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Laundry with Soapwort/Sweet William/Saponaria officinalis — The Grow Network Community
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Laundry with Soapwort/Sweet William/Saponaria officinalis

jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭
edited October 2020 in DIY Tutorials

Washing with Wild Sweet William (soapwort) 

after experimenting, looking for answers, finding some... I have prepared this text and photos to share my experience with you 😊

Do you do the washing with ivy leaves? I do regularly. However, ivy is not suitable for washing very delicate fabrics such as silk, wool and other delicate materials.

However, there is a special herb, which has been used historically and is still being used by specialists dealing with old tapestries. Wild Sweet William (also known as Soapwort or Soapweed - Saponaria officinalis) can be used as a gentle soap not only for laundry, but also as a body wash or shampoo.

I was very curious to try it out. I have it in my garden. It is a nice plant with pale pink flowers and a very pleasant perfume.

I have read that the roots are rich in saponins, a glucoside with foaming characteristics and one is supposed to use it with the leaves, but it is a perennial plant and I did not feel like digging out the roots. Therefore, I decided to use the whole plant but not the roots. I chopped the stems, leaves and flowers and boiled them for about 30 minutes and then strained the mixture. The lathery liquid is supposed to dissolve fat and grease. I then blended the rest of the plant and it produced a lot of foam. The liquid was brownish and I had to persuade myself to use it for the white washing... I used 1 cup of strained liquid per wash. 

It worked!!! The washing was much softer than the one washed with ivy leaves.

My problem was that I now had about 6 litres of liquid! How could I preserve it as I did not want to waste it? This was my next experiment. I froze some of it in portions big enough for one wash and the rest I boiled again and sealed in pre heated jars. I have stored them in the cellar where it is cool and dry. 

To avoid this worry in the future I will harvest just enough of the herb, dry it and boil it for one or two washes. 

If you want to try out the root, it needs to be washed very well, cut into pieces and either boiled fresh, or dried for future use. 

There is much more about plants with saponins in thegrownetwork library. I did read the available information before I started my experiment 😊

Enjoy experimenting 



  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,632 admin
    edited August 2020

    @jolanta.wittib Wow! Upon seeing the picture of that plant, I gasped! I have seen that here. So has my husband...but neither of us remember where. :( You can bet I won't forget about it now!

    I want to ask if you have very hard water or not and if it is municipal or untreated well water. I know that that can make a big difference in results.

    I am floored. Thank you so much. I am very much enjoying your experiments!

    Edit to add...the flower looks a lot like evening scented stocks.

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning the plant loved wet feet, so it would Grow some where near water 😊

    We have soft water. It is municipal water.

    Today I washed my pullovers of wool. Just soaked them in soapwort water, left for a few hours and rinsed. Simply perfect!

  • aurora.rebeccaaurora.rebecca Posts: 62 ✭✭✭


    you could use the excess as shampoo/bodywash! I've poured through my bookmarks and found this recipe.

    I've done something similar with soapwort and yarrow for a face wash powder to take with when camping.

    Soapwort Shampoo

    Here’s how you can make shampoo and body wash from either fresh or dried soapwort!


    3 tablespoons fresh soapwort or 1 tablespoon dried

    1 cup water


    • Boil the water and add the soapwort leaves.
    • Cover the pan and turn it down to a simmer for fifteen minutes.
    • Let everything cool off.
    • Strain the infusion through a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth into a jar or bottle.

    Give the jar or bottle a good shake to bring out the bubbles and pour it in your wet hair while you shower. Use your fingertips to massage your scalp. Soapwort infusion is not as bubbly as regular shampoo, but you’ll notice your hair is squeaky clean when you rinse.

    You can also add any of the following herbs for skin and hair to the pot with the soapwort:

    And there are so many more to choose from, and here are a few more ideas to try out as well.

    You can follow it up with a vinegar rinse, or use any of the above herbs brewed as tea for a conditioning rinse.

    This post was written by Amber Shehan, the head pixie at Pixiespocket.com

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 443 ✭✭✭✭
    edited August 2020

    Wow! This I gotta try. Thank you @jolanta.wittib .

