How to Use Horse Chestnuts aka Conkers (Not Edible!) as an All-Natural Laundry Detergent

May I introduce Vany :). Vany grows her own vegetables and has the cutest dog EVER ❤️! Today she will show you how to use chestnuts instead of store-bought laundry detergent! Depending on your latitude, NOW might be the time for you to go out and collect some free organic, eco-friendly laundry ;)!

I was looking for alternatives to normal store-bought laundry detergent, when I found out that the so-called eco-friendly laundry detergents were still full of unpronounceable ingredients that are in fact not too eco-friendly. I also found those soapnuts (nuts from the sapindus saponaria tree), a herbal laundry detergent. However, even though those were seemingly sold in a nice cotton bag, there was another plastic bag hiding inside…

Chestnuts instead of Soapnuts

Soapnuts have been used to wash laundry or to make body wash in India for generations. However, soapnuts have become more and more popular in Europe. The growing demand has led to the extensive export of soapnuts, which in turn has led to soapnuts becoming too expensive for many natives to afford. Instead, they use chemical detergents that contribute to the water pollution, which is already an issue of concern in India. To top it off, those nuts need to be shipped across the globe, leaving quite the carbon footprint.

So those were definitely not the sustainable solution I was hoping for. I kept looking on the internet and I stumbled upon the fact that chestnuts actually have similar properties as soapnuts. The timing could not have been more perfect – the leaves were just turning red and you could find chestnuts lying on the sidewalks everywhere.

Why does it work?

Soapnuts and chestnuts both contain saponins, a soap-like chemical compound (sapo is Latin for soap).

How does it work?

Wrap 5 – 6 horse chestnuts (not to be confused with the edible kind!) into a piece of cloth. Grab a hammer and vent your anger :D.

Kastanien zerkleinern

Or go professional on them and use a decent blender ;).

Kastanien im Mixer schreddern

If you have none of the above at hand just go nuts on them (pun intended :D) using your ordinary kitchen knife.

Kastanien mit dem Messer vierteln

Put the however shredded chestnuts into a jar and add a cup of hot water. Let sit overnight.

Kastanien-Waschmittel

The following day the water should have turned milk-like. Just use it like you would any liquid detergent. It does its job – my laundry is clean and completely odorless. If you prefer a certain scent you can use lavender oil or any other essential oil of your liking. You can keep this laundry detergent in the fridge for up to a week.

The leftover chestnuts can be composted.

Wäsche mit Kastanien-Waschmittel gewaschen

If you live in an area with hard water you should add a splash of white vinegar. I’ve already collected enough chestnuts for an entire year. Even dried they still work fine.

Shia: Of course we have also tried it on our own laundry and we love it ❤️!!! I’m lazy so I just shred the chestnuts in our blender. This way you only have to let the mixture sit for 30 mins at most, so you don’t need to remember to make the laundry detergent the day before.

Tips

  • You need 2 – 2 1/2 ounces each load. So if you wash 1 – 2 times a week you need to collect 11 pounds of chestnuts to have enough to last you until next fall 🙂
  • The smaller you shred the chestnuts, the quicker the saponins will dissolve into the water. So if you shred the chestnuts in a blender and use boiling water you only have to wait 10 minutes. Don’t forget to filter your mixture ;).
    Absieben
  • I do not peel the chestnuts, but if you want to wash a load of whites, you might want to consider it. I do not think the peel will stain whites, but I honestly do not know.
    Geschälte Kastanien
  • You can shred and dry (or dry and then shred) the chestnuts:
    Kastanien schreddern und trocknen lassen
  • The shredded and dried chestnuts can be kept in a jar and anytime you want to wash a load just take 2 – 2 1/2 ounces and add hot water to make your liquid laundry, or…
    Getrocknete Kastanien-Krümel
  • … you can also put your shredded chestnut into an organza bag or use a pantyhose and put the bag in with your laundry instead.
    Kastanienmehl

We live in Germany, and we can collect chestnuts everywhere – they are literally lying on the streets! Where do you live? Does chestnut detergent work for you? Or do you maybe have another great tip :)?

Filed under Housekeeping

73 Comments

  1. Wow. Fantastic demo. I never knew it was possible to make laundry detergent out of chestnuts. Not only is this a “green” alternative, but a money-saving opportunity. I will have to try this out and report back on how it worked for me. Thanks a ton for sharing!

