Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Seeking a Natural Dishwasher Detergent that Isn’t a Miserable Failure

October 4th, 2012 · 111 Comments · Cleaning

Natural Dishwasher Detergent Reviews


The natural dishwasher detergent saga is as old as Kitchen Stewardship itself.

First, I tried a number of homemade dishwasher detergents back in 2009. It certainly wasn’t an exhaustive list, but I went through a number of the “easy” recipes on the web that mostly didn’t entail sourcing and buying any new-to-me ingredients.

They were a disaster.

Piles of rejected dishes, sometimes nearly the entire load, and multitudes of plastic lids covered in white film just about sent my husband to the looney bin.

No more homemade dishwasher detergent experiments for us!

UPDATE: I did list out all the myriad of homemade dishwasher detergent recipes readers have shared with me over the years, in case folks are still willing to try.

Our dishwasher at the time was rather new, by the way, and typically did an admirable job with even the dirtiest dishes (we don’t pre-rinse if we can help it).

I set out to find a “natural” brand that worked and went through a couple before finding one that worked but was expensive. Then I was actually foolish enough to try a slight change on one of the homemade detergents, again. Another blogger had said it worked great for her, but it was another story of disaster at our house, hand-washing a load of dishes, and snake eyes from the husband.

Finally, I got a chance to try another brand that was more frugal, and it had me singing alleluias all day long. Biokleen was my baby for about 18 months…and then it suddenly stopped working.

Our dishes all had white film on them again, our glassware never looked clean, and I started to question whether Biokleen had changed their formula. The company assured me that they hadn’t, and I heard from readers on both sides: some claimed it still worked great for them and told me to work on reducing “buildup” in my dishwasher, and others agreed that Biokleen had (new) not-cleaning-the-dishes issues.

I was bamboozled. I tried tackling buildup with some of the ideas in comments at this post, but nothing helped. Right around that time, we sold our house, so I was excited to get to start over with a new dishwasher.

Guess what? Biokleen still didn’t work satisfactorily. It was as much of a disaster in the new house as the old. Time to strike out anew! Update (3/2014): My mother also had splendid luck with Biokleen’s powder. She has softened well water and I’ve had fairly hard city water in both houses; she pre-rinses thoroughly and I refuse to. But I thought I should be fair to Biokleen and let you know that maybe it will work with some water! Although she did tell me that when people started having trouble (me) she still had an old one and switched to Ecover powder with great success rather than risk the new one, even though the company says they didn’t reformulate. I would love to hear YOUR experiences in the comments!

Through two dishwashers already in this house, here’s the scoop on the other five “natural” dishwasher detergents we’ve tried, as well as the (surprising) results of EWG’s new household cleaners ratings list (ranked A through E, like grades in school).

I list the ingredients, too, which sound a lot less “natural” than many other things I read, but many of them are explained at EWG or here. I’m not sure if these detergents are really, truly natural and non-toxic, but I am certain they’re loads better than the conventional dishwasher detergent, which can be some of the most caustic cleaning agents you have and most harmful to the environment, too.

I did find that “short wash” wasn’t cutting it with the new dishwasher and the natural detergents. Sad to see that energy-saver as a thing of the past, but the “sensor” cycle is supposed to only run as much as it absolutely needs to, so I’m at least pleased with that. Funny note: when we were shopping dishwashers, there was a Bosch company rep at the little store in our town. He gave his detergent recommendation, and when I asked about natural brands, he put on a permasmile, raised his eyebrows, and basically declined to comment – but his skeptic’s grin said it all. “No promises,” he said.

Seventh Generation Tablets

This was the first we tried because it was available and on sale at our local Meijer. It couldn’t get spoons with fermented cod liver oil on them clean worth a darn, and even after we had our dishwasher professionally cleaned, all the bowls in the bottom rack were nasty, we had streaky glasses and very dirty spoons, especially anything with grease on it.

After getting a new dishwasher, we tried Seventh Generation again. It was passable, but it still had more rejected dishes than any of the others and is more expensive because of the tabs.

I actually called the company and told them I wasn’t happy, and they happily sent me a refund. Darn good customer service, I like that.

I’ve also tried the dishwasher gel as a sample, and I was unimpressed. Eh.