    My husband does the laundry and uses vinegar for the rinse which makes things amazingly soft, but I've always wanted to make my own laundry products to reduce our store purchases and the few chemicals we still use.

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @aurora.rebecca Thank you soooo much. I have made notes and my next hair wash will be with soapwort. Today I harvested more. I am going to dry the herb vor use in winter time.

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @frogvalley excellent idea. Try ivy and soapwort. It really works and I am glad that I pollute much less, by using herbs for laundry.

  • aurora.rebeccaaurora.rebecca Posts: 62 ✭✭✭

    I just tried the ivy and soapwort combination for mopping and bathroom cleaning as well as for washing the dog. It is quickly becoming my favorite all purpose cleaner 😉

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @aurora.rebecca what an excellent idea. Cleaning liquid.

    Apart from that I already use soapwort as a dishwasher 😊

  • monica197monica197 Posts: 655 ✭✭✭✭

    I have been using a mix of nettles and vinegar as a rinse in my hair (maybe 3-4 months now) and have noticed my head is getting VERY itchy. That is not an issue for me typically. I had to switch back to my organic shampoo and conditioner last week and it immediately took away the itch. Has anyone else noticed this? (I hope this does not stay too much for the original thread)

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @monica197 you are much more advanced in using herbs as shampoo. I am still on the way. But, I think, that soapwort could be a good, mild alternative. It is suitable to wash silk, wool, other sensitive textiles. So why not hair.

    I have not tried stinging nettles. Could the stinging hairs of nettles be the reason for itching? Or the liquid changes the PH of the skin? I am just thinking aloud. I have been drinking nettle tea and then had some unpleasant feeling in my stomach. I never use boiling water when I make herbal teas. May be the hot, but not boiling water does not crush stinging hairs.

  • monica197monica197 Posts: 655 ✭✭✭✭

    The nettle solution is an ACV tincture - nettles soaked in ACV for about 4-6 months. That was the rinse...spray on rinse out.

    I would wash with a Castile soap...scrub in rinse out.

    Good point about the stinging hairs, but I don't think so...though I have not thought of that...hmmm. I know it is common to use nettle for hair cleaning...

  • carolynepmeiercarolynepmeier Posts: 3
    edited January 21


    Don't you think you should mention the fact that this plant is an invasive, noxious weed in North America? If you are collecting it as it grows somewhere else that's one thing but people should not be promoted to put this in their own garden or plant it themselves. It is good to be environmentally responsible in what one puts out on the internet.

  • @LaurieLovesLearning Yes because it is a noxious invasive weed and bad for the environment. Hopefully you can pull it out whenever you see it!

  • @frogvalley It's good as long as you can collect it when you see it rather than grow/propagate it yourself. It is a noxious invasive weed bad for the natural environment and should be pulled whenever it is seen. Good way to kill 2 birds with one stone for environmental benefit, removing the plant so it can't grow anymore while also making a natural soap out of it :)

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,632 admin


    Thank you for being concerned and welcome to the TGN forum.

    I gasped because I thought I may have seen it somewhere...and it is useful! It looks much like the evening scented stocks (not related) sold here, so if one is after only the look, that would be a great (and very fragrant) alternative.

    In case you are unaware, the original discussion was opened by somebody who is not from North America, so she may be unaware of its status here. It is not up to her to know the invasiveness of plants to areas of the world where she does not live unless she intends to ship said plant/seeds to that area. Nowhere here did she promote it as a garden plant, but only mentioned that it is in her garden...and her garden is not in North America! ;) We do discuss wildcrafting on the TGN forum, and we are a worldwide forum, and so this fits perfectly!

    Having said this, it is up to the reader of anything online and offline to be responsible & do their own research before planting anything. This includes invasiveness, toxic properties & more. In other past discussions, we have discussed the many invasive lists of various countries, states and provinces. This should always be common practice before planting something that is new to you.

    After reading your last post, I see that you did mention my next point that I wish to build upon next...

