Battle of the soap nuts: Maggie's vs. Berry Plus

A team of young people were handing out samples of a new laundry product called Berry Plus (or maybe it's berryplus or berry+) at the UVa Bookstore yesterday. The girl who handed me a packet said "the University is trying to get us to stop using chemicals." I don't know whether to be flattered or annoyed that she thought I was a student, but I took the packet and moved on. Back in the office, I spread the little pieces out and snapped a picture.

This product is made from a nut or berry and it's being marketed specifically to college students. The campaign is so new, the product's website is pretty bare bones right now. I tried to figure out where they are getting their soap nuts, but the FAQ addressing that is pretty vague (and pretty poorly written):

"The Chinese soapberry tree that is found in the Himalayan foothills where it has grown for thousands of years. Our soap is then made and packages at a single location in the southwestern United States."

The fax number on the website has a Nassau County, NY (Long Island) area code. Their email address led me to the parent company's site, Cleaner Innovations. They were founded in 2009. The video on the website is cute and shows that they truly are a start up (no one thought to move the cinder blocks out of the bottom of the shot?).

The product sounded like a different version of Maggie's Soap Nuts, which I bought at the Blue Ridge Eco Shop recently. Maggie's website says their soap nuts come from Indian and Indonesian jungles.

I hadn't actually tried Maggie's Soap Nuts out and the Berry Plus freebie was a reason to do so.

First off, let's compare the method of delivery. The Berry Plus comes in a tiny, plastic vial. This is all that's needed to clean a load of laundry.

Maggie's Soap Nuts are tied into a cloth bag and tossed into the laundry. You can either pre-soak two soap nuts in hot water or throw four soap nuts into a cold wash. Soap nuts can be reused four times.

I decided to pre-soak a couple soap nuts and add them plus the resulting "tea" to a cold wash.

The result: both products did a great job. I used the Berry Plus on a load of towels and they came out nice and clean.

Check out the cream colored chinos below. They had mud on them from when a neighbor's dog jumped on me a few times (I'm not annoyed in any way by this...I love the cutie pie). I had my doubts about how Maggie's Soap Nuts would clean these, but they came out clean!

So, which product wins? On cleaning ability, I think they are evenly matched. That makes me look at pricing, sources and packaging.

The two products are actually priced similarly. The box of Maggie's Soap Nuts says it is good for up to 20 washes and it cost me $9.99 at the local eco-store. Berry Plus' online store sells a 20 load package for $8.80. Adding in the $2.00 shipping fee and the total is $10.80 for the Berry Plus.

Berry Plus is marketing itself to college bookstores while Maggie's is something you'd find at stores that carry environmentally friendly goods. I won't know for a couple weeks whether the cost will be less when buying in person at the bookstore.

When it comes to sourcing, Maggie's seems focused on the eco-friendly aspects of the product while Berry Plus focuses on the convenience of not having a jug to carry to the laundry room. Maggie's is clear about their source, Berry Plus is not.

As for packaging, I think Maggie's wins in this area. The plastic vials Berry Plus uses add to my thinking that the environment isn't a huge focus of the company (the vial doesn't have any marking to show what sort of plastic it is). The full product comes in a plastic disc. There is no word about whether the packaging can be recycled.

picture from the Berry Plus website

What do you think? I think I have about 18 more loads of laundry to do with my Maggie's Soap Nuts before I make a final decision, but at this point, all the plastic involved in the Berry Plus product makes me wary of using it. What's more, I like supporting a small, local business when I buy Maggie's Soap Nuts.

7/27 edit: A package of 8 BerryPlus vials is selling for $4.99 at the UVa Bookstore. That works out to about 62 cents per load. Maggie's Soap Nuts cost about 50 cents per load when bought locally. Buying online in bulk would make the soap nuts the more cost effective choice.


  1. THe packaging would make the difference for me. The Berry stuff seems less eco-friendly with all that plastic.

  2. My question is...what do they smell like??

  3. And my second question...WHY does Maggie's have a picture of a breastfeeding mom on their homepage? Haha. I get the reasoning, it's just odd!!

  4. The plastic packaging turns me off completely. Even if it were the better product and was less expensive, I still wouldn't use it just because of the environmental impact.

