In Discussions, Discussions, Life, Minimalism

How to make your own natural laundry detergent, shampoo and facial cleanser with soap nuts

You’re all gonna think I’m crazy. You really are.

(P.S. Thanks to the few of you who have encouraged me in this craziness, and asked for the recipe on soap nuts.)

(BF already thinks I’m nuts but he supports my move to use natural things, he just doesn’t get why anyone even needs long hair or shampoo to begin with, so he doesn’t understand how girls work or think :P)

I am not doing this in an attempt to be frugal, cheap, or what have you…..but I have found the simplest way to wash your hair (REALLY wash it) with only natural ingredients.

WHERE YOU CAN BUY SOAP NUTS

I shop online at Well.ca and cannot recommend them highly enough. I buy EVERYTHING from them online, and they ship within 2 – 3 business days.

I DIDN’T REALIZE YOU WERE A HIPPIE….

I am also not a hippie but …..now I’m wondering if I fit the criteria.

Can hippies wear designer clothing, makeup and look otherwise conventionally “normal”?

I am not about to start wearing tie-dye or organic cotton-only items, with Birkenstocks (although they are comfy), and turn my hair into dreadlocks….

Things to ponder for later — What makes a hippie?

Maybe I’m a huppie. Hippie + Yuppie.


Is that even possible?

Anyway.

FORGET SOAP NUTS, YOU’RE NUTS. OMG.

WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF?

JUST BUY SOME SHAMPOO….

Yes I know. I get it.

I’ll repeat it again:

  • Chemicals are perfectly fine or so plenty of smarter people than I am say
  • Even water is a chemical
  • Not all natural things are necessarily good for you
  • Natural things are not necessarily a good substitute for chemicals
  • Chemicals save our lives — medicine (antibiotics) being the biggest!
  • Chemicals are good AND bad, but they have proven to be good for most of mankind

I get it.

But I still can’t shake the queasy feeling about sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and its cousins (sodium laureth sulfate) being something not quite good for you rates a 1-3 on the EWG Skin Deep website with the following information:

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Other HIGH concerns: Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs)

Other MODERATE concerns: Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)

Other LOW concerns: Ecotoxicology

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

About SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE: Sodium Laureth Sulfate is and ingredient derived from ethoxylated lauryl alcohol and used as a surfactant; may be contaminated with potentially toxic manufacturing impurities such as 1,4-dioxane.

Other HIGH concerns: Contamination concernsIrritation (skin, eyes, or lungs)

Other MODERATE concerns: Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)

Other LOW concerns: Data gaps

II also can’t shake the feeling that our skin as an organ, absorbs a lot of what we put on it, even for a short period of time, like during a shampooing.

Then BF went and heard about how shampoos and soaps absorb about 80% into your skin because your skin is an organ, bla bla bla.

And I knew I had to change.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH OF A REASON, YOU HUPPIE!

Okay, so the second one is that I am not sure my shampoos work any more.

I noticed that my hair was getting greasier and greasier each time I washed it, I had gone from being able to wash it every 3 days down to 2 days.

Third, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac, and fourth, a worrier.

It was also around the time that I started feeling dizzy, nauseous and in general not good, so I wondered if it was time to switch back to trying natural shampoos.


I COULDN’T GO “SHAMPOO-FREE” BEFORE BECAUSE IT LOOKED, AND FELT DISGUSTING AFTER I WASHED MY HAIR

Over the past 5 years, I have tried the gamut of “poo-free” shampoos and cleansing methods, folks.

People swear by these methods but they don’t do jack squat for me.

Here’s a list of everything I did to try and avoid commercial shampoos:

  1. Only washing with warm water and a wash cloth (Great for boys or v. short hair)
  2. Washing with baking soda and water, and then rinsing with apple cider vinegar (a big NO to this one, it caused dandruff and it ruins your hair in my opinion; I am hesitant to list this at all)
  3. Washing with castile soap – Left my hair feeling like an oil slick and was DISGUSTING
  4. Washing with Savon de Marseilles – Again, oil slick city because of all the oil in the soap
  5. Washing with “natural” shampoos that had a long list of essential oils – AWFUL experience

NOTHING WORKED.

The worst was the castile or the natural soaps, it left this slimy FILM on my hair that looked like I dunked my head in a bucket of olive oil. I could FEEL it on my fingers.

I guess the soap being about 75% – 80% olive oil didn’t help. It’s fine for your hands perhaps, but not for your head.

I was so frustrated, I went back to a shampoo that had SLS in it, the only thing that worked that had a surfactant to lift the oil from my head.