      • These are poisonous! I’m very surprised that the article didn’t mention that. I hope that no one uses horse chestnuts and decides to eat the remaining bits. I also question the wisdom of using a blender or knife on these chestnuts if you’re going to use that utensil to later prepare food.

        True chestnuts are in the Fagales family, horse chestnuts are in the soapberry family (hence their use here).

        • Hey Charles,
          thanks for mentioning that! I have marked that in the title. However, it is no problem to use knifes and a blender, since you obviously wash them afterwards. It is comparable to using dish soap to wash the same utensils. Eating/drinking the dish soap itself would be harmful, but using it to clean our dishes and rinsing them afterwards is not a problem.
          Cheers,
          Shia

      • Deborah Carson

        How can I tell the difference? We have a chestnut tree and these photos look just like our chestnuts.

        • Horse Chestnut trees have palm-like leaves that have 7 “leaves” per stem and have large white, cone shapes blossom bunches. Sweet Chestnut trees (edible fruit) have alternating leaves along the stem and have thin sparse looking blossoms. Also, ripe edible sweet chestnuts have a sharp point on the bottom of the shell, whereas horse chestnuts have smooth bottoms.

          • Also, horse chestnut husks will be green and spiny, but the spines don’t pierce when you touch them. Edible sweet chestnut husks have much finer spikes (and more of them) and they are needle sharp.

        • The chestnuts have hard outer green skin with hard spikes and one ‘nut’. Edible chestnuts has furry spikes with 3 small ‘nuts’.

    • Morag Bramwell

      Hi I have just made my own laundry liquid today and done 3 loads. No problems. Aded 2 drops geranium oil and 3 drops lavender oil. Lovely.
      Thank you all for your shared knowledge.
      Mo in Scottish Highlands

    • Hannetjie

      Apparently excellent to wash woollen garments. Used in Hungary by my late mother-in-law in the 40’s and 50’s. Used by everyone there for delicates

  2. Great post – do you know anything about washing with rye? It is also high in sapoins, so I guess it could work. I’ve used it to wash my hair for quite a while with good results, so it seems likely.

  3. HI! When you shred and dry the nuts, do you bake them to dry them? (It looks like they’re on cookie sheets). Or do you just let them sit for a while? Also, how can you tell the difference between horse chestnuts and edible?
    Thanks!

    • You can dry them in the oven, but depending on the weather I dry them outside in the sun or next to the radiator (on cookie sheets). Do check out my Insta post for the difference :). For more details Wikipedia is great, but I don’t think you actually need to know that much about chestnuts to make good use of them :).

  4. Thanks for the great tip! I live in Vancouver, Canada and they are littering the streets right now! The spikey shells are scary though… they’re hard enough to puncture a bike tire and I’m always worried my dog will step on one. Happy to know I can collect these for reuse!

  5. I am truly intrigued by the idea of using chestnuts for my laundry. How do you dry your chestnuts though, in the oven?

  6. Tons of chestnuts on the ground on my bike route. My kids and I picked up about 10 pounds. Made some yesterday and washed my first load. I would say they are similar to soap nuts in that they are not a degreaser. I would suggest treating tough stains first and then washing them with the chestnut detergent. Great gentle wash soap for clothes. My clothes came out smelling like…nothing…clean air?! Dried enough to use for months. Thank you for sharing this!

    Also: washed a white linen shirt in the load and it came out white. no chance of staining. Used the liquid form of the soap only.

  7. Works a treat. The kids loved collecting the chestnuts as there was a real purpose behind it. We blitzt a few kilos in our mixer too snd they are drying in the sun as I write. I added a teaspoon of wash soda and a few drops of lavender oil and my washing smells lovely. What a brilliant idea.

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  9. I do not understand the dosage, could you translate it into millilitres, please?

  10. I used fresh chestnuts, and it worked like a charm. However, I had loads of dried (whole) chestnuts which I soaked and then put them in the mixer with hot water. Somehow it didn´t work, didn´t feel soapy or get foamy 🙁
    Any tips, how to use dried whole conkers?

    Thanx,
    Sam

  11. We began using soap nuts after learning how bad palm oil production is for the environment, and most detergents contain palm oil, not to mention the toxic chemicals. I had never heard of using chestnuts though. It turns out that horse chestnuts are part of the same family as traditional soap nuts and some 2,000 other species. I wonder how many other of these species could be used instead of regular detergent? Anyone know of another type that could be used?