My rating: Don’t Bother

EWG rating: A, only for the “free and clear” unscented version

Ingredients: Citric acid, sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate (water softeners), sodium silicate (protection agent and alkalinity builder), polyaspartic acid (anti-filming agent), sodium magnesium silicate and ppg-10-laureth-7 (anti-spotting agents), sodium percarbonate (stain remover and water softener), sodium sulfate and sodium aluminosilicate (processing & flow aids), protease and amylase (enzyme soil removers). Trace materials are commonly present in cleaning product ingredients. The material that holds our powder formula is polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), a biodegradable polymer. No phosphates.

Tropical Traditions Dishwasher Detergent

natural dishwasher soap options and reviewI tried this one out because it was on sale or I got free shipping (or both) and it seemed like a good deal in bulk.

Performance-wise, it’s doing okay. It’s better than 7th Generation for sure, but I feel like we get more silverware rejects with TT than with some others. Perhaps I’m just undershooting on the amounts.

I’ve read that the worst wear and tear on a dishwasher is using too much detergent, so it’s actually a good idea to keep track of how much it needs. Mark on your scoop what you try, and work it down until the dishes start to be unacceptably dirty, then mark that spot with a permanent marker. (I just haven’t quite taken the time and attention to do that officially.)

UPDATE 3/2014: I was shocked to re-read this review and see that I had rated TT”s detergent so neutrally. As I worked through the 5-pound tub, which seemed to take forever (I’m estimating about 150 loads with the quarter or third scoop that I use, about 0.55 ounces), it became one of my favorites to be sure. There will always be rejected utensils with tricky food substances on them, but overall Tropical Traditions powdered dish detergent works great, and even though it’s not rated at EWG, I trust that it’s natural quality for a few reasons: (1) the ingredients are pretty simple and (2) the company is known for having impeccably high standards. This is a great product – watch for free shipping (happens about once a month) or the 50% off sale on the tub (happens only 1-2 times a year).

My rating: Tied for first place

Not rated at EWG.

Ingredients: Sodium citrate, sodium carbonate, sodium percarbonate, surfactants, rinse agents, silicate.

BUY HERE at Tropical Traditions.

Ecover: Powdered Detergent

For budget reasons, I tend to prefer a powder over a tab. It’s not as easy, that’s for sure, but I like being able to use less and stretch the box.

Ecover has proven itself to be a good brand for both tablets (see below) and powder. The powder pours directly out of the box, no scoop, so there’s a lot of discrepancy on how much we use, especially with two adults running the dishwasher.

More often than not, we’re pleased with the results. There are a few rejects here and there, but nothing that makes us want to throw the box out the window…

Update 3/2014: I mentioned that my mom was also using Ecover regularly (in her 30-year-old dishwasher that she’s nursing along because she doesn’t want to deal with the eccentricities of new machines). ;) She shared this with me: “[When I ran out of Ecover recently] I had to resort to Cascade.  It etched a couple of glasses [which had been washed in the same way countless times with Ecover] and then the spotting was awful.  Any rinse aid was long gone before using the Cascade.  I have put white vinegar into my rinse dispenser to help with the spotting…which it has.  No more etching of glasses with Ecover.” Interesting! Anyone out there have etching problems with conventional detergents? Are they too harsh?

My rating: Tied for first place

EWG rating: B for both scented and unscented

Ingredients: Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda), Sodium Disilicate, Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Sulfate, Sodium Citrate, Polypeptides, Enzymes (non-genetically engineered), Sugar Surfactant, Sugar Based Bleach Activator, Sugar Cane (Saccharum Officinarum) Derivates, Fragrance

When I purchased mine to try, it wasn’t available at Amazon, but now it is, and you should also price check with Vitacost HERE. If it’s your first order with Vitacost, start with THIS LINK and you’ll get $10 off your first order. (If you see good deals on these products anywhere else on the web, let me know as I’d love to link to them too!)

Ecover: Tablets

Ecover’s tablets were a product sample directly from the company, and I’ve been extremely happy with them. They have probably about a 98% clean rate, which is pretty awesome considering the knockout Tetris games I play fitting as many dirty dishes in that thing as possible.

Tabs are kind of nice because they are premeasured – super quick, no guesswork, no training the husband on how to use them.

The convenience does come with a price, so you have to decide where your priorities lie.

My rating: Second place because of cost only

EWG rating: B (used to be a C; updated 3/2014)

Ingredients: Sodium Citrate, Sodium Carbonate Peroxide, Sodium Carbonate, Disodium Disilicate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Poly Asparaginate, Tetra Acetyl Ethylene Diamine (TAED), D-glucitol, Sorbitan Sesquioctanoate, Capryl Glucoside, Protease, Amylase, Glycerin, Fragrance, Limonene, Sodium Gluconate

Get them HERE at Amazon or HERE at Vitacost (watch for frequent sales) or start with THIS LINK if you’ve never shopped Vitacost before and you’ll get $10 off your first order.