Then….. I remembered soap nuts!!

ENTER: SOAP NUTS!!!!

Soap-Nuts-Natural-Shampoo-Face-Wash-Saponin-How-To-Inside

Photograph I took of the soap nuts (just the shells/husks) I bought

I was sent a sample a long time ago, and I used it in my laundry but as it was on COLD water, I don’t think it released much soap from the soap nuts to do anything.

Besides, I don’t even use detergent about 99% of the time (only for greasy stuff), so I couldn’t see the difference anyway.

I wondered if I could just make my own shampoo and facial cleanser from this naturally-occurring surfactant provided in nature, and thought I’d do some research.

Bought a 1KG bag of soap nuts, and came up with some soap nut liquid at the end.

IT IS SERIOUSLY MILD DEPENDING ON THE RECIPE

Think of your regular hand soap.

Now dial that down about 3X if you use it as directed for laundry.

IT FEELS STICKY & TACKY TO THE TOUCH

It’s like it’s been glazed in honey or something. It’s sticky when you touch it, but not gross.

If you buy whole soap nuts, you need to crack them open and remove the seed inside or else it will discolour clothing if you use it as a laundry detergent.

They mostly sell them as the husks without the seed, so no need to do any cracking.

Otherwise, the seed inside adds nothing, so get rid of it and just boil the shells.

IT SMELLS LIKE TAMARIND VINEGAR

When it’s cooking it smells like soap and a very strong, slightly sweet vinegar.

I kept smelling it and BF became alarmed:

Get away from the pot! Stop smelling it! You don’t know if it’s toxic fumes or not!

Touche.

IT IS REALLY LIKE COLOURED WATER

It feels like you’re just rubbing water on your face or on your scalp.

You will feel like it’s not doing anything, and it probably isn’t the first time around, but by the second or third wash/rub, you will feel that the oil has disappeared.

UPDATE: If you make the recipe stronger and not as mild, you won’t need to spend as much time washing your hair and rubbing it into your scalp (which is what I did).

The milder the recipe (the less soap nuts you use), the more you’ll need and the more time you’ll need. The stronger the recipe, the quicker it works. I almost just rinse it through my hair, do a quick massage of it into my scalp (less than 15 seconds) and it gets all the oil out.

IT IS A NATURAL PRODUCT AND IT WILL SPOIL

Soap-Nuts-Natural-Shampoo-Face-Wash-Saponin-How-To-Inside-Side

Photograph I took of my soap nut liquid after I shook it a few times to get that foam

If you don’t keep it in its dry form, in the plastic and tied up, it will spoil.

Once you make the soap nut liquid (also called “soap nut tea” in some circles), you will have to immediately put it into a jar and store it in the fridge.

You can also can it, seal the jar, and stick it on a shelf if you are handy like that. But I have no idea how to do that stuff, so I just make a batch each time that lasts about 2 weeks and I use the cold liquid in the morning.

Yeah it sucks that it’s cold liquid on my face and cold liquid on my hair, but .. this is the price I am paying for an SLS-free beauty routine.

USED AS A LAUNDRY DETERGENT

Works great. You can see it soaping up.


The hotter the water, the more saponins are released.

I rarely use detergents in my laundry anyway, but once in a while, it’s handy to have a little sudsing to release the grease.

USED AS A SHAMPOO

This stuff will sting like a mother clucker if you get it in your eyes.

I have no other advice except.. DO NOT GET IT IN YOUR EYES.

It works but you need to be patient and go over sections of you head once, twice, sometimes three times to get all the oil off.

It takes longer than with normal shampoo.

HOW TO USE IT AS A SHAMPOO

I put it in a small milk bottle and I pour the cold liquid (straight from the fridge) onto my hair in sections, and then rub it in, then re-pour more liquid as I need to.

I tilt my head from left to right, working my way from the top of my head to the underside of my head.

It feels like you are rubbing water into your scalp, so it will NOT have a nice, slippery feel (no silicones added), and it will NOT feel like a regular shampoo, but it will not feel as drying or as tough to do as with soap (castile, or otherwise)

You need to lift sections of your hair and rub it into your scalp, then rinse.

Then lift another section, pour and rub more of this cold liquid in your hair, and then rinse.

Keep doing this until you don’t feel any slippery oil on your fingers any longer when you rub your fingers together, and you’ll be ready to rinse out and leave.

UPDATE: NONE OF THE ABOVE APPLIES IN TERMS OF LONGER WASHING TIME

I discovered through experimentation that I could just increase the amount of soap nuts boiled (I went from 15 soap nuts to 20), and I stopped spending more time washing my hair.

