The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 10, 2009

Plastic-Free Soap Nuts

UPDATE: Sadly, LaundryTree has closed its doors.  For updated information on where to buy plastic-free soap nuts and all of our plastic-free laundry methods, please visit this post: How to Make Liquid Soap Nuts Laundry Soap Plus Other Plastic-Free Laundry Ideas.  But don’t leave just yet!  This is still a great story about how to get companies to change their packaging.  

The original post…

Put on your fuzzy slippers. Grab a mug of cocoa. Sit back, and let me tell you a little story about why it’s worth it for us to ask for what we want. There’s free stuff at the end, so hang in with me.

Have you ever done your laundry with soap nuts or been curious to find out how they work? Soap nuts grow on a tree called Sapindus mukorossi (Chinese Soapberry) and contain saponin, a natural surfactant which foams just like soap. I’ve wanted to try soap nuts since I first spotted them in a natural grocery store a couple of years ago but have always been deterred by the plastic in the packaging. Although they are imported, the idea of using a laundry soap that contains only one, minimally-processed natural ingredient (the soap nuts are harvested, de-seeded, and sun-dried) appealed to me.

So last month, when the bloggers at Tiny Choices announced a LaundryTree soap nuts giveaway, I was pretty excited. Excited, that is, until I clicked on the site and saw the soap nuts packaging. Looked like plastic bags to me.

Not one to give up so easily, I left a comment asking what the packaging was made from. I wanted to be sure. Jenn at Tiny Choices forwarded my comment to Lisa at LaundryTree, who responded to me right away and asked for helping de-plasticking her packaging.

Less than one month later, LaundryTree has already switched to recycled paper bags! Check out the sample I received in the mail:

The natural kraft paper bags contain 40% recycled content and are lined with a minimal amount of PLA (to keep the soap nuts fresh) which makes the bags fully compostable or recyclable.

I am so impressed with a business owner that listens to her customers and responds so quickly. Isn’t this the kind of business we’d all like to support?

Of course, the packaging would be irrelevant if the soap nuts themselves didn’t work. So before writing this post, I of course tried them out. And actually, I could just send you over to the Tiny Choices review of soap nuts because their review is very similar to what I’m about to write here. They even linked to the same Wikipedia page. But to spare you the extra clicks, I’ll go ahead and write my own glowing review.

Soap nuts only release their saponin in warm or hot water. I wash in cold to save energy. But never fear, there is an easy solution. Mix up a batch of SoapNuts Soak by bringing a pot of water to a boil, removing it from the heat, tossing in 6-8 soap nuts, and letting them sit covered over night. In the morning, strain into a couple of glass jars. The used soap nuts can go in the compost. Use 1/4 to 1/2 cup per laundry load.

By the way, I’ve noticed that another major distributor of soap nuts is now selling a liquid version in plastic bottles. Look how easy it is to make without the plastic. Easy as boiling water. Of course, if you’re like me and forget about pots on the stove, this procedure might not be as easy as it is for most. Still, I can deal. Because one batch of Soapnut Soak will do at least 8 loads of laundry.

Now, I’ll be honest. Soap nuts smell pretty darned funky. In fact, when I poured some out on the carpet this morning to take a picture, Soots and Arya went just a little nutty sniffing them. So, as you can imagine, I was skeptical about how my laundry would smell. LaundryTree promises that our clothes will not end up smelling like the soap nuts.

So, after adding the Soapnut Soak to my cold water load of light colors, and watching in amazement at the amount of foamy bubbles produced, I felt compelled to sniff every item as it came out of the washing machine. And you know what? They just smelled clean. Fresh. That’s the only way I can describe the scent. It was nothing like the smell of the soap nuts.

Some people prefer to add scent to their laundry, and to that end, LaundryTree sells a variety of essential oils. For me, the oils were completely unnecessary. I like my clean to smell like clean.

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@Rebecca that is some really interesting information. I’m going to look further into this, is I am a big fan and user, and advocate and promoter, of soap nuts. I had no idea about the consequences you mentioned.