Grab Green Tablets

A reader recommended Grab Green as a natural brand that worked, and it was just too easy to add it to an Amazon order, so I did. The reviews there are pretty glowing, too.

The tabs work slightly differently than Ecover’s, which you have to unwrap. These guys go directly into the soap dispenser, plastic and all, so technically, it’s a wee bit easier.

As far as where the plastic goes…that’s a mystery I don’t want to know.

I found GrabGreen to be a great brand and get the job done. I’d put these tabs and Ecover’s on the same level, at the top of my “most effective” list, but not so frugal.

My rating: Tied for second place

EWG rating: B, only for unscented or red pear with magnolia; other two scents were a C

Ingredients:

Soda Ash (Natural mineral water softener)
Sodium Metasilicate (Natural mineral aids cleaning)
Non-ionic Ethoxylate (Biodegradable cleaner + degreaser blend)
Sodium Sulfate (Mineral cleaning agent)
Sodium Citrate(Mineral derived from citrus used to aid cleaning)
Sodium Percarbonate (Made from natural soda ash, it uses oxygen to remove stains + adds alkalinity to assist cleaning)
Silica (Mineral based anti-caking agent)
Sodium Iminodisuccinate (Biodegradable water softener)
Sodium Polyaspartate (Biodegradable mineral rinse aid)
Organic enzyme blend (Breaks down protein + starch based stains)
**Fragrance contains essentials oils: thyme + violet leaf + sage

BUY on Amazon (I didn’t see this one at Vitacost – anywhere else you know of? Happy to add resources if you leave a note in the comments.)

Up & Up: Something New to Try?

I was very surprised to see Target’s brand “Up & Up” dish packs listed as one of the few receiving a “B” rating at EWG; the “A” list is even smaller and the C-E are in the triple digits each just for dishwasher detergents.

If you’ve got a local Target, it might be worth a try as I’m guessing it will be less expensive than some of those listed here.

Natural Rinse Aid

I use straight white vinegar in the “Jet Dry” compartment as the rinse aid. Whole New Mom posted recently that the vinegar may ruin the rubber parts, so I need to perhaps see what will happen if I don’t use it at all.

I’m not using Jet Dry – a chemical that’s supposed to stay on the things my family puts in their mouth? No, thank you, no research needed on that one. Not touching it.

What About Biokleen?

Those astute readers among you may have noticed my old friend Biokleen still showing up in the top photo.

I’d been afraid to even try it again in our new dishwasher for the last four months. For you, dear readers, *heaves deep sigh* I will try it again.

The dishwasher, full to the brim of nastiness, is running now. I’ll let you know how it goes…

…and maybe someday I’ll get up the nerve to try homemade dishwasher detergent again (or I’ll just post all the options I’ve collected in a 4-page document for you).

Update, later that evening: Biokleen is still getting me in trouble with my husband. He was going to unload the dishwasher until he learned what I’d done. “Why did you try that one again? I think if you’re going to experiment, you should unload the dishwasher.”

It’s only fair.

I unloaded to find less than acceptable utensils, shadows of ranch dressing dollops on glass plates, and, you know it, white film on all the plastic lids, of which there must have been at least 57. The glass drinking glasses had issues that gave us both shudders of deja vu.

“Remember, that’s how all our glasses used to look all the time. I hope this didn’t permanently affect our dishwasher!” poor hubby cried. I told him I’d test out a special new “clean your dishwasher technique” I picked up from an appliance repairman. What the poor guy has to put up with around here!

Bottom line: Biokleen is still the worst natural detergent I’ve tried. Now what do I do with the rest of the tub?

What do you use in your dishwasher?

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111 Comments so far ↓

  • Chelsea

    The biokleen has a D rating at EWG! I bought a HUGE container from Azure that lasted us a year, and we had the same problem as you. Except I’m convinced it has to be buildup issues because we never changed boxes. We have only ever used the huge box of biokleen we got over a year ago. And it went from working wonderfully to working barely at all over the past few months. When I saw it got a “D”, I was horrified, as many non-”natural” detergents fare better than that. I’m back to trying to find my own decent recipe. We’ll see. :/

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Peggy

    We don’t pre-rinse, we pre-wash! Our dishwasher is horrible, doesn’t get anything clean, leaves film, and breaks almost monthly. It’s just easier for us to handwash the dishes and use the machine to put a final super-hot spray of water on them for disinfection. The dishwasher repair guy told me not using Jet Dry would void my warranty. It’s probably not true, but I’m not messing with it…that stuff is nasty!

