Cradle to Cradle Dishwashing




About: Local Food. Global Flavor. Food for roots, health, peace and community. A food oriented DIY culture.

This method of dish-washing saves energy by minimizing the amount of hot water running right down the sink and away, which can be a fair amount. It also saves water via the same simple action of plugging the sink -- two birds with one stone, always good.

The added use of soap-nut detergent makes it even more efficient by being biodegradable and can be used to water your plants with.

Washing dishes this way won't save as much energy as the amazing Satellite CD Solar Oven, but it makes the daily ritual of cleaning your plate sacred by actively respecting Water and Earth.

First hand account of using soapnuts.

More practical information about using soapnuts and links to several online soapnut retailers from North America, UK, New Zealand and Australia: soapnuts.

Step 1: Prepare Soapnut Detergent

Materials Needed:

100g soapnuts
3 quarts (litres) water

Step 2: Simmer 30 Minutes

Bring the water to a boil. Turn down the heat to a low simmer for at least 30 minutes. Or use the Hay Slow Cooker for greater efficiency.

Step 3: Strain

Allow the liquid to cool, then strain out the soapnuts.

Step 4: Storage

Funnel the liquid into an old detergent bottle. This product is all natural so keep it in the fridge when the temperature is warm -- it doesn't have as long a shelf life as commercial products and is completely biodegradable.

This liquid can also be used as a vegetable and fruit wash, all-purpose cleanser (great on floors), laundry detergent, shampoo or to get aphids off a favorite plant.

Soapnuts are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, efficient cleaners but they don't suds up to the degree we are accustomed to these days, but have no fear. Your dishes are as clean as can be.

Step 5: Prepare Dishes for Washing

Quickly rinse dishes with a minimum amount of cold water.

Step 6: Clean Out Sink

Clean out your sink and put in the plug.

Step 7: Fill Sink

Start to fill the sink with hot water.

Step 8: Add Detergent

Add about 1-2 Tablespoons of soapnut detergent.

The water will suds up, but the suds quickly subside. Don't worry the soapnut detergent is still doing it's job.

Step 9: Wash Dishes

Wash dishes and place in dish drainer to dry.

Step 10: Remove Used Dishwater

It would be easier to use a plastic tub at this point, but I don't have one the right size for the job, so I just ladle out as much of the used dishwater as I can into a bowl.

Step 11: Dish-Water Your Plants

Water your most needy houseplant.

I'm looking into growing my own soapnut plant next -- then it will truly be cradle to cradle dishwashing.



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    26 Discussions


    5 years ago

    Can certain plants be harmed by the soapnut water?


    8 years ago on Step 9

    not cleaning the dishes with clean water to wash away any soap ? :) I do the same, with a neutral soap though.. uses the nuts for washing the clothes, but didnt think about using it for dishes ! But when washing up, I fill the sink barely with water and then i rinse the dishes with clean water to clean for soap ! :)


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Can you find out the quantities of water to acorns?  I am quite curious.  Also, I wonder, as HellaD says that the tannins turn clothes brownish.  Might there be some other natural ingredient that would prevent the browning?


    9 years ago on Step 11

    As I understand, Soapnuts grow in hot climates, but amazingly, berries that saponify naturally, grow in about every region of the world! Soap-berries grow in Texas and similar climates, the Canadian Buffaloberry is also high in saponins, and whereas these may not have as a high a saponin content as the soapnuts from India, they are local to the USA and don't come at the price of either introducing an exotic plant to this ecosystem, or else long-distance shipping. Nearly everyone everywhere can grow a berry that saponifies! Nice instructable!

    7 replies

    I'm really intreaged. Can you suggest what kind of berrie I could find in Ontario Canada? ((my spelling is Way off tonight sorry)

    "I N T R I G U E D" (I knew I had spelt that word wrong-lol.)  "The Big Carrot" haven't thought of that place for ages (I grew up in T.O)  Thanks :0)


    I am not sure if Canadian Buffaloberries, also called Soopolallie, grow in Ontario, but they definitely grow in parts of Canada, and in Maine as well.
    Here's a link to info about them!


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 11

    Hey thanks for this info, great to hear about buffaloberry, I will have to look it up, I used to use the roots of the plant that is called bouncing bet, it also produces saponins and the hummingbird hawkmoth really loves the flowers of this plant which is an extra bonus.

    I also just wanted to mention here that I have tried a couple other natural plants that have been used for laundry etc, for example bouncing bet (soapwort). The roots make a pretty good detergent.  I also tried using acorns, just boil them and use the liquid same as the soapnuts. The acorn detergent cleaned really well and kind of even had a starch effect, but also turned things a brown color because of all the tannins...

    So far I have found soapnuts to be really easy to use and very good at cleaning all kinds of stuff. I like to use it to wash my fruit and veggies with as I am less afraid of the saponins than I am of some unknown industrial chemicals that are in commercial detergent.

    1 reply

    Acorns, eh?  Sounds like these would be better than soap nuts as they are native to my "neck of the woods."  Wouldn't have to worry about carbon footprint in shipping.


    9 years ago on Step 11

    Maybe I'm missing something, but I rinse my dishes to avoid the intestinal consequences of ingesting soap products.  Is there something in here about rinsing?  I guess if you had two basins, you could put clear water in the other one to rinse with, and just pour it all in your organic garden.  BTW, pouring soapy water in the garden or on the plants will also make the water more absorbable, since it's a surfactant, which makes water wetter.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 11

    Oh yes, rinsing is fine, but it isn't as dangerous to consume a bit of soapnut detergent as it is to get some of that nasty commercial dishwashing detergent into your intestines. I find that commercial soap is a big problem for me, even the smell of the perfumes and whatnot in them can make me feel sick!


    Where do you find these "soapnuts" i never heard of them before either. I live in Florida. I would love to try this.

    1 reply

    I have found them in Indian spice stores, but they are hard to find. You can also get them online.

    I sell them for laundry in hemp bags on ArtFire but that is not enough to make the detergent with.

    If you can't find any let me know.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Sounds like washing without a dishwasher... what a concept! ;-) The conservation of the water is a main issue here, but for those who don't have the plants, etc. to recycle the water on, I'm wondering if the 'detergent' (being very low suds) would be a good alternative in a dishwasher??