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I love Autumn. The way that the leaves are changing colour. The crispness of the air. But I particularly love conkers. Or horse chestnuts / buckeyes. They fall from the trees in abundance around here. And did you know that they can be useful? They contain natural saponins, which means that they can be used to make soap. So here is how to make and use Horse Chestnut laundry washing soap.
Horse Chestnut Laundry Washing Soap
I recently toyed with the idea of getting some sapindus or soap nuts. If you haven’t heard of these, soap nuts are imported from India and Nepal, where they have been used for centuries as a natural washing aid. Reusable, you place the nuts in a bag directly into the wash, or soak your clothes in soap nut infused water before rinsing.
BUT, three things stopped me from buying them.
- The price has shot up as people look for more sustainable and natural alternatives to chemical washing liquids.
- There have been reports that there is now a shortage of soap nuts for the natives of the regions that export them, and that the people who have been using them for generations cannot now afford the nuts.
- Finally, what is the carbon footprint of importing such nuts? It seems a bit extreme if we can find a suitable alternative right here in abundant supply.
And that brought me to the humble horse chestnut, which are currently dropping from so many trees around where I live. I had read that these were a great alternative to soap nuts. But how good are they really? I meant to find out.
Where Do I Find Horse Chestnuts?
Horse chestnuts come from the horse chestnut tree. Not to be confused with edible chestnuts, these large shiny nuts are actually quite poisonous. But their white flesh within contains the same kind of saponins as found in soap nuts.
Near me there are quite a few horse chestnut trees, but they have been reluctant to release their pods until this week. So yesterday I went and filled a bag with about a hundred large specimens. (I did leave some though – just in case wild animals and small children wanted some!)
Because they aren’t edible, I prepared them using only utensils that would not be used in food preparation.
So – How Do I Make Horse Chestnut Laundry Washing Soap?
Take Some Nuts
I took 5 large conkers for my demo selection.
Cut, Bash or Mash Them
The skins are very tough, so I didn’t go at mine with a knife. I put them in an old tea towel and bashed them with a hammer. Which was great for getting out frustrations at the same time!
Further to this, in a recent kitchen remodel, I found an old coffee bean grinder that I no longer used, so this was perfect for grinding the conkers to a fine mush. You can leave them as larger pieces, but the next step will just take longer, thats all.
Add Hot Water
I placed all the conker mash into an old plastic jug. I had probably a quarter of a jug’s worth of mash, and I topped this up with hot water to the halfway level on the jug. Almost immediately the liquid started to bubble.
I left it about 20 minutes, though if you use larger pieces or quarters of conkers you may have to leave it longer or overnight. I was left with a mixture that was a milky beige colour with a thick consistency and bits floating within.
Strain The Liquid
And then I used a sieve to strain the mixture. The bits left behind went into my compost bin. And the thick milky liquid remaining smelt nutty. I got about 300ml (just over half a pint) of liquid from the original 500ml of mash water.
This liquid can be used straight away, or kept in the fridge for a couple of days. Though I wanted to see how well it worked, so I immediately did a full load with the whole of the mixture. I added a few drops of tea tree essential oil to give it a little scent.
And the results?
My clothes came out smelling a little of nuts, and a little of tea tree. Which is quite a nice smell. Though not as strong a smell as a washing liquid would leave. They seem clean. But then, how often should we really be washing our clothes anyway?
The results were quite pleasing. I had read that the nut mixture can be a little bit of a bleach to dark clothes, but I haven’t found that so far. I had also read that if you soak whites in the strained mixture, it can get tough stains out. So that will definitely be a thought for the future. Maybe with my reusable sanitary pads?
Some Other Things To Note
There is NO FOAM when you wash using horse chestnuts. Actually, the foam that we see with chemical detergents is more down to the chemicals and ‘nasty’ stuff found in them. It is not the foam that does the cleaning.
I have also read that the nut skins could stain, so it is certainly worth peeling them if you are worried. I am just a bit lazy…hence the coffee grinder to shred my nuts.
Obviously, horse chestnuts are not available all year around, so until next year you may only have a limited supply. The best thing to use is fresh nuts, as they are easier to grind. I have read reports that dried nuts ( they invariably dry out if kept indoors, and can go mouldy) just don’t produce the same soap quality.
So an alternative is to grind your whole stash of nuts to a fine mash, dry them naturally in the sun, or on baking trays on a very low setting in the oven. The resulting biscuit crumb consistency can then be kept in a large container in a dry place. Maybe consider placing a muslin bag of dried rice or those horrible silica gel sachets in the container to help keep the soap mixture dry.
Then, as you need the mixture, just add some to some hot water to steep as and when you need it. This way you can have an all year round supply.
Because horse chestnuts are poisonous, I would not recommend either the shredded dried mash or the steeped liquid to be kept within reach of children. And I certainly wouldn’t use it for dishwashing.
I hope you have found this useful. Why not go make your own horse chestnut laundry washing soap? Do let me know if you have anything to add. Comment or question below, or do find me on social media.
And please do pin this for later!