Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Experiments, Back Again!

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Oh, the saga! My husband’s going to toss me out. (Actually, he’s threatened to just go to the store – the man who never shops! – and buy Cascade, but the first sentence sounded more catchy!)

Out of necessity and curiosity, a deadly combination, I tried yet another homemade, “natural” dishwasher detergent this week. I promised I’d tell you about it in the natural kitchen cleaners post.

Oh, dear.

It didn’t leave white stuff all over the plastic lids.

It didn’t have an ingredient that I later found to be semi-toxic.

It didn’t clean the dishes, either.

Meet my dishwasher.  It's been through a lot lately.  Send condolences via my email address.

Meet my dishwasher. It's been through a lot lately. Send condolences via my email address.

I found the same recipe I tried last time posted at Passionate Homemaking, and I was quite surprised to find that Lindsay said it worked great for her. I commented as such with my example, and Lindsay realized that she had actually used Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, not castile soap. Apparently that makes all the difference. Since I was decently happy with the amount of food that recipe got off the dishes, I was excited to try this new version to see if the white film problem really went away.


Lindsay must have a better dishwasher than me. Or something. I even pre-rinsed after the first wash-all-the-dishes-again (poor, distressed husband!) failure. It does a B+ job on the food on the bottom rack, with the exception of some tough food or grease. The top rack is quite a mess though. This solution puts a film of greasiness on everything, even glasses that only had water in them to begin with. Shucks.

I’m also questioning Sal Suds a bit. It contains sodium lauryl sulfate, a surfactant that some say harms the environment (it’s in every soap you can find except special, natural ones). The bottle says its SLS is coconut derived, which makes me wonder:  are all “natural” soaps that don’t disclose ingredients but say “from plant-derived surfactants” using coconut-based SLS? And is that any better than whatever conventional soaps’ SLS is made of? (Or is that coconut-based after all, too?)  A topic for another day…

Why Keep Trying Homemade Dishwasher Detergents???

The reason I tried this homemade detergent at all was because we ran out of Mrs. Meyer’s. I remain super happy with my results with Mrs. Meyer’s, but I am waiting on a sample from Biokleen, and they’re a little less expensive, so I was kind of hoping I’d like it too! I’ve been very pleased with Biokleen’s Bac-Out for laundry pretreating after a dear friend got me some for a birth-of-Lovey-Girl present. I have high hopes for their other products and didn’t want to buy anything until I knew which one worked better…so…on with the dread of a full dishwasher and nothing to put in it!

This week, after two or three tries with varying amounts of the Sal Suds detergent, I had a full dishwasher again. I saw “Homemade Dishwasher Detergent” on a Works for Me Wednesday list and, gullible child that I am, clicked on the link. It was one similar to the borax/baking soda/salt mixture I tried back in the winter, along with a tsp of liquid dishsoap, similar to the last sort-of successful venture before the Sal Suds. I was intrigued. Maybe the combo would do the job, and even though I’m not thrilled about borax, it’s getting mixed reviews on safety and is still better than getting stuck with a whole box of Cascade. Heart palpitations commence. I felt like I was running around on my husband; I made sure I started the DW load with this stuff when he was not home and could not ask questions.

I watched for suds overflowing on the floor. None.

I waited for the cycle to end. Such a long time! I have no patience.

I squeezed my eyes closed and opened the door. No fireworks went off, and no lightning struck either, and upon first glance at the silverware, it looked like it wasn’t a complete disaster.

Final analysis: only two glass bowls and a cup were “rejects”. An incredible improvement! Finally. Something that works if I’m in a pinch. (Speaking of pinch, I might add a pinch of citric acid next time around…if I ever need to use this again!)

The next day, the most beautiful sight in the world met my eyes:

The package from Biokleen, after the order getting misplaced for a while, is finally here!

The package from Biokleen, after the order getting misplaced for a while, is finally here!

So I’m finally loading my dishwasher as usual, no prerinsing – a serious challenge for any detergent, to be sure. I breathe faster when I do it, imagining the potentially baked-on crud that could come out at the end of the cycle. Imagine what I’ll be like loading the Biokleen detergent in the little cup! I’m going to have a heart attack! Sweet Jesus, may this Biokleen work! (Is it sacreligious to pray about dishwashers? I don’t know, but I don’t want to sleep on the couch tonight!)

