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Soap Nuts – Why Not?

September 21, 2009

I would have to say that the question I get asked most frequently is “How do I make my own shampoo?” For people who are looking to reduce their environmental impact this is understandable as commercial shampoo is mostly water and shipping that around in plastic containers is none too environmentally friendly! Secondly people are concerned about shampoo ingredients as many commercial brands contain Sodium Laureth Sulphate or petroleum derived surfactants. While these ingredients don’t quite live up to their “Google” and “natural world” status  of deadly killers, SLES is an allergen for some and is just too good at stripping away grease to be classed as “mild” and petroleum is not a sustainable resource.

So, what are Soap Nuts?

Soap nuts are actually dried berries from the “sapindus” family of shrubs. The berry skins are a rich source of saponins (natures soaps) and when dried are a great natural alternative to synthetic detergents.  These berries have been used for thousands of years to fulfill a wide variety of functions – including the cleaning of bodies, hair and clothes.

But will they clean my hair / skin well?

Soap nuts are a much better bet than either bar soap or liquid castile soap the saponification involved in creating both of these latter options creates a product with a high pH (very alkali). While this is tolerable for the skin (albeit a little drying) it is not at all good for the hair and will leave it dull and very hard to comb.

The pH of a soap nut solution will depend on the amount of saponin that you have present but as a rule it will be much more acidic – between a pH of 4 and 6. This is perfect for both skin and hair and should degrease without stripping away too much.

And are they sustainably sourced?

Soap nuts have been growing wild for many thousands of years  and have mostly been used as part of traditional medicine and personal care rather than as a resource for mass manufacturing. However, as more people become aware of the benefits of soap nut science, demand will grow and with that comes mass production.  With over 2000 species of soap nut tree in existence, fruiting after the ninth year of life up until they are 90 years old these are some hard working trees which look to be well prepared to deal with a rise in demand. In the meantime the berries are often hand picked and sun dried without the need for chemical intervention, as this is all part of their appeal one would hope that growing demand doesn’t change this.

It looks like this is one natural that ticks all of the boxes.

So, Lets have a closer look…

And after simmering for 1 hour.

Our soapnuts came from Wild Soap Nuts, Australia. Why not give them a go today?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2009 8:32 am

    Beautiful, Amanda! Well done.
    I use the liquid concentrate as is – I put it into a spray bottle and add two drops of Peppermint Oil. I brush my hair, spray the soapnuts into the roots and brush again to distribute, then get into the shower and rinse it out.
    I still use a product for curly hair afterwards (Scottish Wild Woman effect otherwise), but no shampoo or conditioner required.
    It took a few washes to get the natural oil balance right, but now it’s soft, clean and chemical free. And it saves me $20 a month.

  2. RealizeBeautyEd permalink
    September 22, 2009 9:06 am

    Hi Crystal,
    I’ve just tried it as you suggested and so far so good! My mixture wasn’t that bubbly and it was quite thin so it felt difficult to judge if it was doing anything while I was in the shower. However, once out I could comb my hair easily and it is drying nicely. The only think that I would say is that I got some in my eye and boy, it stings due to the acidity. I am going to try making up a more neutral pH solution before using it on the kids. Adding some xanthan gum will also give it a bit of body and make it more efficient. Very impressed though!


  3. October 4, 2009 2:24 am

    I’ve read about using soap nuts to do laundry but it’s the first time I read about using it for shampoo…

  4. November 9, 2009 8:09 am

    Soap nuts have a ton of uses. I don’t think there is a kind of cleaning that can’t be done by them.

  5. February 21, 2013 8:54 pm

    I’ll immediately grab your rss as I can not find
    your e-mail subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Kindly let me know so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  6. August 12, 2013 9:57 am

    I have been no poo (no shampoo) for a few weeks but I want to apply castor oil to my scalp and am not sure how to wash out the oil without using shampoo or castile soap. Are soap nuts potent enough to remove set in oil. I see the ph level is less than 7. I am trying to stay away from baking soda and castile soap because of the high ph level. Thanks!!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      August 12, 2013 5:21 pm

      I am not sure if the soap nuts would get the castor oil out. Why do you want to put castor oil onto your hair anyway? If your scalp is dry it would be worth seeing a trichologist to see what they can recommend as I believe there are some scalp conditions that improve with gentle washing/ massaging.

    • September 7, 2013 7:28 am

      Absolutely. I use castor oil on my scalp 3x per week and the soapnut shampoo cleansed my hair of a week’s use completely without stripping it dry. I use organic castor oil that I order from Simply Organic Oils, so not sure how other oils compare. I got all traces of the oil out of my hair and scalp In only one shampoo, multiple uses of the mixture were not required at all. So the answer to your question is “yes” from personal experience. Hope this helps.

  7. marycheshier permalink
    October 1, 2013 12:22 pm

    Reblogged this on How 2 Be Green and commented:
    Fabulous blog. Thank you

  8. October 19, 2013 7:59 am

    I love using soapnuts – they’ve really started to improve my hair since going no-poo!

  9. Yve Black permalink
    January 23, 2020 4:38 pm

    Is a preservative necessary in soup nuts formulations? Thanks.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 24, 2020 9:29 am

      Absolutely. The broth is highly nutritive unless it is super concentrated which is unlikely unless you really reduce it well or find another way to bind up any free water. It’s common for the soap nut broth process to release mould spores from the surface of the ‘nuts’ into the water. These then grow on top of the solution over time. I’m not sure on bacteria and yeast as I’ve not measured a solution myself yet but I would anticipate there being a range of potential micro issues with this ingredient unless it is well preserved.

  10. Linda Glendenning permalink
    April 4, 2020 10:54 am

    Soap nuts ph level is 5 regardless the strength of the soapon it produces the nuts can not go any higher because if it’s natural origin – a berry/dried.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 5, 2020 9:52 pm

      The chemistry of extracts does vary due to growing conditions, processing methods and how long the nuts are cooked for (and in what water). The pH can vary.

  11. Karla Hooper ~ Earth Girl permalink
    April 13, 2020 1:38 pm

    Amanda, I’m keen to know… how did you go?? Did you end up using soap nuts long term? Did it work for you? Did the kids like it? Did you thicken with Xanthan Gum? So many questions!! I used to use Soap Nuts many years ago, but wasn’t a big fan. But now that my knowledge has grown re formulating/thickening/preserving, I might give them another go. I love your blog – thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. X

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 14, 2020 10:41 pm

      I use soap nuts in my formulating yes but I don’t use them much in my day-to-day life as I’m not really that type of person (prefer the science-backed power of a good detergent). My kids are teenagers / adults now so they don’t really care. Xanthan gum does thicken them, you do need a good preservative and that’s about everything 🙂

      • Karla Hooper ~ Earth Girl permalink
        April 15, 2020 2:07 pm

        Thanks so much for responding Amanda.. I’m going to have a play 🙂


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