Peggy McClelland is out to the heal the earth – one nut at a time.

McClelland, known as The Soap Nut Lady, has developed a business of the same name selling soap nuts. Soap nuts are the de-seeded fruit of the soapberry tree, which grows in India and Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas. The green cleaning alternative contains no petrochemicals.

It was the tragedy of losing her daughter after a medical procedure and her husband to a “broken heart” within 10 days of each other that set McClelland on her mission to heal the earth. She was living in the Florida Keys working as an acupuncturist and owned a produce trucking company. Her friends in Wisconsin thought she should come heal in the peace of nature along the Peshtigo River.

One day, she saw what appeared to be soap suds floating down the Peshtigo River — likely a pollutant containing phosphates — and began looking for alternative natural cleaning products. She discovered that soap nuts had been used in many countries for thousands of years. She realized that selling soap nuts was to be her new journey. “I believe the travesty that occurred in my life happened so that I would redirect my goals,” she said.

When soap nuts are put in water, cleaning agents called saponins are released, creating an effective laundry, household and skin cleaning solution. When used in a washing machine, the soap nuts are put into a drawstring muslin bag, where they can undergo several washings. Because soap nuts are shells, not nuts, they do not affect those with nut allergies.

McClelland, 61, is the president and CEO of the business and can be found giving demonstrations at Hy-Vee, where the soap is sold. Her products will soon be available at the Willy Street Co-op. Her line of products includes soap nuts, laundry and dishwasher pods, concentrated all-purpose cleaner and organic bar soaps.

McClelland said the main skill to being successful in her business is having the ability to share with others that there is an alternative to cleaning products they have used their entire lives.

“Nobody really likes changes, but in this case, we all win from making a simple conscious decision to use a product which grows from the earth’s soil.”

Emerging Businesses appears on the third Tuesday of each month. To suggest a business that has been open one to five years, contact Jill Carlson at

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. The Soap Nut Lady products will soon be available at Willy Street Co-op, but they are not on shelves yet.]

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