Doing laundry with natural detergents

Our clothes lie directly on our skin. This means, whatever we wash our clothes with comes into contact with our body, too. Because of this and because I don’t want to burden my environment unnecessarily, I like home-made detergent where I know exactly what it is made of.

Horse chestnuts

Chestnuts contain a lot of saponins. Those are responsible for the soapy effect. There is an incredible number of plants with saponins and the horse chestnuts contain loads of it.

Do not confuse the horse chestnut on the left and the chestnut on the right

Here’s how to prepare the detergent:

– Collect fresh chestnuts on your next walk
– Peel them for white laundry, you can save yourself the tedious peeling for dark laundry
– Chop everything small (the smaller the better) and dry it if you don’t use it right away. Be sure to let it dry well as they will quickly become moldy. If you want to fasten the process put the crumbles in the oven on low heat and turn them over from time to time
– Before you wash, put 2-3 tablespoons of chestnut crumbs with 3 dl of boiling water and let it rest for about an hour. Alternatively, you can cook the crumbs for 15 minutes
– Strain it
– You should then use your new detergent directly

Note: Since it cannot be stored, it is best to always prepare the detergent fresh before washing.


Washing with ivy is even easier. Not only because you can collect ivy all year long and but also it does not require time-consuming preparation.

– Find 7-9 clean, dark green leaves; the darker the higher the content of saponins
– You may tear them apart or just leave them whole, put them in a bag or sock, so the leaves can’t stain your clothes and you do not have to collect them out of the washing machine afterwards
– Put the bag in the laundry drum
– Start the washing machine
– Get yourself a coffee

If you want to enhance the washing effect of the ivy, you can pour hot water over it like you did with the chestnuts. Let it stand overnight, strain it and add the frothy water to the detergent drawer. This method is especially effective for cold water laundry.


First of all, soapnuts are not really an ecologically worthwhile alternative to conventional detergents. They work just like Horse chestnuts and ivy. But and this is huge but, the soapnuts mostly come from India. This transport isn’t sustainable. Did you know that the global demand for soapnuts was that huge that Indians couldn’t afford them anymore? Since I still have soapnuts which I bought in 2008, I use them up.
Nevertheless I chose a alternative way to wash my laundry, it wouldn’t serve anybody if I’d throw away my leftover material.


I use white vinegar as a natural softener. It doesn’t contain palm oil, synthetic additives or even slaughterhouse waste. Vinegar softens the water, disinfects and dissolves limescale.
I add about 0.5 dl of white wine vinegar to the softener compartment. After the laundry has dried, the scent of vinegar disappears and the laundry smells neutral.

Are saponins toxic?

It is controversial to use saponins since, in large quantities, they are toxic for fish. There is no scientific study that examines whether it would be harmful if every househould would wash with it. If it should become a general tendency to wash with saponins it would request such a research at the latest.

Unfortunately, they cannot be filtered out easily and the biggest part remains in the water. But fortunately, unlike microplastic which is common in conventional detergents, saponins take down in 22 days. In my opinion it is the lesser evil than spoiling our water with microplastic which stays in the water like -forever?

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