The stronger the solution, the less you need to rub your scalp to clean it of oil.

The weaker and gentler the solution, the more you need to use and rub into your scalp.

Now, I just pour the liquid on my scalp in sections:

  • left side above the ear
  • top of my head
  • other side above the ear
  • underneath my hair by the nape of my neck

…and then I do a quick massage (3 seconds each section) of this soap nut water into my scalp, and rinse.

My hair comes out 100% super clean. A little too squeaky clean and dry, actually, so then I rub coconut oil (a TINY TINY amount) into my palms and spread it over my hair.

I AM LOSING LESS HAIR

The great thing about using this, is that I’ve noticed that I am losing less hair.

At the end of every shower, I usually end up with a clump to clean out of the drain, but this time it was maybe 5 hairs at the most.

Maybe I am rubbing my scalp less? But before I dialed up the strength, I was rubbing MORE than I am today, so that may not be it.

Whatever it is, I am losing less hair, and everyone said: WTF are you doing to your hair? It looks much fuller and thicker..

I think it’s because I dry it while I sleep (in a bun on top of my head) to give fake volume, but I am now picking out maybe 3 hairs from the drain.

Oftentimes, no hair at all comes off my scalp after shampooing which is what happened yesterday, and it surprised me.

USED AS A FACIAL WASH

Don’t do it. Not worth it.

This really stings. I mean, REALLY stings. (If you haven’t gotten the hint yet, … IT STINGS)

For you contact lens wearers out there, if you have ever felt the sting from taking out your contacts too early from that protein-eating cleansing solution, or put it anywhere but IN the designated cap, you will know what I mean by.. IT STINGS.

It gets into your eyes easily because it’s like water, and then you’ll curse my name and wish you never heard of soap nuts.

“DAMN YOU MOCHIMAC!!”

Just buy a facial wash, or try washing with raw honey (natural, mild surfactant) or just warm water with a wash cloth (if you have really good skin and don’t get pimples or clogged pores).

(Washing with raw honey or warm water doesn’t work for me because I wear makeup, and most of all, my skin clogs very easily, gets oily and has a horrible combination T-zone. I already tried and it was A NO GO.)

USED AS A HAND WASH

Possible but it feels weird, like you’re washing with water. It’s also hard to use or get out of the pump.

You have to wash about 2-3 times before your hands feel grease-free.

Still, not a bad idea. If only I could thicken it somehow, but it doesn’t seem to be worth the trouble, as I can just use castile soap for my hands.

*shrug*

OVERALL?

Best method out of all of them for shampoo and laundry, with the rest being “meh” as you can find other solutions.

1KG costs about $25 to buy, but you only use 8-15 soap nuts each time to make a batch of liquid (depending on how strong you want it) that will last about a month worth of shampooing every other day.

Now for the best part — the how-to!

HOW TO MAKE SOAP NUT LIQUID (RECIPE)

For laundry detergents, you need to put 8 soap nuts to 6 cups of water.

For shampoo, you need 15 soap nuts to 3 cups of water (doubled recipe).

I tried with less, like 20 soap nuts to 6 cups of water, and it was too mild. It took too much and too long to get the oil out of my hair. A stronger solution was needed.

STEP 1: THROW THEM INTO A POT

Soap-Nuts-Natural-Shampoo-Face-Wash-Saponin-How-To

STEP 2: POUR WATER ONTO THEM

Soap-Nuts-Natural-Shampoo-Face-Wash-Saponin-How-To-Water-2

STEP 3: BOIL THEM ON MEDIUM TO LOW HEAT (UNTIL YOU SEE A LOW BOIL) FOR 30 MINUTES

AFTER ABOUT 1 MINUTE

The water was cold.

Soap-Nuts-Natural-Shampoo-Face-Wash-Saponin-How-To-Boil-1

AFTER ABOUT 3 MINUTES

Soap-Nuts-Natural-Shampoo-Face-Wash-Saponin-How-To-Boil-3

AFTER ABOUT 10 MINUTES

Soap-Nuts-Natural-Shampoo-Face-Wash-Saponin-How-To-Boil-5

AFTER ABOUT 25 MINUTES

Soap-Nuts-Natural-Shampoo-Face-Wash-Saponin-How-To-Boil-6

FINISHED PRODUCT:

Soap-Nuts-Natural-Shampoo-Face-Wash-Saponin-How-To-Inside-Side

And done!

