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Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Launder with Soap Nuts (including cloth diapers!)

In preparing the nursery, I needed to start washing my stash of cloth diapers, but my laundry detergent was listed (even though it's a "sustainable" brand) as not being very good for cloth diapers. Some detergents leave residue that can build up on diapers and cause leaks or decreased absorbency.

I started researching detergents for cloth diapers and decided to try soap nuts. These nuts are grown on a tree and are a natural soap perfect for washing machines. They are low sudsing, so compatible with HE washers (which is what we own).

Soap Nuts (image source: NaturOli)
Here is why I chose soap nuts over other cloth diaper safe or sustainable detergents:
  • Better for the Environment: they are completely natural (they grow on a tree!), certified organic, completely biodegradable, and are non-toxic.
  • Better for your Health: they are hypoallergenic, safe for sensitive skin (eczema and baby skin), no harsh chemicals, non-toxic, unscented
  • Better for your Wallet: they are not as expensive as standard detergents (as low as $0.05 per load when purchased in the 2-3lb range), especially compared to detergents designed to be environmentally sound and hypoallergenic. 
What is interesting about these three reasons for using soap nuts is that these are all the three reasons why I chose cloth diapers over disposables. I wanted the best for my baby for his/her health, as well as the best for the environment and my wallet. I tend to be a bit thrifty, so getting all three of these in one package makes me happy!

I bought NaturOli Soap Nuts Sample Pack (affiliate link) from Amazon for $5.90, which is supposed to do approximately 15-25 loads of laundry. Next, I researched tips from across the internet, which I have included a list at the bottom of this page. Here is a summary of some of the tips and directions on how to launder with soap nuts:

Tips for Laundering with Soap Nuts

First Time Use = Strip the Washing Machine

Since there is a buildup of residue from your traditional detergent (even a "green" brand) in the washing machine, many sites recommend stripping your washing machine before laundering cloth diapers. If you don't, there is a risk that the soap nuts will lift the residue and it will end up on your cloth diapers. This defeats the purpose of using soap nuts, so definitely strip your washing machine first!

I read that you can simply run the washing machine without anything in it except some soap nuts. The brand of soap nuts I bought suggested washing something (not diapers) with soap nuts, like rags you don't much care for. It will strip the washing machine AND do a load of laundry. I have an HE washing machine that fills the machine up with water based on how much is in it, so I preferred the second method.

Warm or Hot Wash

Put 5 soap nuts, or equivalent pieces, in a cotton or muslin drawstring bag and tie bag securely. My soap nut sample pack came with an empty bag for this.

Toss the soap nuts in the washing machine before you add your clothes. Remove from washer at the end of the wash to dry (leave soap nuts in bag). I have a little glass bowl in my laundry room that I put the soap nuts in at the end of the wash.

Re-use approximately 5 times. The soap nuts are no longer effective when they become thin, mushy and very light tan or gray.

Cold Wash

Make a cup of soap nut 'tea' by soaking 5 bagged soap nuts in a cup of very hot water for approximately 3 minutes.

Pour both the soap nuts liquid and bag in the washing machine before adding your clothes. Remove from the washer at end of the wash to dry (leave soap nuts in bag).

Re-use approximately 5 times. The soap nuts are no longer effective when they become thin, mushy and very light tan or gray.

Some of the cloth diapers I have started collecting!

Cloth Diaper Wash Routine with Soap Nuts

Here is the wash routine I've established based on tips from the interwebz: 
  1. Flush any solid waste down the toilet after starting solid foods (breastfed poo can go straight into the pail as it is water soluble). Use BacOut on any stains or odorous diapers. Throw in diaper pail. Can also sprinkle diaper pail with baking soda if stinky.
  2. Empty pail liner into washing machine, turn liner inside out and also put into the washing machine.
  3. Do a cold pre-wash cycle with no detergents.
  4. When this cycle is done, put 5 soap nuts in the cloth bag (or reuse the previous bag of nuts) and put it in your laundry machine. Do a Hot wash cycle with a pre-soak cycle (to get the berries going). No rinse cycle needed when using soap nuts!
  5. Set the bag with nuts aside to dry. Nuts can be reused for approximately 5 washes.
  6. Put cloth inserts into the dryer and do a normal dry cycle.
  7. Hang dry all diaper liners and the pail liner.
Never use fabric softener with cloth diapers! Fabric softener products leave a residue on clothes that could cause cloth diapers to leak or lose their absorbency.

If diapers aren't getting white enough, try drying them in the sun for an effective natural white bleach. An oxygen booster, like Nellie's Oxygen Brightener (affiliate link), or Biokleen Bac-Out (affiliate link) can also help get things whiter.