    Because we don’t use detergent at all except during the holidays when we can’t keep up with the dishes during guest visits, when we do use it, we use Cascade. I know, it’s bad. Bad for the environment, bad for us, bad on the budget. But it works and it’s a twice or three times a year indulgence.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Karen Reply:

    I hear you! Our dishwasher was replaced in January. I wish I had got cupboard doors instead. The way I figure it, with all the prewashing and rewashing, I might as well just do the dishes in the sink and save the water, power and detergent the dishwasher uses. I suppose, in that sense, it is very efficient. It stays off. My dishes get clean. I won’t buy another dishwasher. Ever.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Shauna Reply:

    I found our dishes got cleaner and the counter clearer when we did not have one. And I would really like the cupboard space they removed from my 60′s kitchen when it was installed!

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    Brea Reply:

    I have lived in a series of apartments with their junky dishwashers and I often get to the point where I throw my hands up and call it my “deluxe drying rack.” Though I would much prefer the cupboard space. When I finally get my own house I might just not bother – or I might shell out for the very best dishwasher I can find. I hate doing dishes, but I hate even more having to do them after the dishwasher has theoretically already done them.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Karen Reply:

    When we replaced ours, we were looking for a “good” one. Stainless steel tub, rustproof racks, good soundproofing, energy and water efficient. So we ended up paying quite a bit for it. It is not a Bosch, were looking at them, but were told this one was comparable, and price-wise, it was. I’m completely underwhelmed.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Tiffany via Facebook

    I have been using a home made one w/ just washing soda, baking soda, salt, & Lemishine. It has worked well so far.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Tiffany (As For My House) Reply:

    Well if it wasn’t funny enough to see another “Tiffany” commenting… That’s *exactly* what I was going to say!!

    LOL! :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Beth Reply:

    Tiffany,

    Can you give us your proportions for this recipe, please?

    Thanks!
    Beth

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Mary K W

    I use the 7th Gen powdered dish detergent and it works perfectly. I’ve found (and read) that there’s something about powdered detergents that make them work better than gels or tabs. I don’t pre-rinse and I don’t have a fancy dishwasher. Works great for us.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Holly Reply:

    Us too! We’ve used 7th Gen powdered for years and years. The liquid was awful and they didn’t have tabs when I started using it. But the powdered works so well why switch? We’ve used it in 2 dishwashers and my parents have used it in theirs for years as well. And we’re currently doing dishes for 10! :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kristie Reply:

    I was thinking of posting this for Katie to see too, because the powder also works good for us and we have well water!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Abi Craig Reply:

    Agree . . . we’ve used the 7th Gen. powder for years in two different un-glorious dishwashers. Works great.

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    Cory Reply:

    Me too! I’m very happy with 7th Gen, and ironically I tried Ecover and had film/white-spot-where-grease-had-been problems with it.

    Here’s my question: how does water quality affect detergent efficacy? Maybe it wasn’t biokleen that changed. Maybe your water did? (the ones out here turn over at some point every summer and the water will suddenly get very mineraly. Granted, it usually only lasts a few weeks, if that, but that’s just an example of what I mean by water changing.)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Cory – good question! I’m sure it has an impact, but Biokleen has been pretty consistently horrible for us…

    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Cindy

    We use Melaleuca and like it. I would love your opinion on it one day, please.

    Thanks.

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    Sarah Reply:

    I have to agree with Cindy. We use Melaleuca Diamond Brite and it works great. A little goes a long way.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Anne Reply:

    I have never used a dishwasher, but our new place has one. I have been using it with melaleuca’s diamond bright, and am amazed how clean the dishes are! I would love to hear what others think of it since I have NOTHING to compare it to. Thank you!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Andrea Reply:

    I would also like to be able to find some un-biased opinions on Melaleuca brand products.

    The company claims to provide healthier and safer products, BUT ingredients such as “fragrance” and “preservative” are listed on their automatic dishwasher detergent.

    “Colorants,” “fragrance,” and “preservative” are on the label for their hand dishwashing liquid. I don’t think a yellow “colorant” will actually help my dishes get cleaner.

