Horse Chestnuts or ‘Conkers’ | all-natural laundry detergent – non-edible

Horse Chestnut or Conkers make a great all natural laundry detergent.
Horse Chestnut or Conkers make a great all natural laundry detergent.

Here is a great article from the internet that we found about an all natural laundry detergent that can be made from Horse Chestnuts.  Horse Chestnuts are not the same as the sweet chestnuts that can be roasted over an open fire.  DO NOT EAT THEM and please wash all utensils after use!

I was looking for alternatives to normal store-bought laundry detergent, when I found out that the so-called eco-friendly laundry detergents were still full of unpronounceable ingredients that are in fact not too eco-friendly. I also found those soapnuts (nuts from the sapindus saponaria tree), a herbal laundry detergent. However, even though those were seemingly sold in a nice cotton bag, there was another plastic bag hiding inside…

Horse Chestnuts instead of Soapnuts

Horse Chestnut or Conkers make a great all natural laundry detergent.
Aesculus hippocastanum fruit – Horse Chestnut or Conkers make a great all natural laundry detergent.

Soapnuts have been used to wash laundry or to make body wash in India for generations. However, soapnuts have become more and more popular in Europe. The growing demand has led to the extensive export of soapnuts, which in turn has led to soapnuts becoming too expensive for many natives to afford. Instead, they use chemical detergents that contribute to the water pollution, which is already an issue of concern in India. To top it off, those nuts need to be shipped across the globe, leaving quite the carbon footprint.

So those were definitely not the sustainable solution I was hoping for. I kept looking on the internet and I stumbled upon the fact that chestnuts actually have similar properties as soapnuts. The timing could not have been more perfect – the leaves were just turning red and you could find chestnuts lying on the sidewalks everywhere.
Why does it work?

Soapnuts and chestnuts both contain saponins, a soap-like chemical compound (sapo is Latin for soap).
How does it work?

Horse chestnut, chopped in the blender.
Horse chestnut, chopped in the blender.

Wrap 5 – 6 horse chestnuts (not to be confused with the edible kind!) into a piece of cloth. Grab a hammer and vent your anger :D.

Or go professional on them and use a decent blender ;).

If you have none of the above at hand just go nuts on them (pun intended :D) using your ordinary kitchen knife.

Put the however shredded chestnuts into a jar and add a cup of hot water. Let sit overnight.

The following day the water should have turned milk-like. Just use it like you would any liquid detergent. It does its job – my laundry is clean and completely odorless.

Horse chestnut laundry detergent after 15 minutes soaking and strained.
Horse chestnut laundry detergent after 15 minutes soaking and strained.

If you prefer a certain scent you can use lavender oil or any other essential oil of your liking. You can keep this laundry detergent in the fridge for up to a week.

The leftover chestnuts can be composted.

If you live in an area with hard water you should add a splash of white vinegar. I’ve already collected enough chestnuts for an entire year. Even dried they still work fine.
Shia: Of course we have also tried it on our own laundry and we love it ❤️!!! I’m lazy so I just shred the chestnuts in our blender. This way you only have to let the mixture sit for 30 mins at most, so you don’t need to remember to make the laundry detergent the day before.
Tips

Horse Chestnut or Conkers make a great all natural laundry detergent.
Aesculus hippocastanum fruit – Horse Chestnut or Conkers make a great all natural laundry detergent.

You need 2 – 2 1/2 ounces each load. So if you wash 1 – 2 times a week you need to collect 11 pounds of chestnuts to have enough to last you until next fall 🙂
The smaller you shred the chestnuts, the quicker the saponins will dissolve into the water. So if you shred the chestnuts in a blender and use boiling water you only have to wait 10 minutes. Don’t forget to filter your mixture ;).

I do not peel the chestnuts, but if you want to wash a load of whites, you might want to consider it. I do not think the peel will stain whites, but I honestly do not know.

You can shred and dry (or dry and then shred) the chestnuts:

The shredded and dried chestnuts can be kept in a jar and anytime you want to wash a load just take 2 – 2 1/2 ounces and add hot water to make your liquid laundry, or…

Photo of a Horse Chestnut tree in full bloom.
Photo of a Horse Chestnut tree in full bloom.

… you can also put your shredded chestnut into an organza bag or use a pantyhose and put the bag in with your laundry instead.