Whirlpool HE Top Load Settings for Cloth Diapers

I have a Whirlpool HE Top Loaded washing machine. I have read over and over from different cloth diapering sites and cloth diapering momma blogs how to wash cloth diapers and how to wash them in an HE washing machine. Here are my settings for my washing machine:

Wash Machine Settings for Cloth Diapers
  • Soil Level = Heavy
  • Wash Temp = Hot
  • Cycle = Deep Water Wash
  • Rinse Options = 1 Rinse
  • Presoak = On 
Soil level and wash temp seem pretty standard with cloth diapering recommendations. I was quite happy to realize that my washing machine has a deep water wash cycle. Many cloth diapering momma's with an HE washer recommend throwing a wet towel in with your diapers to trick the washing machine into using more water. However, this only works on the first sensing cycle.

With my washing machine, I use the deep water wash cycle. This cycle uses additional water and additional agitation than the normal cycle. Perfect for cloth diapers!

I choose only 1 rinse cycle because soap nuts don't need a rinse cycle. If I was using a more standard detergent, I would then set it to 2 rinse cycles.

Another happy moment was when I realized there is a presoak option. This eliminates the need to do a soak cycle, then come back later to reset the washing machine. I can just set the machine and walk away until it is ready to dry.

The length of presoak is determined by the soil level. I am not sure how it chooses water temperature (if it's based on the wash temp or has a  preset setting). If anyone knows, let us know in the comments!

There is also an independent soak cycle on my machine. I plan on using this once a month for stripping. I will use the cold temperature with 1/4 or 1/2 cup of the Bac-Out on the soak cycle. Then once that cycle is done, I'll do my normal wash routine.

Additional Tips

I have read that since the soap nuts do not leave a residue (and you aren't pulling the soap nuts out for the rinse cycle), there is no need to use the rinse cycle. On the flip side, you may want to use the pre-soak cycle to get the berries started.

No need to use fabric softener! With soap nuts, you shouldn't need fabric softener even for your normal wash. Soap nuts are a natural softener that should keep your clothes soft and fluffy. I did notice that my diapers came out statically charged, so using a wool ball (natural fabric softener) to reduce static cling may be useful. I don't mind the static charge, but my husband can't stand it!

Biokleen Bac-Out (image source: Amazon)
Use BacOut before washing. Biokleen Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator (affiliate link) works great for stain and odor removal for both clothing and diapers. I got this tip from an amazon review on the soap nuts, but I have also seen it on many cloth diapering momma blogs using it even with standard laundry detergents.

The soap nuts are great for standard washings, but aren't great for getting out stains. Because of this, many people recommend using BioKleen on stains before throwing it in the washing machine. Several cloth diapering mommas suggest using BioKleen on poopy or stinky diapers before throwing it into the diaper pail. I have also heard that you can add 1/4 or 1/2 cup of BioKleen into the wash once a month to help strip diapers of odor buildup.

I picked up a bottle of BioKleen at the same time as my sample pack of soap nuts. I am definitely going to put some in a spray or squirt bottle at the diaper changing station. BTW, it smells wonderful! Who knew a cleaner could smell so yummy! It contains a lime citrus extract which I just find intoxicating.

A post in a forum I read said they keep a white board in the laundry room to keep track of how many washes the soap nuts have been used for. I haven't determined if this is truly necessary, as you should be able to tell when they are spent.

My Personal Experience To Date

I have just started using the soap nuts for laundering both my clothes and my stash of cloth diapers. So far it has been really easy. I have been keeping track of number of uses in my head and looking at them to see if I can tell when they are spent. My husband hasn't started using them yet (he's using the remaining detergent), so I will need to make it easier for him to understand when to change them out.

I am going to hang instructions in my laundry room on how to use the soap nuts and also how to launder cloth diapers. This will serve to remind me and my husband, but also provide directions for anyone who may be visiting my house. I can see my mom doing some laundry for me when the baby is new. I also have a stepson who may need some directions for doing his laundry. I plan on framing the instructions, so maybe I'll add a dry erase marker for keeping track of usage.

I'll update you later after we have laundered with soap nuts consistently for an extended period of time.

How to launder with soap nuts
Do you use or have you ever used soap nuts for your laundry or cloth diapers? What has been your experience? Love it? Not a fan?

Do you use BioKleen Bac-Out? What is your favorite use for this product? Have you tried their other products?


Here is a selection of resources I used to come up with my findings above:


  1. Interesting! I've never even heard of these!

    1. Yeah, I only recently heard of them too. I have eczema, so this plus laundering cloth diapers made me very interested! So far so good. :D

  2. That's interesting!

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  4. HI! Do you still use soap nuts for cloth diapers?

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