magical, but it’s not. I do all my laundry for my family of four- about 8 loads a week – for two dollars a month. My laundry soap is completely natural, pretty darn effective, and a 20 month supply is smaller and lighter than your average large detergent container. It also involves no mixing, making, or measuring. Want to know my secret? 

Soap nuts. 

Let’s backtrack a little. A couple months ago, my husband saw a recipe for homemade laundry detergent online and asked me if I had ever considered making it. I saw the appeal – homemade detergent is cheaper and usually less chemical-laden than the store bought stuff. So I poked around online and found many different recipes – wet, dry, simple, complicated, and everything in between.

Some people loved homemade detergent, other people said it didn’t work well. Some recipes take a lot of labor and time to produce. There’s grating and blending and mixing in buckets. Sometimes you have to alter them for hard water or whiter whites, or other nuances of laundry. And I was downright confused. So I called up my friend who makes her own everything and asked her what she uses. And that was the first time I had ever heard of soap nuts.

What Are Soap Nuts?

These are soap nuts. They’re about the size of a gumball.

NaturOli Soap Nuts / Soap Berries

They are technically berries of a tree that grows mainly in Asia (so no worries if you have nut allergies of any kind). They’ve been used for washing for thousands of years in many parts of the world and contain saponins, which are a natural surfactant.

How To Wash With Soap Nuts

When you buy soap nuts, they’ll generally come with a little muslin bag, into which you put 5 or 6 soap nuts. Close the bag and throw it in your washing machine with your clothes. That’s it. Seriously. You reuse the bag of nuts 5 or 6 times before you have to put new ones in, and don’t even have to take it out for the rinse cycle. 

Now, some caveats: If you’re doing a cold water wash, they recommend letting the bag sit in a cup of hot water for a couple minutes first to let the nuts release their soapiness better, but you don’t technically have to. Also, they aren’t magical and won’t take out set in stains (but neither does Tide, in my experience), so pre-treating is a good idea on stains.
Some people say that soap nuts make whites a little dingy. Personally, I think whites just always get dingy over time regardless, and I add bleach once in a while to my whites load. But again, I did that with my old detergent too. They also don’t make your clothes smell like a spring meadow or an ocean breeze or whatever. They just smell like clean clothes. Imagine that.

You can also make the soap nuts into a powder or a concentrated liquid, but to me, that just adds an unnecessary step, although it might help with the cold water issue. But in liquid form, they can also be used for a multitude of other cleaning jobs.The bottom line is that I’ve been using them as laundry detergent for some time now and they work great. I have no plans to switch back to commercial detergent.

How To Buy Soap Nuts

I’ve never seen them in a store, only online. There are a few different sellers, but the brand that I bought, and that I heard consistently good things about, is Naturoli. They’re even on Amazon (yay for Prime shipping!) 
NaturOli Soap Nuts / Soap Berries 4-Lbs USDA ORGANIC
Like everything, the larger quantity you buy, the cheaper they are, so I went all in on a four pound bag for $40. I crunched the numbers and figured out that if I use them according to the accompanying pamphlet’s suggestions, I will get 640 loads out of that bag, which comes to about six cents per load. So if I wash 8 loads a week (which I do), it will cost me two dollars per month to wash all our laundry and that one bag will last me 20 months. 
For comparison, I priced the little packs of All and Tide at my local Winco (since the method of application – throw something in the washing machine – is the same), and the cost per load for those is about 14 cents and 25 cents, respectively. So it costs four times as much to wash with Tide. Plus Tide started giving some members of my family a rash. No thanks. 

Soap Nuts for Home Storage

Bear with me for a few more numbers, so we can explore the home storage aspect of all this detergent. So my 640 loads comes in one four pound sack about the size of a breadbox. 640 loads worth of Tide pods weighs in at over 40 pounds (ten times as heavy), and over 8 of those huge plastic containers. Which would you rather store?
At the end of the day, I have a detergent that’s completely natural, light and easy to store, just as effective as my old detergent, and is a fourth of the cost. Win, win, win, win. 

Sorry, Tide. I’m walking away from your spring meadow.


Mary Bruderer is a wife and mother with a passion for reading, writing, and random facts. She is a freelance writer and editor based in Salt Lake City, Utah.  www.marybruderer.com
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11 thoughts on “A Cheap and Easy Alternative to Homemade Laundry Detergent

  1. Michelle

    I have never even heard of soap nuts before! Now I’m all excited because I feel like I need to give this a try. I do more laundry than I care to tell, it is beyond crazy. Laundry soap is expensive and doesn’t last very long. I love the idea of being able to use a bag of soap nuts for multiple loads. Thank you for sharing a terrific idea!

    1. mmTo Build My Own

      Hi Michelle! The ability to use one bag with multiple loads sounds awesome to me, too.

  2. Andreas S

    Wow I’ve never heard about soap nuts before. Sounds like a great product for sure. Seems like I can really cut down the cost of laundry with these. Thanks for the tip. 🙂

    1. mmTo Build My Own

      Mary opened my eyes to soap nuts. I am very excited to start using them when my current detergent runs out.

  3. Damien Parsons


    This is a must try for us. Seems not only a more cost effect way of cleaning, but a greener way of cleaning. Thank you so much for introducing me to soap nuts. When looking for a cheap and easy alternative to homemade laundry detergent, I never expected to be fascinated so much.

    This certainly should be more popular.

    Looking forward to trying them out!

    1. mmTo Build My Own

      I’m right there with you, Damien. When Mary told me about soap nuts, I wondered if she was soap “nuts” (kidding Mary), but I am really looking forward to using them.

  4. Amanda Grimm

    Learn something every day 🙂 Never heard of soap nuts. I did a couple of batches of homemade stuff, which I think worked fine, but it was too much trouble. I’m going to check on these. Thanks!

    1. Mary Bruderer Post author

      Soap nuts can be used in standard or high efficiency machines. They work fine in HE machines because they don’t foam up as much as a commercial detergents, which have foaming agents added that serve no practical purpose. They are added because modern consumers equate foaminess with cleaning power. Sidetrack: Don’t even get me started on whiteners – which don’t actually get the dinginess out of your whites – they simply imbed your clothes with fluorescent brightening agents to make them appear whiter.

      1. Paula

        Was that really serious?? Hmm, interesting. But I don’t like cookie scent on our clothes. Also, in my opinion, I think they need to change the packaging. There might be some careless moms who will just leave it somewhere where the kids can find. And they might think its food, since there’s cookie on the picture.

        1. mmTo Build My Own

          Hilarious, Paula. But, nope. They aren’t cookies. They are soap nuts.


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