Soap Nuts (Soapberries)
Essential oils (optional)
And an understanding that soap doesn't need bubbles to clean.
I have been making our bar soaps for ten years here on the homestead as pure and simple as possible. When I had cancer, I quickly discovered how toxic everyday soaps and shampoos are. During chemotherapy, each time I would shower, the soap's chemicals would make me sick to my stomach and stress my system so bad I had to lay down for hours after bathing trying not to vomit. I'm a stage two breast cancer survivor of seventeen-years.
I was able to conquer the homemade non-toxic bar-soap thing quite quickly after raising hogs, but over the years, as my hair grew from bald, back to waist length, I had to use commercial conditioners to get a comb through it. I constantly experimented with internet shampoo and conditioner recipes. All the recipes on the internet had things I didn't want to use on my head. Beeswax in my long hair wasn't going to work. Glycerine often comes from GMO plants, and I wasn't about going to buy a chemical preservative. I didn't want just to make "A" shampoo at home. I wanted to make a non-toxic shampoo that wouldn't kill the living microbiome on my head or on the rest of my body as I rinsed it off.
~Psst! Those conditioners work because they DON'T rinse off! They coat your hair with a product that also remains on your scalp and skin, where it gets absorbed into the body.~
I have to wash my hair every night. Life on the homestead is always labor demanding, and I sweat a lot under this thick carpet of hair even in winter and when it is up. The idea of chicken dust or poultry litter in my hair won't let me relax in the evening, and I am very sensitive to smell.
In 2020 I gave up coffee and the commercial conditioners to better my health. I was dumping two and a half liter size bottles of silicone-based goop on my head a month and another entire liter of shampoo full of chemicals I can't pronounce. I knew it wasn't good for me, and after taking a gut microbiome test, it proved that the conditioners and shampoos were seeping into my skin and had shut down my butyrate pathways. Even though I live on a homestead, chugging raw goat Keifer, eating fermented cucumbers, and living on unprocessed raw food, I suffered from a total gut dysbiosis because of what I was rubbing on my head daily. These chemicals are so strong they were ruining my gut biome. Currently, the shampoo and conditioner I was using are involved in a class-action lawsuit.
Giving up the conditioner took a week. I'd comb my hair before getting in the shower; not a big deal but a definite change-up in lifestyle. It's not a thirty-second process. It can take up to five minutes which seems forever, when you are hot, tired, and sticky at the end of a long day. Once I got used to the change, I was ready for the next step, learning to wash my hair without suds or bubbles.
The commercial soap industry has imbued us that suds and bubbles are necessary for cleaning. Anyone who has ever used Oxyclean knows this isn't true. The same is true for natural hair and body products, but they take a little time to get used to the new norm.
When I first made this shampoo, I was not too fond of the watery consistency. I had to use about a fourth of a cup. It was so different than smearing that goop around in my hair, but on the third wash, I realized how the watery cleanser ran right through my hair to my scalp - which is what needed to be clean. I didn't have to work a lather through my hair to cover my entire scalp. This cleanser was faster and easier to use than store shampoo. Hair itself doesn't hold much smell. It is our scalps that have oils on them that create odor.
After a week of use, it was only taking me three minutes to comb my hair instead of five. The gentle amount of essential oil had laid down any frizzy ends making it easy to comb. I woke up to find my pillow had a beautiful smell. I went to put on my winter hat and also found that the old knitted hat smelled good. With each wash, I loved this soap more and more. Moreover, I got the same results from my significant other, who has thick brushy grey hair. The couple drops of essential oil were just enough to make our hair manageable, and "manageable" was a word I had heard in hair commercials on TV but never understood what it meant until I experienced it. This shampoo makes hair manageable!
How does this shampoo work? Soapberries are full of saponins. Saponins work as a surfactant that breaks the surface tension of the water. This carries away dirt, excess oils, and odors. It is very gentle and doesn't alter the pH of the skin.
Here is how I make our 100% natural, non-toxic shampoo. I'd say it is easy as pie, but this is much easier, and the only reason I didn't discover it sooner was that it was so simple, it was overlooked. Surely, shampoo should be complicated. It's not. However, it doesn't have preservatives. It needs to be made weekly. You could store a bottle in the fridge for a week if you need to double up on batches.
Place four or five soap nuts (berries) in 5 cups of filtered water and simmer until the berries are fully hydrated. I made a double batch here and simmered the water all the way down to the berries. It's unnecessary to simmer it down this much, but I enjoy getting every little bit of good out of everything. Be sure to watch your pot, so it doesn't burn.
You can see how the berries are fully hydrated near my fingertips compared to the dried berries in my palm. If you have a really sensitive nose you can smell the very light berry scent that they have. Most people think they are unscented.
Let the pot cool and strain into a shower-safe bottle. Top off your bottle with filtered water if you have simmered too much away. These saponins are still in there, just concentrated.
Add up to four drops of essential oil for scent. Adding too many drops will coat your hair with too much oil and leave it a greasy feeling. Also, keep in mind just because essential oils are natural doesn't mean that they aren't harmful in heavy doses. Essential oils are already highly concentrated. Use them sparingly.
I use essential rose, grapefruit, and ginger. I wouldn't say I like a medicine smell like the tea tree oil. Tea tree is antibacterial. I want my scalp to balance itself naturally with the probiotics that live there. Rose has a lovely crisp floral scent, and grapefruit has been tested to trigger the brain for youth. Fun fact - Men were questioned on the age of women in a line-up. All of the women wearing grapefruit-based scents were aged younger by the group of men. I believe grapefruit is the base scent in Victoria's Secret products that used to come in that purple heart-shaped bottle. Ginger is the base scent in Dial. They all blend wonderfully.
I make a bottle to blend my oils and add scent to soaps and shampoo. Here is my secret recipe.
Nine drops of rose essential oil.
Seven drops of grapefruit essential oil.
Three drops of ginger essential oil.
Cap and mix well before each use.
Use whatever oils you enjoy. Argan oil can be added to darken the color of grey hair. Jojoba oil can be added as a moisturizer. If you're into the beach scene get some coconut essential oil. Maintaining the natural biome of the scalp with a gentle moisturizer will cure dandruff. If you find your hair is too oily, use less oil or perhaps none at all. Adjust the oil content to the needs of your hair.
Add three to four drops in a 16oz bottle of soapberry shampoo.
Apply enough shampoo to massage the scalp and rinse well gently. The rinsing process will wash the rest of your hair as the shampoo washes out.
Enjoy your new-found freedom of toxic commercial shampoos full of preservatives.
Soapberry shampoo and soapberries are toxic if eaten. Keep out of reach of children and pets.
Soapberries are also known as soap nuts and are available HERE on Amazon. They can also be used as laundry soap, but I found them too gentle for farm use. I do not profit from sharing this Amazon link.
I have been homesteading for two decades, growing and processing 99% of our food here on the homestead. I have written a book chronicling my journey to self-sufficiency and living off the land. Visit my website growingbacktotheland.com for ad-free homesteading information and chapter by chapter photos of my book that is available HERE in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com.
All About Soap Berries (Soap Nuts)