I scanned over the other comments, however, I didn’t read every single of them, so I’m sorry if someone else already pointed this out: While I appreciate the idea of a laundry detergent that grows on trees and doesn’t have to be made from chemicals… I read a book recently that made me re-think my enthusiasm on this particular “green product” (and some others, too). The book is called “Ende der Marchenstunde” and is in German… so probably not too interesting for most of the readers of this blog. ;-) Essentially, it’s about questioning the actual impact of “conscious consumerism”,… Read more »

Thien An

I have been looking for this berry for so long! I'm glad to have found it on your website and your great review of

My mother used to wash her hair with these berries when she was much younger living in Vietnam. Ever since I've been looking for them and coming up with weird names. Earlier tonight, gave up and decided to write the simplest thing that came to my mind and it happened to bring me to your website.

Thank you!!

Thien An from


I got my winnin’s in the mail a few days ago. Thanks for hosting the contest!


Mother Earth,
Thanks for being who you are and I’m sorry we do not take better care of you. I’m trying my best to be responsible and teach my daughter how to take better care of you. I hope more people realize the importance of taking care of you.



What a great blog you have! I found you in my search for soap nuts info. You’ve convinced me that it’s something I need to try so if the promo is still open please throw my hat in the ring.

And my question to Mother Earth – Please can you tell me if the little things I am doing add up? I worry that it’s just a drop in the ocean since corporations are still allowed to pollute with little or no consequence.

Beth Terry

Anita, I’m sorry you got the plastic bag! Did you use the FAKEPLASTICFISH discount code?

Anita K

I was so excited to try these, especially with the no plastic packaging, but I got my soapnuts in plastic. Maybe it was because I ordered a kit with fragrance and they were pre-packed. I dunno. I was a bit bummed, but if they work for me I will order more contingent on the packaging!

This is the constant struggle, trying to go against what, for some reason, is still the mainstream! It shouldn’t take so much effort to reduced my own plastic use. We try!

Thank for the review for this product and for helping them change their packaging!


Dear Mother Earth,

We’re trying!

kath1216 [AT] aol [DOT] com


i’d love to try soapnuts


Dear Mother Earth:

Does it annoy you when everyone says that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that occur near each other in time but on opposite sides of an ocean or around the edges of adjacent tectonic plates aren’t related? I’m a geologist by training, and it annoys me when people think they’re not, when it should be so obvious that they are.

Trying my best to help protect you (doing a lot of walking…)…

Mrs Bell Gets Schooled

Dear Earth,
Thank you and I vote you as the TRUE Miss Universe!

Stephanie Bell (@prncesspurdylily)


I just started reading your site and am loving it! Thank you so much for all the research you do and sharing it.

Is it too late to enter the soap nut drawing? If so, I will visit the other site and order some. Or just do that anyway.

Thank again!

Lynn from


I love your brand of activism. I love how you raise the right questions and work with companies to get to more sustainable solutions. First Brita, now SoapNuts…what’s next?

Of course, if every company responded like SoapNuts did, what a different world this would be….

Great, great story – thanks for sharing.

And I’ve been wondering what the heck all the buzz was about soapnuts…now I have to try them!


Not after the soapnuts – we have some already! :) Great post though!! Have you researched PLA well & would it be okay for food products too? (& is it fully recyclable/compostable/zero waste & health friendly? any links to research/studies would be heartily appreciated!) I talked to an organic pasta manufacturer & they were interested to hear about alternatives to cellophane?!! Also, local soapnuts distributors here in Slovenia mostly offer cellophane/plastics versions too, so I might ask them a similar question like you have? ;) my Mum washes hair with soapnuts+aa bit of lemon juice now too, & she loves… Read more »

Braedy Tritthart

I’d say… Planet Earth I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you the majority of my life. I’ve woken up and seen what I’ve been doing to you, and I’m working on that extra hard now. I devote my time and effort into improving my carbon footprint. I’ve become a vegetarian, started recycling, composting, and purchasing all organics, organic and sustainable crop clothing. I’ve seen the error of my ways, and am ready to change, and hope to inspire others along the way.


I would apologize to Mother Earth for the footprint that I have inevitably created.


