I Tried to Wash My Hair with Soap Nuts for 3 Weeks

Spoiler alert: I gave up after 11 days.
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Spoiler alert: I gave up after 11 days.

In June, I conducted a hair experiment: I decided to wash my hair with soap nuts for three weeks.

I have a pixie cut, I thought. My hair basically replaces itself every four months. What’s the worst that could happen?

I don’t mind using conventional shampoo, but I love beauty experiments. I’d first spotted soap nuts at my local Intense Hippy Shop, which sells wooden toothbrushes, menstrual cups, and other eco-friendly items. Intrigued, I did a little research. Turns out that soap nuts are actually berries that grow in India and Nepal. They’re full of natural saponin, which makes them excellent soap substitutes. You can use them to wash your laundry … or your hair.

The soap nuts presented an interesting alternative to shampoo: they were natural, simple, and cheap. A 14-ounce jar would last for months. Granted, there wasn’t a lot of information about using soap nuts as shampoo, but that just made me more excited. This was a real experiment, my contribution to no-poo science!

A whole jar of bad idea.

A whole jar of bad idea.

I read a lot of conflicting information about how to make soap nut “shampoo,” so I kind of winged it. In general, you make a soap nut infusion by boiling the soap nuts in water. You massage the water into your hair, leave it for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse it out. Lots of sources claim you won’t need conditioner. They also warn you not to get it in your eyes.

Here’s the recipe I went with: Boil 10 soap nuts in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes. Let the liquid cool completely. Voila: you now have a jar of water soap nut infusion. I do not recommend using this recipe, for reasons you will read below.

The easiest way to apply is to put 1/3 cup in a squeezable plastic bottle and shake it vigorously to make it foam. Squeeze the foam onto your roots and work it out through your ends. Let it sit on your hair for 5 minutes, then rinse.

This is your shampoo now.

This is your shampoo now.

Soap Nut Diary: Day 1

Okay, washing your hair with watery soap nut tea is a pain. I tried to use my husband’s almost-empty shampoo bottle, but he denied me because he was “still using it.” So instead, I poured the liquid into an empty bourbon bottle. I shook it up, but then the suds wouldn’t come out (I guess that’s why you need a plastic squeeze bottle). So I just ended up tipping a palmful of liquid onto my head while I stood over the sink. I wet all my hair, rubbed my scalp a bit, then set a timer. I watched five minutes of Ru Paul’s Drag Race in the bathroom to remind myself that beauty takes effort.

The infusion smelled strongly like vinegar, but the smell didn’t linger after showering.

I think I may have made the infusion too strong: my hair feels really clean but a tiny bit dry. It had a clarifying effect: a coworker asked if I’d dyed my hair blonder. NOPE! Just soap nuts. I told her to keep an eye on my hair in the weeks to come.

Day 3

My hair looks fine. I’m kind of digging my new, weird morning routine. This would be a good way of washing your hair if you lived in place where you had to conserve water.

Day 4

Today, I realized that I made my soap nut shampoo way too strong. I diluted my original recipe with an equal amount of water.

Right now, my hair looks like day-2 hair, even right after washing, but it’s not as greasy. I don’t need to put any product in it. It seems a bit dry, so I put some argan oil on it last night to nourish it (it’s hot, so I’ve been washing it every day).

Day 5

My hair is getting really dry. It’s stressing me out. My scalp is itchy.

Day 6

I broke down and used conditioner. My hair seemed slightly better after, but it’s still looking dull. Maybe I should wash it less? Except that it’s summer and I’m trying to exercise a lot and I haaaaaave to.

Day 8

I used dry shampoo this morning. Huge mistake. Instead of absorbing the oil, the dry shampoo just added to the mess. I don’t think it will ever wash out.

Day 10

My hair is so dry and lacklustre. I deep-conditioned with some coconut oil, and now I fear the soap nuts are not strong enough to wash the oil out.

Day 11

I want to wash my hair so badly. It’s dry, but not clean. My scalp feels like there’s stuff stuck to it. My husband says it looks “waxy.” This was a huge mistake. Why did I think I could mentally handle three weeks of bad hair?

I couldn’t take it!

I couldn’t take it!

I wrote that last entry on my phone on the way home from work. When I got home, I begged my husband to take one last photo of me before I broke and washed my hair with sweet, wonderful, paraben and sulfate-filled conventional shampoo. I’m still interested in finding better ways to care for my hair, but I doubt I’ll pursue the soap nut route any further.

In the end, my hair suffered no lasting damage. The only thing wounded was my spirit. I totally misjudged my own ability to suffer though waxy, itchy hair. I had bad hair for my entire childhood and adolescence, so I thought I’d be a pro! Turns out it’s hard to go back.

  • Have any of you ever tried using soap nuts? 
  • What’s the weirdest beauty regimen you’ve ever tried?