    I would like to mention that this plant is already naturalized all over North America. So, to promote its use if it is already available does not do further harm if one knows it is invasive, as one can be rest assured that they are helping eradicate it through a positive use, just like the wonderful, but invasive ivy that was also featured on the forum. If you can find it almost anywhere in North America, there is no need to plant it in the garden. In order to use the plant as soap, you can dig the whole plant! This should help decrease its hold here.

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @carolynepmeier I did not know that it is an invasive plant in your country. Here in Austria one cannot find it in nature. Only in gardens. And I have not noticed that it spreads. Well, it has no chances.

    I harvest all of it except roots, so that I have my laundry liquid next year as well. I have tried out washing with ivy, horse chestnuts and soapwort and now I am convinced that soapwort is my favourite one.

    My way of freezing the liquid in portions works very well. I just take a glass on the day I want to do laundry and after it is defrosted I pour it into the washing machine.

    The smell is so neutral and the washing is very soft. And feels very nice on the skin.

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,632 admin

    @jolanta.wittib Since it is so common here, I hope to keep my eyes open for it once the snow is gone. It would be something that I would love to try!

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning an excellent policy! I love this network because it is really a world community united by very similar activities, hobbies and experiences. Growing and learning together.

  • toreytorey Posts: 2,546 admin

    @carolynepmeier Welcome to TGN's forums. We have a widely varied group here from around the world. So we get to hear all sorts of perspectives on plants and their usefulness as well as their downsides. We try to warn each other when we find out cautions or contraindications with some plants and offer advice on growing. There is a section for wildcrafting and how to do it ethically.

    Awhile ago, there was a post listing invasive weeds and I was really surprised to see some of them on the list cause they aren't invasive in my area. So what is invasive in some areas might be native to or naturalized in other areas.

    There are lots of upsides to some plants that have become invasive. For one, you can harvest them aggressively instead of being careful not to take more than 10% of the available plant material. I have made a deal with my local invasive plant council that when I am looking for something specific, I can ask them for locations. Then I can go in and harvest without them having to use other control methods.

    Have you checked out the posts in "Our Front Porch Welcome" at: https://community.thegrownetwork.com/categories/our-front-porch-welcome%21-%28please-read-before-posting%29

    Or the Introductions section at: https://community.thegrownetwork.com/categories/introductions

  • TaveTave Posts: 460 ✭✭✭✭

    @jolanta.wittib That is wonderful. I've been trying to find natural soap plants where I am. The borax and baking soda mix likes to turn into a block. Soapwort is not invasive where I am, so I might try to get some seeds. I have used soap nuts in the past, but I can't get them here, either.

  • monica197monica197 Posts: 655 ✭✭✭✭

    @jolanta.wittib Is "Wild" Sweet William the same thing as Sweet William?

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @monica197 yes, it is the same. You can “test” it. Just take a few blossoms and rub them in your hands with a little of water. The hands will be soapy.

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @Tave from baking soda and citrus acid I make Tabs for dishwasher and for toilet. It works very well. In both cases, I add a little bit of vinegar before I switch on the machines.

  • karenjanickikarenjanicki Posts: 531 ✭✭✭

    I had heard about using soapwort for that purpose on one of farm series with Ruth Goodman. I ordered some seeds because I would like to grow them in my pot garden and experiment with them myself. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

  • TaveTave Posts: 460 ✭✭✭✭

    Thanks. I do add vinegar or lacto to it before filling the washing machine. I never thought of making it into blocks at the start. I'll try that the next time.

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,632 admin

    If that is the case, here is the places where that is on an invasive list. It appears to be only on a list in Alaska. https://www.invasiveplantatlas.org/subject.html?sub=51187

    I have never known the variety of sweet william found in our seed catalogues to be invasive in my province.

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,632 admin

    My dad, who fixed those appliances said that citric acid was the way to clean dishwashers. 1 Tbsp. is a good amount to use.

    Vinegar is hard on any seals, just so you are aware.

  • TaveTave Posts: 460 ✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning Thanks, I forgot that vinegar isn't good for rubber. I'll try to stick with lacto.

  • jolanta.wittibjolanta.wittib Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning thank you for the warning about vinegar. I use my own made vinegar which is rather weak, but I will be more careful.

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