Condo Blues, According to the laundry tree website, “Can I use soapnuts in HE/front loading washers? – Absolutely! In fact, because they don’t create many suds, soapnuts are great for high-efficiency (HE, or front-loading) washers! A front-loading washing machine requires a special detergent, called HE detergent, to allow it to clean your laundry properly. HE detergent is unique because it doesn’t produce lots of suds like regular detergent does. Soapnuts are naturally a low-sudsing product with no added fillers, dyes or chemicals to create bubbles in the wash. But even without the bubbles, you will find that the soapnuts will… Read more »

Condo Blues

Yo Mama (Earth), What’s up? As a student of history, I know that humans are a wasteful species. Drives me nuts, but I can’t get all doom and gloom on you because I see little things around me that show that as a whole, we humans are getting better at treating you right. I see that people are buying less extra stuff, trying to make do with what they have, and reuse things instead of tossing them in a landfill. I see people trying to use less gas/electric/water. They are proclaiming 2009 The Year of the Garden because so many… Read more »


Dear Earth,
How many people do we need to make the change away from plastic before you start feeling better?

Just started reading your blog & love it.

Susan Dorey

I’m willing to try using soapnuts in my front-loading washing machine. I greatly appreciate the absence of plastic packaging! And the absence of “fragrance.”

Can soapnuts be used for shampoo?

Susan Dorey


Another thing:
soapnuts are here sold in bags made with fabrics (no platis bags). You can then reuse the bag for another purpose!Sorry for my poor english ….


HelloI am French and I have been using soapnuts for nearly 2 years. It is a great way to wash your clothes, and it really works ! It is environment friendly compared to washing powder. Ok, it comes from Himalaya (so use of petrol to bring it over to my country). But think about the impact of washing powder or liquid on the environement: a plastic bottle, petrol to produce it + petrol to produce the washing powder (liquid) + petrol to bring it to your supermarket + petrol to bring the bottle home (welle 6 times per year !).… Read more »

Cheap Like Me

Dear Earth, Sorry I missed you yesterday for the holiday. I was at my other mother’s house for Easter dinner. Those events are getting more exciting, though, as my family members have begun reading my blog, and nearly every time I see them they are excited to show me something they are doing that is good for you. This time, my sister had made a completely eco-friendly Easter basket for my daughter (a paper bag with handmade paper decorations, some books and clothing inside), and my mother just bought a Dutch oven to begin making her own bread. I know… Read more »


Those soapnuts things sound cool. Would those who pick them up mind doing some science for the rest of us and see how well they work in front load vs top washers, cold vs warm water for the liquid and solid versions, etc? hjohnson587 at good ole G-Mail (take THAT spam bots!) Dear Earth, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. We seem to be going through a rough patch in our relationship these days. I love your birds and flowers, and you do a lot for me that I don’t even know. Looking to the face of that… Read more »

plastic earthling


Can you feel the fish swimming in the ocean, and does it make you itchy to have so many things crawling on you, and when it lightnings do you get excited like me, and do you miss the moon?

Fancy Pants Elitist

Wow this is absolutely a terrific Idea. And they will work in HE front loaders! This is terrific, thanks for the tip! Please include me in the contest.

twitter me at LadyLiberty13


Dear Earth-
Man is supposed to be caretaker of you.
I am sorry for the way man has taken care of you. It seems a lot of times that Man uses the easy way to acheive things. My guilt is laundry-
I have used soap nuts in the past- they worked adequate. But then I got into the recycled bottle thing. I may have to give them another try.
Love, Rob


Dear Mother Earth,
I have been trying to help keep you cleaner. Everyone in my family has noticed, and everyone at work. Trying these soap nuts would be another way to help. Thank you.

Joyce Howden


Dear Planet Earth, my family is really trying to do all we can to make life better for all living beings. I despair that others are making bad choices and hope that what I am doing now will make a difference. Please send a sign to the men and women carrying around paper coffee cuos and a danish packed in clear clam shell packaging. Send them a sign. I would love to win the soap nuts. I am close to being out of my detergent and am researching new alternatives. New reader with a blog and contact info. :)


my email was rejected, I’ll try again. Still didn’t work, said it failed permanently!



Dear Planet Earth,

Sorry about the mess, we’re trying to get it cleaned up!


P.S. Happy Birthday (april 22) ;o)


soapnuts soapnuts soapnuts. gimme. you said u love me. you know how to reach me. :-X

Mindful Momma

So Mother Earth – what else do you have up your sleeve? You make food that nourishes our bodies, medicines that cure our ills and now nuts that clean our clothes??? You are truly amazing!