    • I made my own detergent (http://dobrazemja.org/mk/sredstvo-za-alishta-od-div-kosten/ in Macedonian, but with pics of the process) and I wasn’t satisfied from the result. The clothes were as “washed through” water only, and white clothes in particular didn’t seem washed at all 🙁
      Being a true nature lover and insanely dedicated nature protector (willing to compromise to the end and wear such clothes), I don’t think such a solution is gonna hit the mainstream.

      • Hi Biljana,
        I am sorry to hear that, especially since we have been using chestnuts for 1 1/2 years so far and really like the results. Yes, it is true that they are not as aggressive as regular detergent. But it is also true that with extremely sensitive skin, using regular detergent would make my skin break out. I believe that being unscented, oftentimes clothes appear as if they were unwashed, because we associate the smell of laundry detergent with clean clothes. And after checking your photos, I believe it was not enough for an entire load, since it appears to be only a small jar of “chestnut water”. We usually get around ~500ml chestnut water. Personally, we prefer the shredded version, because we feel this way a lot more saponine dissolves into the water (and it is so much quicker :D).

        The dosage will depend on multiple factors:

        How big a load is it?
        How dirty are the clothes?
        How hot or cold do you wash your clothes?
        How big or small are the chestnut chunks?

        To intensify you can use more chestnuts or add up to 2 tablespoons of washing soda or a bit more of baking soda, or you can wash at a higher temperature, if the fabric will allow it.
        Hope this helps.
        Warm regards,
        Shia

        • Thank you so much for your detailed answer. I needed a lot that feedback I rarely I find who to talk to about my experience as you can imagine 🙂
          I did try to eliminate any expectation based on commercial industrial prior experience. Your questions at the end are a real guide then, and a promise to myself again.
          I use low tem of the water for footprint reasons (not more then 40C, usually 30C). This might be one of the reasons as well, but I don’t see a point in making chestnut detergent and heating water on electricity to 60-90C etc.
          Thanks again,
          Can’t wait to try again,
          <3
          B

  12. Oh wow, i tried using soap nuts but didn’t like the result. Now I think that maybe I didn’t use enough of them. I make my own canola soap for laundry now and I love it, but I will definitely try chestnuts in autumn.

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  14. ViveSinBasura

    Hey! I live in Mexico City and not sure if we have horse chestnuts… I placed the word in the translator and it says castañas de indias which I think are edible. How do you know the difference between the edible ones and the ones that have this soapy properties?
    Thanks much!

  15. I will post my (edited) comment again as it was not answered..

    <I used fresh horse-chestnuts, and it worked like a charm; really foamy and slick. 🙂
    However, I had loads of dried (whole) chestnuts which I soaked to soften them, and then put them in the mixer with hot water. Somehow this time it didn´t work,- didn´t feel soapy or get foamy :/
    Any tips, how to use dried whole conkers?
    Thanx in advance. Sam

    • Hi Sam,
      foam is not an indicator of how well a substance cleans. Neither washing, baking soda, nor citric acid or vinegar not lather, but are great cleaners ;).

      Do not pre-soak them (it is also not part of in the instructions above), as this will remove a lot of its saponines, leaving less for the second batch of water you put them through.

      For more questions, do check out my FAQ on this!

      Cheers,
      Shia

      • I can’t remember if I used or threw away the soak water..
        I ask about the foam because the first time (with fresh conkers) the liquid was foamy and felt really slimy like soap. The second time it didn’t. The first time it worked perfectly.
        I didn’t use your method, I used a different one from someone off the net. Only found this later. Will check the FAQ thanks

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  17. Aesculus hippocastanum (Horse chestnut) IS poisonous but different parts of the tree – the nut/seed, leaf, bark and flowers are prepared and used as medicine. For instance horse chestnut tincture is a good treatment for varicose veins. (I wouldn’t recommend home-preparation for medicinal purposes, correctly prepared medicines are easily available and safe.)
    However, as already mentioned, simply washing any utensils and blenders used to make clothes washing soap will be enough to render them safe.
    For more information:
    http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1055-horse%20chestnut.aspx?activeingredientid=1055&activeingredientname=horse%20chestnut

