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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8 years ago

@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.

12 years ago

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”, and here’s what the author had to say about soapnuts:

While they are certainly less toxic than “normal” detergent, we might actually be releasing more toxins into the environment by using them. And why is this? Because since so many people in the USA and Europe think it’s cool to go green and want to use soap nuts, prices of this crop have multiplied and a lot of people in India, where it is native, are no longer able to afford it. So while soap nuts are exported to the so-called first world, a lot of Indians have switched to cheap chemical detergents, possibly more aggressive than most and applied by hand by those who don’t own a laundry machine.

Authors conclusion? “Green” products are a hoax.
My conclusion? Not necessarily all the time… but just because something seems to be green, doesn’t mean it really is. And in order to know whether we are making the right choices, we ought to try looking at the big picture. Though, of course, that’s easier said than done…

I’ve tried to verify the story above by finding other sources for it, but I haven’t yet. What I HAVE found is other accounts of how the price for soap nuts is now many times of what it used to be. And while the consequences weren’t mentioned in those other sources, to me, they sound too rational to dismiss.
So… I don’t buy soapnuts anymore.
What I use, at the moment, is some sort of ball that according to the description contains minerals and stuff to clean your laundry and allegedly can be used about 1000 times before wearing out. I don’t know whether I’ll stick to that method forever, but at the moment, it seems to be the best solution I’ve been able to find.

Thien An
14 years ago

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

14 years ago

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

14 years ago

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.


14 years ago

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
14 years ago

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

Anita K
14 years ago

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!

14 years ago

Dear Mother Earth,

We’re trying!

kath1216 [AT] aol [DOT] com

14 years ago

i’d love to try soapnuts

14 years ago

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
14 years ago

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

Stephanie Bell (@prncesspurdylily)

14 years ago

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
14 years ago


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!

14 years ago

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 it! We found the recipe for very oily hair on LHC (Longhair forums)

We were told you can reuse the soapnuts in the local shop, washing eg 2 times on lower temperature, & 3rd time on higher temperature-?
Do you just use cold water & not even ‘low temperature’ like 30C or 40C?

might try your recipe to see if it washes better, on lower temperature some of the stains didn’t get removed..
& there was a slightly acidic smell when clothes were wet (my nose is veery sensitive!) but it disappeared when clothes were dry!
so, definitely intend to use ’em again, especially if I can find zero waste ones!

Braedy Tritthart
14 years ago

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.

14 years ago

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

14 years ago

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 thoroughly clean your laundry.”

Someone else asked about shampoo, website didn’t say anything, but did suggest using .5 cups of soapnut soak to 2 cups of water as a produce wash…

Condo Blues
14 years ago

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 people plan on growing vegtables. Some are fueled by environmental reasons other for economic but These simple changes are common ground where both sides can meet and talk about the joys of compost or whatever, without political stimga. I call that progress.

Condo Blues

PS: Beth, can you use soapnuts in a HE washing machine? If not, please don’t enter me in the contest because I have to use low suding detergent in my front loader. I’ll sadly stick with my low waste, homemade laundry detergent.

14 years ago

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
14 years ago

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

14 years ago

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 ….

14 years ago

I 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 !). Well, a kilo of soapnuts lasts 18 months !!! So it saves you money too !
I used soapnuts to wash my babie’s washable nappies, no problem at all! It is also great for people who are allergical to chemicals!
This product is natural, so it is great for our health.
In France, it is now possible to by soapnuts in ‘normal’ supermarket. I now know a lot of people who use them and there are not particularly cautious about the environment!!!

Cheap Like Me
14 years ago

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 we have a long way to go, but hopefully these little actions make you smile. Are you noticing our efforts, or do you plan to kill us off in the near future?

Cheap Like Me

14 years ago

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 wolf made me breathless, and you know I’m on your side about the hunting of them that’s going to start. I think it’s pretty cool how you gave some atoms to form some plants and animals that my parents ate to form me. But for a random sack of atoms that formed by pure chance thanks to you, I sure don’t treat you right.

I always wanted to live forever, Earth. Losing the cohesion of my atoms scares me. I still am in denial over it’s eventual occurrence. But I’m starting to realize I already have achieved immortality, in some form. Every piece of plastic I use will still remain, even after most of my molecules have become small furry animals. I just hope the suburban species diversity improves by that point, I don’t want to be a pigeon or grey squirrel. But I’m forgetting the point, that the most lasting mark I will likely make is the remaining CO2 produced to power my life, all the chemicals I’ve used, and all the trash I’ve thrown into the ground. That’s not how I want you to remember me.

I don’t know what I can do to treat you right, Earth. You’re high maintenance. It’s so easy to tread on you without realizing.

This is hard, Earth. I don’t know if I can change. But I know we’re meant to be together. Maybe we should get couples therapy. Though that’s not fair to you, I’m just wanting more than you can give. When have I ever had to give for you?

plastic earthling
14 years ago


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
14 years ago

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

14 years ago

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

14 years ago

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

14 years ago

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. :)

14 years ago

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


14 years ago

Dear Planet Earth,

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


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

14 years ago

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

Mindful Momma
14 years ago

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!)

14 years ago

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!

14 years ago

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

14 years ago

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.


14 years ago

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.

14 years ago

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!

14 years ago

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?

14 years ago

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

14 years ago

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 with, to be in love with. Thank you for keeping mysteries and secrets from us, for making things interesting for us. Thank you for revealing yourself slowly, keeping the best part of you yet hidden for us to find. Thank you for supporting us, for letting us grow and change and live. And thank you for being patient with us, forgiving us as we try to sort our mistakes out and fix them as best we can.

Know, Mother, that we have an innate love for you, we are terraphiles, each and everyone one of us at heart. Not one of us can watch your glorious sunrises, witness your magnificent forests and mountains and oceans without feeling that stirring that lets us know how deeply we love and care for you.

Like any relationship Mother, we need to keep learning to undertand you, we need to learn to help and care for you, we need to learn from our past mistakes so that we can keep moving forward, and eventually we will be able to take care of each other the best that we can. You may not need us, Mother, but I like to think that you care for us as much as we care for you, I don’t think you want us to go, I think you just want us to stop hurting you.

We want to, Mother, we do, we just need the time to learn how.


I’m so excited at the prospects of this!

14 years ago

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.

14 years ago

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 (
14 years ago

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


Di Hickman
14 years ago

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.


14 years ago

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 never left – they just forgot. We do that sometimes. We will work on the big corporations whose memories are harder to jog than ours. I have faith it will happen. In the meantime, keep spinning and doing your thing. I love you.

14 years ago

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!

14 years ago

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!


14 years ago

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.