DIY Chestnut Laundry Detergent

reading time: 2 min

This time of year! The air is crisp, but the sky is clear, the sun is warm, and the colours are breathtaking. One of the things I love about Autumn is all the wonderful craft materials you can collect outside while you're out on a tranquil Autumn walk: pretty leaves, pinecones, acorns, pumpkins, and of course: chestnuts. The chestnut tree is native here in Germany, so during fall you find them everywhere.

I'm sure you have all at one point in your life filled your pockets with chestnuts (or conkers, as the Brits say – I love that word) and maybe used them as part of an autumnal tablescape or made chestnut animals with your kids. 

However, I like to use them for something different. Liquid laundry detergent.

Yes, you've read right: detergent from chestnuts. It's simple to do, it's ecological, it's super cheap, and most importantly it works! It is truly a gift from mother nature :) 

In this blog post I want to share with you how I make my year-long supply of natural, FREE laundry detergent – made from just horse chestnuts and water!

You will need:

  • a handful of horse chestnuts (or "conkers") – not to be confused with the edible ones!
  • 1 cup hot water
  • optional: a few drops of essential oils of your choice (I like orange, rose or lavender)

Here's how it works: 

Take a walk through nature or a maybe to a road lined with horse chestnut trees nearby (we have two in our street), and collect as many horse chestnuts (not edible!) as you desire. I use reusable tote bags or a foraging basket. Give the foraged chestnuts a rinse, and crush them – either in a powerful blender, or using a hammer and a tea towel. 

For instant use, take about a handful of chestnuts and crush them. That should make about 1/2 cup of chestnuts. Soak them in 1 cup of boiling water for at least 20–30 minutes to release the saponins that produce the common soap foam. Strain through a fine sieve or – as I highly recommend – a nut milk bag. You will be left with a cloudy, yellowy "milk": your laundry detergent. (You can reuse the chestnuts for two more laundry loads!)

Use the finished detergent liquid like usual detergent, filling in the middle compartment of the washing machine – I use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup per wash. Any remaining detergent liquid can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

My laundry, including my sports wear, get perfectly clean and smell nice and crisp like the typical "cotton" fragrance. Bad stains might need to be treated before putting in the washer.

A few tips

- This chestnut detergent can be used with all types of laundry at any temperature. It is even suitable for wool and delicates. 

- For white laundry add 1–2 tsp of either baking soda or white vinegar to your chestnut detergent.

- Chestnut soap is not equipped to tackle stains that need some extra attention. To remove any serious stains (or just whiten your light clothes), simply add a tsp of baking soda to your wash.

- You can also put your shredded chestnut into a fine organza bag and put the bag in with your laundry instead.

- If you want to stock up on a yearly supply of chestnut detergent (and not just use this zero waste method in October when chestnuts are "in season") you can pulverize all of your collected chestnuts by pulsing them in your high-speed blender until they are grated into small pieces, like granulate. (If you don't want to upset your neighbours, use thick blankets as silencer for the noisy shredding!)

Spread the crushed chestnuts on a baking tray and dry them – either in the fan-assisted oven on a low temp (120°C / 240°F) for about 1 hour, or in the sun, or place the baking sheet on top of your radiator. The horse chestnuts have to be completely dry before you store them. If that is not the case, they will mildew in the container and your work will be for nothing.

Store in an airtight container for future use. When ready to wash, take 1/2 cup of dried chestnut granulate, soak in 1 cup of boiling water, steep, strain, and use for your next load of laundry!

General Foraging Guidelines:
  • You should be 100 % certain you are identifying the correct plant. If you do not know what it is, DO NOT eat it! Do not pick if you're in doubt!

  • Don't harvest from contaminated areas such as busy roadsides, near industrial facilities, where dogs pee, along the edges of agricultural fields, old landfill sites etc.

  • Be mindful & harvest sustainably. Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply, and never more than 1/4 of a plant, ideally only about 5 %.

  • Leave the harvesting area litter-free.