How to use horse chestnuts as a laundry detergent, how to dry them in order to use them all year long, and also why soap nuts come with social problems and actually aren’t very eco-friendly.

Horse Chestnuts as an all-natural laundry detergent

How does the laundry smell afterwards?

Your laundry will be clean, but well, unscented unless you add a couple of drops (I’d say 5 drops max) of your favorite essential oil.

Aesculus hippocastanum fruit - Horse Chestnut or Conkers make a great all natural laundry detergent.
Horse chestnuts are readily available in the fall. They are found just about everywhere.

Will using conkers break my washing machine?

No, it definitely will not. The “chestnut detergent” is less aggressive compared to store-bought products, and you don’t actually put in the chestnuts but the “tea” you make with the chestnuts. So technically, the chestnuts never even get into your washing machine.

How do u preserve the chestnuts? And how do you store them?

We store the shredded and dried chestnuts in big jars under the sink.

Can I freeze them instead of drying them?

Technically, yes. However, drying them is more eco-friendly because freezing and keeping them in the freezer takes a lot of energy if you pour hot water on the frozen chestnuts, the frozen chestnuts will cool the hot water down, which means you are wasting energy AND it takes longer to get your liquid chestnut laundry detergent.

Can I also use the edible sweet chestnuts?

No, the two nuts aren’t actually related. Like the soap nut tree, the horse chestnut is a species from the soapberry tree, which is why it contains a high amount of saponine, which has soap-like properties. Sweet chestnuts do not, but are delicious instead.
How can I tell horse chestnuts and sweet chestnuts apart?

Horse chestnuts don’t have this little spiky tip like a little tail sweet chestnuts have. The shell of sweet chestnuts is full of long spikes while the shell of horse chestnuts has fewer, but very short and pointy spikes.

Can I also use the chestnut detergent for whites or will the brown shell stain everything?

Personally, we don’t even have enough whites to fill an entire machine. So we just wash them with our other, mostly black, laundry. So, our white bed linen has been grey-ish off-white for years. But no, the chestnuts have never left any visible braun-ish stains.

To keep your whites shiny white you can:

peel the chestnuts (can take up quite a lot of time; a reader of mine has a great hack though: cut chestnut into quarters, let dry for a day until the inner part shrinks up, and this should make it a lot easier get the peel off)
you can even use common ivy (15-20 leaves) to wash your clothes, which works similar to chestnuts, but can irritate sensitive skin
use eco-friendly laundry detergent for whites every once in a while. It contains bleach to keep them ridiculously white.

I have very sensitive skin and break out from regular laundry detergent. Can I use horse chestnuts instead?

Yes, you most definitely can. In fact, it is perfect for sensitive skin because it doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals. Do refrain from using common ivy as an all-natural laundry detergent though because unlike horse chestnuts, ivy does contain things that can irritate your skin.

How do I convert from fresh to dried chestnuts?

To be honest, I don’t think you will have to get your calculators out. It’s ok to just use roughly the same amount and to adjust according to how big or dirty the load is. When we feel like we have a lot of very dirty or smelly laundry, we add up to 2 tbsp of washing soda. When we feel like the collars are greasy, we add up to 2 tbsp of grated alep soap.

We also collect more than what we might need for a year. Better safe than sorry, right?

You say you use 70 g per load. How big a load is that?

According to the manual of our washing machine, it’s 6 kg (~13 lbs) max.

Can I prepare a big batch of liquid chestnut detergent at once or does it spoil?

You can keep the liquid chestnut detergent up to a week in the fridge, but after that it will spoil. And frankly, there just isn’t any advantage in preparing a big batch. If you have dried the chestnuts they are already preserved. Pouring warm or hot water on it takes only a minute. If that’s too time-consuming for you you can just put the dried chestnut in a sock and put it in with your laundry. Don’t forget to tie a knot in the sock first though.

What’s the blender you use to shred the chestnuts?

You should definitely use a decent blender if you plan to shred the chestnuts. If you don’t have one, just take the old-fashioned road and cut them into quarters with a knife.

The blender I use is called Bianco Primo (it’s a German brand) and is very similar to the small Blendtec. We bought this powerful baby a while back for green smoothies, and it does make me lazy – I shred FOUR cups of chestnuts at once. If you happen to have a Vitamix or a Blendtec I’m sure you, too, are good to go.

How to Use Horse Chestnuts aka Conkers (Not Edible!) as an All-Natural Laundry Detergent