(and thank goodness you’ve got Beth in your corner – she’s one heck of an ally!)


I would ask Mother Earth for forgiveness for anything I’ve done wrong and for the times I’ve been lazy and selfish.

I’ve been wanting to try these soapnuts!


Dear Planet Earth,

I really enjoy living on you. Please don’t wipe us out; we’re trying to mend our errors. I hope my personal efforts are a help.

– Rachel


Dear Mother Earth,

I am sorry for the part I have had in hurting you. I am doing my best to live more lightly upon your surface even though sometimes it seems impossible. This past year has been an incredible journey and I am so happy to have become closer and more in tune to you. Thank you for all your gifts to us – I promise to use them wisely.



Dear Earth,
Some people are trying, and some are not. I am doing my best to educate people to treat the earth better, and I am doing my best to try to make up for their failures.
I just wish people would realize how important it is.


Dearest Mother,

I would like to know if you can heal. So many of us see your pain, feel it with you, and are trying to ease it as best we can.
Is it making enough of a difference?

And Berry.. you CAN use soapnuts with cloth diapers!


Wow, never heard of soapnuts before! I recently mixed up a bucket of laundry soap with Fels Naptha, borax and washing soda, but my sensitive son broke out in a rash from using it. :-( Wonder if soapnuts would have the same effect?

Hmmm… Planet Earth am I doing enough to keep you healthy? Some do more, many do less, but where is the sustainable medium for you and me?


I would thank Planet Earth for all that she has given me…because really, where would I be without her? I would also ask if I’m doing the right thing: I like to believe it all matters, but sometimes I could use a little support and encouragement.

You may contact me at


Dear Mother– I wanted to say thank you. I don’t take enough time out of my day to thank you, I really should. I should thank you not only for the beauty you have surrounded us with — the mountains I can see from my window, the smell of the rain or the snow, the beautiful way that the plants around me grow and support each other — but thank you for shining, and sharing. Thank you for sharing everything you have with us, for letting us explore you and learn from you, from giving us yourself to be fascinated… Read more »


Thanks, everyone, for sharing our excitement — about soapnuts AND our new packaging! To quickly address the “diaper” questions: soaputs are a GREAT choice for cloth diapers! More details available on our site) — but for more information, we’d like to point you to this hilarious review.


Dear Earth,
I’m so happy that you are taking care of us while we are here living on you. I’m sorry that we treat you so badly. My family is trying very hard to change our behavious so that we can show you LOVE!

Thanks Beth for the post! I’ve been dying to try these. I too would like to know if they can be used on cloth diapers.


Jenn (

Way too cool!! Aren’t you kind of in love with LaundryTree now? I sure am.


Di Hickman

Never heard of these before but would love to try them!
I’d ask the Earth if what I was doing was making a difference. Sometimes I get discouraged, thinking I should/could be doing more.



I have been wanting to try these, but decided to use Charlie’s Soap b/c it was recommended for cloth diapers and comes packaged in paper. (However it does have a little green plastic scoop). I want to try Soapnuts now! Hopefully they work well on diapers. Earth, I know you are listening. You’re always listening – and responding. Thank you for being so patient with us. Thank you for providing so much, even when we don’t always reciprocate. We are trying to be good stewards. I read more everyday about people finding their love for you again. I think it… Read more »


Soapnuts! You have got to be kidding me! I’ve never heard of those. Little things from trees that you put in laundry? That’s seriously amazing. Why have I never heard of them before? I would desperately love to try some.

To Planet Earth I would say, thank you for the soapnuts. It seems like no matter how old I get, you never run out of these amazing little surprises!


That is so cool! I have a hand crank washing doohickey, and I line dry, so this would be the icing on the proverbial cake! I’d ask the earth what ONE thing she wishes we could all do? What’s ONE thing that if every single person on earth did, it would make a difference?

I’ll order some for sure if I don’t win. I love it so much!



nice! new paper packaging. Good job Beth! We’ve had them in Toronto a few years now, but I’ve yet to buy any since I it was expensive for a little pouch. Everyone here is more expensive in Canada. I read often, you’re my echolic idol.