  18. Another natural plant to try is Saponaria officinalis. This is a common perennial plant from the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae). It has many common names, including common soapwort, bouncing-bet, crow soap, wild sweet William, and soapweed. There are about 20 species of soapworts altogether.
    The scientific name Saponaria is derived from the Latin sapo (stem sapon-) meaning “soap,” which, like its common name, refers to its utility in cleaning. It is particularly good for hand-washing delicates. From this same Latin word is derived the name of the toxic substance saponin, contained in the roots at levels up to 20 percent when the plant is flowering (Indian soapnuts contain only 15 percent). It produces a lather when in contact with water. The epithet officinalis indicates its medicinal functions.
    Soapwort is pretty with a carnation-like scent and grows to a height of about 70cm. It can be a little invasive in the garden.

  19. Hi! How long and at what degrees do you dry them in the oven? Unfortunately don’t have enough sunshine here to do it like that..

  20. there’s a horse chestnut tree in my parents back yard!!! i’ll have to try this out!

  21. Hiya,
    Thanks for the tutorial! I would love to try this. The only thing is, I have sports wear that gets used a lot, and I didn’t find that soap nuts fully washed them (so not sure conkers would work either). It might work washing them on a higher temperature but ideally I’d like to keep to 40c or below… I’m going to try find a solution for it though!

  22. wow, love this. I try to use natural products as much as possible and i use Aloe Multi Purpose Detergent (i will try chestnuts though).
    A third of a cap in the washing machine and 1 teaspoon, yep one! diluted into the handy spray container to use as a cleaner and for hand washing up.

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  24. Cool post!! Thanks for sharing. Do you know how to store them, if I don’t have the time to chop them up and dried them?
    They can be kept in the freezer, but since that isn’t environment friendly, I really hope there is a better option. Please help.

    • Coccinelle

      They will stay fresh for a relatively long time if you put them whole in the fridge. (I have no idea how long)

      Also, each time you open your refrigerator freezer cold air escape and it’s actually more energy efficient to have a full freezer because then there is less air that can escape each time.

  25. Coccinelle

    “The following day the water should have turned milk-like. Just use it like you would any liquid detergent.”

    Does that mean that I use the same amount as I normally do or I need to put the whole cup into my load?

    Thank you again for this wonderful discovery, I really enjoyed picking up chestnuts on the ground. They are so big and shiny!

  26. Looked online to dry chestnuts for Christmas decorations and came across this. I had already collected chestnuts. Picked my daughter up from school and told her about this chestnut soap and she (9 years old) insist we tried it. She also said that spiders supposedly don’t like chestnuts and wondered whether we would clean the floor with the milk. Novel idea. Clothes came out of the washing machine clean – no scent but faint chestnut aroma and definitely no odour. Hurrah! Looking forward to cleaning my sons socks now! Floor – wow!!!! Clean! No over powering fake scent, no soapy residue, no stickiness. Just squeaky clean! No guesses what we will be doing this weekend! Will give them as Christmas gift too as my family are trying hard to put the environment first.

    • Arghhh! Thank you for alerting us to the fact. I’ll put my crushed chestnuts in the compost bin now! Just looked it up and soap nuts are poisonous too.

      • “Saponin does break down quite readily, so it doesn’t pose a significant environmental threat”

        Can anyone clarify what’s what?

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  28. Sorry if I missed this above, but i’m hoping to peel and dry the shredded horse chestnuts to use over the year.
    Should you bake them in the oven or put them on the wood burning stove a little or how long do you need to dry them for?

    Again no sunshine here at the moment in France..

    Thanks for your help, gat blog.

    Olivia.

  29. I boiled several pounds at once and stored them in water bottles. Should I store the detergent in the fridge? Can I store them in room temperature. How long before they turn bad? Thank you.

    • Um, Mirian, if you want to preserve the detergent for later use you should shred and dry the chestnuts, like it says in the tutorial above. The chestnut “tea” keeps in the fridge for up to a week (it’s also in the article), so this is not a good way to preserve your detergent. I also wrote an FAQ on this 🙂

  30. Can the chestnut soap be used as a hand wash. My granddaughter cannot use ordinary soap.

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  33. Your good knowledge and kindness in playing with all the pieces were very useful. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not encountered such a step like this.

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