  5. It's it kind of ironic that the girl said the university is trying to get students to stop using chemicals? I wonder if they realize how many chemical-ladden products they sell in that bookstore or how many preservatives are in the food available.

    It'll be great if people can stop using laundry detergent that has some bad stuff in it, but you'd think that people marketing a product to students and professors would have a smarter pitch.

  6. Oh, Letitia, the smell is the best part...there really is no scent to either product. I really, really like that! I had been using All Free & Clear and Method detergents to get away from the perfumes.

    The breast feeding mom things is interesting. The owner of the eco store told me that the soap nuts are really popular with moms, especially moms who are using traditional, cloth diapers. My guess is that the lack of fragrance and some of the bad stuff that's in traditional detergent is attractive to those who are trying to limit chemical exposure for their kids.

  7. soap nuts gave me a rash, remember just because it came from a plant doesn't make it allergy free. :)

  8. No smell, good to know. I switch between All Free & Clear and Seventh Generation. Although I got one of the new Bounce dryer bars last month which completely defeats the purpose of the detergents I use! And shortly after I bought it, Clyde started breaking out in hives! I don't know if it was the dryer bar or some pollen/grass/weed in the yard, but poor little guy is on Temaril P now because the hives were so bad that Benadryl wasn't working. Anyway...

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  11. What follows are two comments written by someone posing as a UVA student. Unfortunately, they made a critical mistake of using a word that would never, ever be uttered by a UVA student for fear that Mr. Jefferson would roll in his grave.

    I'm not going to mention the word, but if you are a member of the UVA community, I'm sure it's jumping out at you as much as it did to me.

    It's interesting that Raina was able to get information from Berry Plus so quickly. They emailed me on Friday about my blog entry which, by the way, is positive about everything but their packaging which I don't think is recyclable (though I'll check with The EcoWomen). I emailed the Berry Plus co-founder back with my phone number and haven't heard from them since. Or maybe I have.

  12. Originally left at 11:41 PM

    So glad to see so many comments around berryplus. I am a huge fan because it works and it is smart. Thank goodness this company is willing to try something different.
    Just a quick clarification about the packaging. The outer package is compostable and the tube are 80% recycled material and they are fully recyclable. I received a sample on campus as well and did my homework directly with the people at berryplus (who I might add were very friendly and willing to share information). I think the real comparison is between your average jug and berryplus. For anybody like my parents that are buying anything in a jug, the jugs use 60% more packaging of old fashioned plastic. Not to mention that it weighs a lot more to transport so more fuel is used. The packaging was designed for convenience so not only is there no need to lug the jug but no need to overdose again. I know that normally when I do laundry I just pour a bunch of laundry soap in the wash the more the better and hope it comes out clean.
    With berryplus I just emptied the capsule as instructed and my clothes came out perfect........ smelling clean and looking totally clean.
    As a student I am a big fan of berryplus and I hope you replace all the jugs across the nation.

    To those who mentioned other brands they use I am sure they are not 95% berry based and 100% plant based read the ingredients. Not to mention that they all use way more plastic and they weigh way more.

    Let's give cool start up companies (not amateur) a break they are doing something great. I am so proud of UVA for realizing this is a great product for their school and the planet.

  13. Originally left at 11:45 PM

    P.s. No need to worry about allergic reactions. I have extremely sensitive skin and it worked fine, it's hypoallergenic.

  14. Per UVA's public directory, the school has no student named Raina right now.

  15. Yep, that word jumped out at me too. Also, UVA students don't tend to make so many errors when writing.

    As for whether or not the packing is recyclable, I can tell you that, in general, it is not. That said, Whole Foods does accept all plastics for recycling at this time, but what I cannot tell you is what happens to those plastics after being dropped off at Whole Foods.

    A note about so-called compostable plastics: Often, when a company says that their packaging will break down in a compost bin, their testing was done in industrial composters, which reach much higher temps than home composters do. About a year ago, Mother Earth News performed some tests on so-called compostable plastics and discovered that they do not break down in home compost bins. I've been doing some experimenting myself and have had the same results.

    Bottom line: It's best to reduce your plastic use to begin with, regardless of whether or not it can be recycled or composted.

  16. Even a simple UVA mom like me can tell from that particular word that the person in question is not a student of Mr.Jefferson's University.


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