Clean dishes are a Finer Thing. See more at Finer Things Friday at The Finer Things in Life AND Fearless Friday at Home-Ec 101. I’m making do with what I have until the box comes for real:  Ann Kroeker’s Make-Do Mondays. I’ve learned a lot, haven’t I? What I Learned This Week at Musings of a Housewife. At least this stuff doesn’t cost very much:  Tightwad Tuesdays at Being Frugal.

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30 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. donna says

    I can’t wait for the results. I hope you are cooking up a storm so you’ll have enough dishes to fill it up, push that button, and let us know. Love your blog.

  2. Gia says

    Well I am glad to know that homemade dishwasher soap isn’t so easy for me alone. I have tried many times but with no sucess. I like Biokleen, that worked. Right now using the Simplicity nontoxic dishwasher tabs (trying to decode ingredients to see if it is really nontoxic) but they work great and are available where I shop.

  3. Marcy says

    We really liked Method’s dish detergent but when we ran out we got the Ecover stuff – it does not clean the dishes, which we pre-scrape.

  4. says

    I have a very strong suspicion that those with nice, soft water have a lot more options than those of us with hard-as-rock (’cause it’s full of rock!) water. None of these alternative anythings (dishwasher detergent, shampoo, etc.) have ever worked for me, but I’ve had hard water nearly as long as I’ve been married. (I did have success with homemade laundry detergent until we moved here, and this is the most crazy-hard water I’ve ever seen.)
    .-= Rachel R.´s last blog ..Sovereignty and the Fear of God =-.

    • Katie says

      Hmmmm…I did notice a difference in my ‘poo-free hair when I was home at my parents’ with their softened water. I don’t know how hard our city water is…good thing to think about. Maybe that’s why the HMs don’t work as well for me as Lindsay! :) Katie

    • Katie says

      Do you have soft or hard water? Two people have commented that it makes a big difference, and I bet they’re right. I think our water is rather hard, so the things that work “ok” for me would probably work for you, including the few drops of regular dishsoap in the cup plus vinegar in the bottom of the DW. That one you can try w/o mixing or buying anything, so it’s a good place to start! I’ve been pretty happy with the last one, except for the questionable nature of Borax. If you have it on hand though, it’s good in a pinch. Hubby doesn’t think 4-5 rejections is acceptable enough, so we’ll keep trying for perfection! :) Katie

      • Julie says

        I have very hard water and have found that using a 50/50 combo of the homemade borax recipe and a store bought detergent (I use 7th Generation) get the dishes clean with no film. This way I can stretch the store-bought detergent a really long time. I’ve also heard people say to reduce the amount of borax to 3/4 cup in the recipe if you have hard water and you can get away using only the homemade, but like you, I’m starting to question borax’s toxity. Now I’m hearing about oxygenated cleaners as a borax replacement. Do you know anything about that?

  5. says

    I really enjoyed your posting~! What a saga- I will definitely have to keep up on this.

    I am excited to invite you over to my site as I take over the hosting from Ann Kroeker for her Make-Do Mondays. I would love to share your ideas with all the make-doers in Bloggville. I hope to find many other participants as I love to learn new things and how to make-do in many different ways.

    So come visit me next week as I begin hosting Make-Do Mondays at My Practically Perfect Life – Make-Do Mondays

    Have a great day!

    .-= Sharinskishe´s last blog ..Duct Tape Repair =-.

    • Katie says

      It’s already marked down on my list! As long as I have a post that fits, I’ll be there! Thanks for the invite. Katie

  6. Kat says

    The most interesting thing about your experiment… when I had a dishwasher in my last home, even using Cascade, sometimes I had an item or two that didn’t come clean … food for thought.

    • Katie says

      We’ve definitely taken that into account. My dishwasher rocks! With the right detergent, it has an incredible success rate. :) Katie

  7. says

    I know it’s been a over a year. I’m going to give the homemade soap a try too. I noticed a few differences in the recipe I’m going to try and yours. First it isn’t baking soda that will leave a film. It’s washing soda such as Arm & Hammer WASHING soda, or White King softener or if you can find it Calgon water softener powder (not the bath bubbles) citric acid, lemon Kool-Aid or Lemi Shine is used.
    When I worked in the restaurant business grease left on the dishes was a result of your water not being hot enough, you may have to turn up the temperature on your water heater or if your washer has the ability turn on the water heater for the washer ( I miss my Maytag). Just to entice you here’s what I’m going to try.

