FAQ: Conkers aka horse chestnuts as an all-natural laundry detergent 💚

Last year my friend Vany wrote this really cool guest post explaining how to use horse chestnuts as a laundry detergent, how to dry them in order to use them all year long, and also why soap nuts come with social problems and actually aren’t very eco-friendly.

We, too, made the switch back then and after a year we still love it! This year we had a tough conkers competition going with the neighborhood kids who were also collecting some for totally boring reasons like playing with them 😝. I posted this on my Instagram and Facebook and got a lot of questions.

Come again? How is that supposed to work?

It’s actually very easy. Read all about it here.

How does the laundry smell afterwards?

Your laundry will be clean, but well, unscented unless you add a couple of drops (I’d say 5 drops max) of your favorite essential oil.

Will using conkers break my washing machine?

No, it definitely will not. The “chestnut detergent” is less aggressive compared to store-bought products, and you don’t actually put in the chestnuts but the “tea” you make with the chestnuts. So technically, the chestnuts never even get into your washing machine 😉.

How do u preserve the chestnuts? And how do you store them?

Click here for the instructions. We store the shredded and dried chestnuts in big jars under the sink.

Can I freeze them instead of drying them?

Technically, yes. However, drying them is more eco-friendly because

  1. freezing and keeping them in the freezer takes a lot of energy
  2. if you pour hot water on the frozen chestnuts, the frozen chestnuts will cool the hot water down, which means you are wasting energy AND it takes longer to get your liquid chestnut laundry detergent.

Can I also use the edible sweet chestnuts?

No, the two nuts aren’t actually related. Like the soap nut tree, the horse chestnut is a species from the soapberry tree, which is why it contains a high amount of saponine, which has soap-like properties. Sweet chestnuts do not, but are delicious instead.

How can I tell horse chestnuts and sweet chestnuts apart?

Horse chestnuts don’t have this little spiky tip like a little tail sweet chestnuts have. The shell of sweet chestnuts is full of long spikes while the shell of horse chestnuts has fewer, but very short and pointy spikes. Do check out Wikipedia pages I linked to to see photos.

Can I also use the chestnut detergent for whites or will the brown shell stain everything?

Personally, we don’t even have enough whites to fill an entire machine. So we just wash them with our other, mostly black, laundry. So, our white bed linen has been grey-ish off-white for years. But no, the chestnuts have never left any visible braun-ish stains.

To keep your whites shiny white you can:

  • peel the chestnuts (can take up quite a lot of time; a reader of mine has a great hack though: cut chestnut into quarters, let dry for a day until the inner part shrinks up, and this should make it a lot easier get the peel off)
  • you can even use common ivy (15-20 leaves) to wash your clothes, which works similar to chestnuts, but can irritate sensitive skin
  • use eco-friendly laundry detergent for whites every once in a while. It contains bleach to keep them ridiculously white.

I have very sensitive skin and break out from regular laundry detergent. Can I use horse chestnuts instead?

Yes, you most definitely can. In fact, it is perfect for sensitive skin because it doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals. Do refrain from using common ivy as an all-natural laundry detergent though because unlike horse chestnuts, ivy does contain things that can irritate your skin.

How do I convert from fresh to dried chestnuts?

To be honest, I don’t think you will have to get your calculators out. It’s ok to just use roughly the same amount and to adjust according to how big or dirty the load is. When we feel like we have a lot of very dirty or smelly laundry, we add up to 2 tbsp of washing soda. When we feel like the collars are greasy, we add up to 2 tbsp of grated alep soap.

We also collect more than what we might need for a year. Better safe than sorry, right?

You say you use 70 g per load. How big a load is that?

According to the manual of our washing machine, it’s 6 kg (~13 lbs) max.

Can I prepare a big batch of liquid chestnut detergent at once or does it spoil?

You can keep the liquid chestnut detergent up to a week in the fridge, but after that it will spoil. And frankly, there just isn’t any advantage in preparing a big batch. If you have dried the chestnuts they are already preserved. Pouring warm or hot water on it takes only a minute. If that’s too time-consuming for you you can just put the dried chestnut in a sock and put it in with your laundry. Don’t forget to tie a knot in the sock first though.

What’s the blender you use to shred the chestnuts?

You should definitely use a decent blender if you plan to shred the chestnuts. If you don’t have one, just take the old-fashioned road and cut them into quarters with a knife.

Waschmittel aus Kastanien

The blender I use is called Bianco Primo (it’s a German brand) and is very similar to the small Blendtec. We bought this powerful baby a while back for green smoothies, and it does make me lazy – I shred FOUR cups of chestnuts at once. If you happen to have a Vitamix or a Blendtec I’m sure you, too, are good to go 😆.

7 Comments

  1. When my dad was a child they lived close to a mountain and they would collect hundreds of kilos of chestnuts in the fall. They stored them in a large hole dug into the ground during the winter. Sweet chestnuts are not very popular in NZ (which is a shame) but I’m pretty sure I have seen horse chestnuts. Thank you for the article.

  2. Hello,I have a queetion, do you absolutely need a dehydrator to dry the chestnuts? If no, then what would be another way?

    I found this really interesting and I would like to give it a try, but I don’t know hoe to dry the chestnuts so I can store them.

    • Hey Rebeca,
      I have linked to the tutorial on how to make chestnut detergent in the first question, and I do not use a dehydrator (never used one in my life in fact).
      Cheers,
      Shia

  3. Hello, thanks for writing this article. I’ve done my first two washes with my conker-tea and have a few questions.
    1) did you notice soap while the wash was going on?
    2) Did your clothes dry quite stiffly afterwards?
    3) Is this mostly soap or a proper detergent? I just read an article that said that using soap on material only works if you’re using proper agitation on the clothes, to remove soap from the micro pores in the material. Soap is good for smooth surfaces but not for rough (good on skin, not great on clothes). Soaps work best if you’re using a wash board but can build up and wreck your machine. Have you noticed any adverse issues? Have you had to strip clean your clothes/sheets regularly?
    Sorry for the essay question, just want to be sure I’m doing it right 🙂

    Thanks,

    Aoife

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