DIARY OF USING SOAP NUTS ON MYSELF (your resident guinea pig for crazy experiments) FOR:

1 DAY

I tried washing my hair less (again, another oil experiment), and my former hairdresser did this in NYC, and she had AMAZING looking hair.

I can do it. Right..?

Just need to deal with grease for the first 6 weeks until it gets used to not having so much oil being produced.

1 WEEK

I’m about to throw in the towel.

My hair is so oily, I have like a hair helmet of oil. I am able to go about 3 full days (72 hours) without having to wash my hair, but the fourth day is near impossible.

(The third day is borderline, as I throw my hair up into a bun.)

It probably doesn’t help that the new soap nut liquid shampoo I have, is SO MILD it is like baby-shampoo mild.

I need to massage my scalp maybe 2-3 times longer to really get the oil off, and if I don’t take the time, my hair is still a bit oily (but much better than before).

I need to make a new batch.

3 WEEKS

I made a new batch of soap nut liquid, this time with 15 soap nuts to 3 cups of water, and LO AND BEHOLD IT WORKS.


It’s a lot better than the mild version of before (stupid Youtube videos… *shakes fist*..), and I only need to pour about 1/10th of the jug onto my head and rub it into my scalp to remove all the oil.

Before, I was using about 1/2 of the mug of liquid, and it was still not all getting out.

Now to see how it goes for the next month (I suspect: AWESOME.)

1 MONTH

I’m down to 3 times a week (every 72 hours) for washing my hair (I still shower daily, I just don’t wash my hair..)

My hair looks a BIT greasy on the third day, but no more oily hair helmet.

1.5 MONTHS

I think I’ve reached the limit of every 4 days, or 96 hours, or about twice a week. The last day is a bit greasy (as it was before, on my second day of washing), but the first 3 days are amazing.

I can’t go down to once a week because my hair is too straight and flat (which means it picks up the oil a lot easier than a curly haired girl), and I really don’t want to.

DONE. Washing twice a week (unless I move around a lot and start sweating), works for me.

I’m to the point where I am just going to wash my hair when I feels like it’s on the brink of oilapolooza (yes a real word), rather than forcing it to go more days in between washes.

Also, I increased the soap nut amount to 20 instead of 15 soap nuts which created (for me) the perfect balance of super cleansing liquid so that I rub my scalp a lot less.

2 MONTHS

I am now down to once a week on the best of times. If I don’t sweat a lot, I can go about once a week.

When my hair FEELS greasy I wash it immediately, even if it isn’t once a week or twice a week. I just wash it because it’s gross and disgusting.

I will note that I am also eating a lot less oil (I don’t add oil to the food I cook now) which might contribute to less oil being generated in my scalp, and the turning point of when I could go longer in between washing my hair was about 6 weeks into “training” my scalp, which worked perfectly.

Enjoy!

—–

UPDATE: You can buy soapnuts from Well.ca


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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25 Comments

  1. S
    Suganthi

    You can also try this soapnut shampoo wit some dried amla and shikakai added to it… makes wonder to the hair.

    Reply
  2. M
    Michele

    I’ve been using soap nuts for about 7 years now ( I’ve lost track!). I would never go back to detergent. Recently I have found the Indian stores near where I live in Brampton are the most reasonable source of soap nuts. They seem to need to be cracked open when you buy them whole ( you can hear the seed inside when you shake them). Has anyone bought them this way as opposed to ready to use? Do you crack them open for effectiveness? Methods?

    Reply
    1. sherry@savespendsplurge.com

      The stone inside can stain your clothes.. they should be selling them shelled already, but I guess a nutcracker or a large flat stone would work to snap them open.

      Reply
  3. I
    Irene

    This is very interesting… Where is the best place to get these? I’m looking online but I can’t seem to find suppliers that ship to Canada 🙁

    Have you tried adding xanthun gum as a thickening agent? Even 1 tsp over 500 ml of water will gel the whole lot up. It’s widely available in grocery/health stores for all the gluten free folks out there.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Well I use HolyTaste.ca 🙂 they sell soapnuts online and are based in Toronto.

      I don’t even make this liquid any more because I wash everything with hot or warm water (baby sanitation), I put them in a mesh bag and they release saponins without any issues

      They REALLY clean cloth diapers well. Better than any other commercial detergent.

      Reply
  4. Bridget

    huppie.

    Amazing.

    Reply
  5. M
    Marianna

    Not so long ago I started to wash my hair with banana, egg and lemon. I was supersize with result – nice looking hair. Happy with my experiment. But I might try your recipe.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Marianna: I have not tried that recipe you’ve mentioned but I have a feeling it won’t work — my hair needs a strong cleansing agent, which soap nuts give.