    1 cup borax
    1 cup washing soda
    1/4 cup salt
    1/4 cup citric acid or 4 packs unsweetened lemon koolaid

    second recipe I’m going to try is

    1 cup borax
    1/2 cup washing soda
    1/4 cup cheap dishwasher detergent
    4 tbsp. Lemi shine

    Wish me luck!

    • says

      Well it’s been a year and I’ve since made changes to “customize” my detergent. It works way better than the store bought. The two I started with worked better than the store bought. Talk about hard water, the water here leaves a layer of minerals on everything! I ended up with
      1 cup Borax
      1 1/2 cups Washing Soda or Kings Water Softener
      1/2 cup Kosher Salt (makes a difference for some reason)
      3/4 cup citric acid or lemi-shine

      I use vinegar in place of Jet Dry now and WOW! Now my glasses don’t have that white mineral layer on them. Works pretty good would be better if I had a REAL dishwasher with a food grinder, but I’m in a rental. Oh, well.

  8. Rebecca says

    Hi there,
    I’ve just come across this in effort to see what others have had with homemade dishwasher soaps. I’m wondering if you can tell me how things made out and what you are currently using as I too have small children and share many of your enviro concerns as well. THANKS!!

  9. ani says

    I’ve used Shaklee and Biokleen and they are both hands down the best out there! None of the big name, bleachy, scary brands have ever worked as well. I use the teeniest, tiniest bit of detergent, like maybe not even a tablespoon total (a tiny sprinkle in the pre-wash section and a little more in the main cup). I also use apple cider vinegar in the rinse be/c white vinegar is a petroleum by-product and I’ve completely cut it out of my home. The ACV works perfectly! I don’t know why they always say white vinegar, but I like the ACV.

    I also experimented with the homemade stuff for a while and got the same results as you did, Katie. Not worth it. My Shaklee lasted almost a year and I just started with the Biokleen, but I think it will last at least as long. The $8.99 I paid for it is totally worth it. If it lasts 9 months, that’s only $1 a month. Not bad at all.

    As for the SLS, I did some research on this when I started making soap. It is really very deceitful (much like your Charlie’s Soap experience) for them to claim that SLS is coconut derived. It is so far derived that it lost any merit way back. Check out what wikipedia says out how it’s produced: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_lauryl_sulfate
    I love Dr. Bronners, but I will not use their Sal Suds.

    Thanks for all the experimenting – it’s good to know I’m not the only crazy out there :)

    • Katie says

      Fascinating to know about the ACV vs white vinegar, thank you. So Sal Suds is no good, but castille is okay? Seems like there’s no end to the learning… :) Katie

  10. sandra says

    You might be interested in the european SIN ….. “The SIN (Substitute It Now!) List is an NGO driven project to speed up the transition to a toxic free world. The List 2.0 consists of 378 chemicals that are identified as Substances of Very High Concern based on the criteria established by the EU chemical regulation” . http://www.sinlist.org/.
    Borax seems pretty dangerous to me, I think I’ll skip it too.

  11. Kat says

    I have hard water and have good luck with Citra Dish Fresh Grapefruit Natural Automatic Dish Gel. I will only use gels or liquids because the powders are so messy. I get free shipping if I order 50 dollars worth of products from alice.com. They have a lot of other green cleaners. I find that if I don’t rinse first but fill the soap compartment the way my dishwasher recomends, my dishes come clean. If I rinse first then I will only fill one side of the compartment and they come out clean. A way to make rinsing faster and to use less water is to fill my sink half way with water and let the dishes soak as I clear my table. Then as I lift them out of the sink I give a quick rub with a plastic onion or garlic bag that I keep in my sink. No greasy sponge or rag to clean.

  12. says

    When vinegar and castile soap are put together they don’t mix and instead they both become ineffective and leave a greasy, powdery residue. Lisa Bronner discusses this on her blog. Detergents will work with vinegar however.

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