Wednesday, August 21, 2019

{ Soapberries aka Soap Nuts - What they are and how to use them }


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned my soapberry tree, and how I had started harvesting the berries and using them for laundry soap.

I first noticed these berries on the tree, about 2 years ago but I had no idea what they were, or if they were edible or usable for anything at all.  I kind of forgot about them, and then the beginning of this year I again thought about the big tree in my back yard, and all those questions came flooding back.


So I hit the internet and started researching.  I quickly found out that what I had in my back yard, was none other than a huge Soapberry tree, and that the little green ball like fruit it was producing were soapberries, also known as soap nuts, and they were quite the interesting little thing.

Sapindus saponaria L. var. drummondii (Hook. & Arn.) L.D. Benson
Western Soapberry, Soapberry, Wild China Tree, Wild Chinaberry, Indian Soap Plant, Jaboncillo
Sapindaceae (Soapberry Family)
Synonym(s): Sapindus drummondii


This tree:

  • Blooms from May to June, with loose panicles of yellowish-white flowers measuring 6–10" in length.
  • Provides excellent deep yellow-gold fall color.
  • Tolerates wind, drought, compacted soil and infertile soil.
  • Transplants easily and establishes with minimal irrigation.
  • Features lustrous medium green leaves that are compound (with 8–18 obliquely lanceolate leaflets) and range from 10–15" long.
  • Yields yellow-orange fruit that is under ½" in diameter and resembles a cherry.
  • Grows in a rounded, vase shape.


The soapberry is also called the Indian soap plant, Jaboncillo or Cherrion. The fruit of the soapberry gives off a lather when mixed with water, and Native Americans used these as a soap substitute. Its native range spans from Missouri to Northern Mexico.

So the fruit contains alkaloid saponin and it has been used for decades as a soap substitute. 


Inside the fruit is a small seed which is almost pebble like, and that has been used for necklaces or buttons.  The Native Americans really did use everything they had at their disposal, and I just find that fascinating.

But aside from it being used to wash their clothes, they used the roots and the leaves for herbal remedies, although it is said it is toxic, it really is not toxic to humans, but if you ingest them they can give you really bad tummy aches, and I don't think any of us what that.  So, don't eat them is the moral of the story.



My main use for these has been as a substitute laundry detergent.  I don't know about you all, but I find laundry detergent so incredibly expensive, and I don't even go for brand names.  My favorite is the Sun Detergent, which is usually just under $6, but even that for me seems to expensive.

If I can cut the budget somewhere, I'm going to do it.

My husband and I gathered a ton of these soapberries from the ground.  Some were already brown and wrinkled and ready to use, others were still green, but we placed them on a tray in single layer, and left them out to dry.

I have now been using the homemade soapberry laundry soap, for about a month.  I didn't want to put this post up without trying them out for myself and giving you my honest opinion.

Before I tell you what I think of them, let me tell you real quick how to make the soap at home.

As I mentioned in a previous post, you CAN use the berries in a muslin bag, and just toss it into the wash through the wash and rinse cycle, then remove the bag, and let it dry completely.  You can usually get about 5 to 6 washes from about 6 or so berries.  Now, one thing I've noticed is that the berries from my tree are on the smaller size, and you can certainly find much bigger online, but I make do with what I have and I'm certainly not going to let their size bother me.


In a pot, add your berries (you want about 2 per cup of water), although I've stopped measuring and I just add the berries in and then cover them completely with water, about 2 inches above.

Boil the berries about 30 minutes, and while they're boiling, take a wooden spoon and mash them up against the pot to release the saponin.


Look at all those suds being released.  The picture above is from the first batch I ever made, a month ago.

The batch I just made was with a TON of berries and I used my big canning pot to be able to get them all in.

Once they've boiled for 30 minutes, you will notice that the berries have started falling apart, and as you mush them against the side, they will release their little black seeds.  The water will also turn a golden rich brown.


Carefully strain the water through a sieve, in order to catch all the berries, pulp and seeds.  You can discard these or place them in a muslin bag and allow to dry.  You can use these for washing dishes, just run the bag under hot water while squeezing the soapberries and they will suds up.


They have a pretty distinct smell, almost like a soapy vinegar.  I don't particularly care for the scent, but they don't leave the your clothes or dishes smelling like that (in case you were wondering).

They also don't create a lot of suds in the wash, so if you're one who equals suds to cleaner, you'll be sorely disappointed.   They will create suds when activated, but not the foamy kind that you're used to seeing with commercial detergents.

They don't work as well with cold water, so many people when using the actual nuts in a muslin bag, will run them under hot water for a few minutes to activate them, before popping into the washing machine.

I don't have an issue with the no foamy suds thing, but I do like my clothes to smell good after washing, so in my first batch I popped in a few drops of my Valor essential oil.  It worked really well.

With this last batch I made, I went a step further and added a tiny bit of my favorite laundry detergent to the bottom of the jars first, before pouring in the soapberry liquid.

You can also omit that step, and just add in a splash of your favorite detergent when pouring in the soapberry liquid detergent.  I keep a small bottle of detergent on hand just for that purpose.


Keep the liquid soap refrigerated for up to a week or two, but no longer, as it will go bad.  I made a huge batch this time, so I actually froze some in ice cubes.  When doing laundry I just pop in 4 or 5 cubes.


Now soapberries are not only good for making laundry detergent, but they can be used in your dishwasher, just pop a few berries in your basket, add vinegar as a rinse aid, and off you go.  Discard the berries after use.

People have used them for a myriad of other uses, although I have not yet tried this, but I will and I'll let you know.

5 soapberries
3 cups of water
Your favorite essential oil

Pretty much the same process as making the laundry detergent.  Boil the berries for 20 minutes.   Discard berries, add essential oil to the liquid.  Keep in refrigerator.

To use, massage a small amount into your hair and let sit for about 3 minutes then rinse well.

Face Wash
Place two soapberries in a glass jar, add in 18 oz of warm water and let it sit overnight. Pour into a soap dispenser and use as needed.  Keep in refrigerator.

Once you've made the soapberry liquid you can use it as an all purpose cleaner too.

There are so many uses for these little berries and I am quite captivated by what they do.  To know that God has given us all these different natural items to use and most the time we don't even realize what we have around us.


I hope you found this post informative and interesting, I'm always looking for ways to cut budget, save money and use what I have available, and I love sharing with you all.

If you've ever heard of the soapberries or used them, do let me know down below.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

On this day in 2006 - Crafts, Cries and other Crazy things!
On this day in 2007 -
On this day in 2008 - Halloween Costumes

On this day in 2009 -
On this day in 2010 - Whisper on the wind Book Review
On this day in 2011 -
On this day in 2012 - Happy Homemaker Monday
On this day in 2013 -
On this day in 2014 - The day just got away from me
On this day in 2015 - What is that smell?
On this day in 2016 -
On this day in 2017 - Farmer's Market
On this day in 2018 - Happy Homemaker Monday


  1. This is really interesting! I bought some years ago and tried them, but I never knew the trees grew in the US. Thanks for telling us how to use them!

  2. That's fascinating! Laundry detergent is ridiculously expensive, you now have your own supply right in your backyard.

  3. I've never heard of them, but this is really interesting and how nice for you to have the tree in your backyard!


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