      Reply
  6. E
    Elizabeth

    Fell upon your blog a few weeks ago, and since I’ve become a fan. Thanks for all the no-nonsense advice. Where do you buy your soap nuts?

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Elizabeth: Thank you kindly Elizabeth!

      You can buy soap nuts at most organic grocery stores, or kind of “hippie” places. Or even online. Just google “Soap nuts”. If you live in the U.S., it’s super easy for you to buy them.

      In Canada, I would try Kensington Market (Essence of Life), they have the cheapest soap nuts in all of Toronto thus far. Grassroots is more expensive, even with 10% off from my LiveGreen Toronto card.

      Reply
  7. D
    Debt Blag

    OMG, I didn’t make it down to your field tests when I first commented. I am totally amazed by and appreciative of your commitment to this topic 🙂

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Debt Blag: *laughing*

      You’re welcome. I’m passionate, to say the least.

      Reply
  8. PK

    “I will note that I am also eating a lot less oil” – so long as you don’t eliminate fats completely. Note there is a dietary requirement for Fats – Omega 3s are usually the ‘short’ ones (you probably Hit 6 and 9 fine with any modern diet)..

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @PK: Oh yeah I have walnuts in my diet, avocados.. no worries 🙂

      Reply
  9. D
    Debt Blag

    I make my own laundry detergent. The savings is about 15 cents per load which amounts to little more than a rounding error since I pay $3 a load to use the laundromat. Still, I like that I know exactly what’s going into the soap since I have skin that’s a little more sensitive than the average person.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Debt Blag: I actually don’t use any laundry detergent. The soap nuts are just for greasy kitchen towels… otherwise, it’s just warm water and agitation to get my clothes clean.

      Others have tried my method, and say they can’t tell the difference. Their clothes just don’t smell like lavender, but they’re just as clean.

      Reply
  10. cj

    I found myself highly amused and appreciative of all the work you out into this post! Holy Jumping Hoombahs!!! This, I like. When I do the wash (not very often) I use water only, no soap. Shampoo, I use, but my hair is so short, the bottle can last up to 6 months. For my face, I have used water only for the last 8 years and I have fewer blemishes than ever. The trick is that I wash my face about 8 times a day, but it feels marvelous!!!

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @cj: I try my best. 🙂

      Guys in general seem to have good skin. They don’t need to worry about using a cleanser, the shampoo, nothing. BF is the same way.

      I think it’s something to do with the testosterone being a natural hormone for them, and in women like myself, if we have a bit too much testosterone, our hair is oilier, our faces are greasier, etc.

      Reply
  11. SarahN @ Livetolist

    I use a solid shampoo bar from Lush. I’m sure it’s not ideal, but it’s a balance for me – I like that it’s no waste (they sell nice metal tins, which I’ve only bought the once). When I first shaved my head, I cut right down on my hair washing frequency, but now that I don’t look like a ‘shaved head’ anymore (I have a pixie style cut), I’m back to daily washing :s But I’ve always been a daily washer, as I hate the oily look, esp with long hair where some is oily and some is dry.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @SarahN @ Livetolist: Lush makes me sneeze because of the perfumes. I’m sensitive..

      I do like that they’re no waste!

      My hair can go without washing for about a week without any kind of an oily look where it’s dry and oily on the scalp / crown if I don’t work out or sweat in yoga (which in the summer is now every other day).

      I’ve gone back to washing my hair every other day (after yoga), but in the winter when I don’t do yoga, my hair can go longer.

      Reply
  12. maz

    Hilarious. Really enjoyed your post. I’m just glad I wasn’t the guinea pig. Thanks for the recipe… I think I stick to the soap nuts for my laundry.
    BTW, if you want the nuts to really foam in the machine, just split them in two before throwing them in the drum ( in a bag or a sock ).

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @maz: Hot water makes them release more saponin and foam, and you should remove the seed inside before using the husks (it can stain clothes).. 🙂

      I am always willing to give new things a try!

      Reply
  13. Michelle

    I am quite fascinated by this experiment and I think I might try it on myself. I’ve had a lot of problems with hair loss due to chemicals. Thanks for this post.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Michelle: I’ve just noticed that less hair is disappearing and clogging the drain, I can’t tell you FOR CERTAIN what it’s linked to, I just know I am losing less and I have a feeling it’s the shampoos, my diet, etc.

      Reply

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