A few months back, I learned (and subsequently wrote) about a product called Soapnuts. I had intended to try them out much sooner, but I wasn’t out of soap yet at the time and then, well, I forgot. However, about a month ago, I was finally able to order them and see how they worked. Now that I have had them in use all this time, I feel like I’m ready to evaluate their performance.
The first thing to note is that almost everything you read will tell you Soapnuts only create suds in very warm or hot water because they don’t release their saponins at low temperatures. The second thing to note is that I have found personally that there is about a 50-50 chance that the muslin bag full of Sapindus fruit will release no suds whatsoever regardless of water temperature. I think possibly the bag actually inhibits the sudsing. I base this theory on the fact that, if I drop 3-4 of them into a bowl of water and microwave them until the water gets quite hot, then transfer the water to a reusable container to make a liquid detergent, they suds up quite nicely, every single time. This should be repeated with the same 3-4 nuts until they turn grey and mushy. This is recommended for cold water washing, anyway, but I find it is the best way to use them, period.
One thing I was not expecting was the awful, rancid smell of the nuts when the saponins are released. I did not see that on the website anywhere. I saw only that the laundry would not have a scent, which is why essential oils are offered on several of the sales sites. However, the first time I took the hot soapnuts from the microwave, I almost gagged. It was not a nice smell at all. Thankfully, it is not an odor that transfers to the clothes you wash with the liquid, or even to the liquid itself.
Now, I can’t verify all the claims made on the Sapindus Wikipedia article, about antibacterial properties or how psoriasis or contaminated soil might be affected by the use of soapnuts. All I can tell you is that my clothes are as clean now as they were with powdered chemical laundry detergents. The clothes smell fresh (I passed on the oils), they aren’t dingy, and stains are no harder to remove than with regular detergent. They are a small amount of extra work - although if I consider how heavy a box of detergent is versus the weight of the soapnuts, maybe not extra, just different - but on the other hand, they are a cheap, biodegradable way to clean my clothes without polluting the environment. So on a scale of 1-10, I give soapnuts a solid 9.5.