    Also the automatic and hand dishwashing bottle labels list other non-specific ingredients such as “three biodegradable grease-cutting detergents,” and “naturally derived thickener.”

    My gut feeling is that I’m happy they actually list ingredients, but if they cannot be more specific about the ingredients, I may not want them.

    By the way, their website only lists 3 (non-specific) ingredients for their hand dishwashing liquid while the bottle lists the 3 as indicated on the website PLUS 6 more. When you order from the website, you don’t know that you’re getting a “bonus” set of extra ingredients – ugh.

    I’d like to trust and support the Melaleuca company, but I’m just not convinced. Is there any research to prove one way or the other?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Cindy,
    I’ve never gotten the chance to try that one, but I’ve heard good things – although perhaps not unbiased. Andrea makes some really interesting points below!!
    ???

    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Cindy Reply:

    Here is what it says it contains:
    sodium laureth sulfate, coco gluconside, lauramine oxide, d-limonene and citric acid.

    Also, they do list these ingredients on the label (this is from the dish washing label).

    Here is the dishwasher soap (diamond brite) – naturally derived water -softening agent, naturally derived enzymes, cleaning agent (biodegradeable nonionic surfactant), naturally derived thickener, T36-C5 Meleleuca oil, fragrance and preservative. I will contact the company tomorrow and try get are more detailed list.

    [Reply to this comment]

    sara Reply:

    Hi,
    Ladies, I should have mentioned in my post that Diamond Bright is not an “all natural” product such as one that you could possibly make at home. I never found an “all natural” dish washing detergent that I truly believed worked for us.

    I feel that I can make many things myself but this is one item I have not had much success with. Melaleuca’s cleaning line is made without bleach, phosphates and caustic chemicals. They use ingredients from nature whenever possible. You are going to find that they will not disclose a full ingredients list for this product because the formula is proprietary. You can request a material safety data sheet (MSDS) which will give you a general idea regarding the quality of the ingredients. I have had enough experience with Melaleuca that I trust that their formulations are high quality, safer then grocery store brands and a great value but I think it is imperative that everyone come to their own conclusion.

    On that note, the label “natural” is used very loosely in the industry. Manufactures have a lot of wiggle room and are required to label very little on their bottle. I have used products that were labeled as “natural” but contained some very sneaky things in the formulation. I think the trick with buying products from a manufacturing company verses making them yourself is to find one that you trust that has some sort of integrity and never stop asking questions.

    good luck

    [Reply to this comment]

    sara Reply:

    Forgot to mention the hand dish washing soap does have yellow #5 in it. I forgot to ask them what the reasoning was for this. Let me know what the product line says on Monday :) I still love my soap!

    [Reply to this comment]

    sara Reply:

    Update: The yellow dye is food grade. Someone just told me that their son added the dish soap to their lemonade (not recommended) and her stomach was just a little upset from the soap but other then that it was no big deal :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Becky S Reply:

    We also use Melaleuca’s Diamond Brite and the dish soap. They work amazingly with a concentrated formula that does not require you to use much. (ex: if I use Method brand dish soap in the sink it takes 2-3 pumps, Melaleuca’s dish soap requires a TINY squirt, probably the equivalent of half a pump of Method). The dishwasher detergent only requires a half full dispenser, if that. This is in a Frigidaire dishwasher, nothing fancy. We have used Melaleuca for 10+ years and have always been happy with the performance of their products. They do not claim to be organic or anything like that, only to have products that are safe for your home, family and environment, made with non-toxic ingredients.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Becky S Reply:

    BTW, we have city water with no water softener.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Tracie via Facebook

    I have been using a homemade detergent with Lemishine and love it! However, you can’t make a big batch all at once. So, I do the homemade recipe and let my husband use whatever natural detergent I can find on sale.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Stephanie

    We use a homemade dishwasher degergent, which by itself does leave a nasty white film…but we use lemi shine as a rinse agent – just sprinkle it in the bottom of the dishwasher before you run the load. The company *claims* it’s all natural, and gets it’s cleaning power from citrus oils. However, they don’t release their specific ingredients under the excuse of “trade secrets.” So take it with a grain of salt, but it works great for us!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Debi Baker

    I also used to love the biokleen, it is not working well, and I have a huge box I bought from Azure still here too !! I cleaned out the dishwasher and ran it with hot water and vinegar, but didnt help much !!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • via Facebook

    I make my own and we get the weird film but that’s only after the salt in our softener has run out…other than it works just fine for us.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kelly

    Wow, Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel (lemon) has an F rating on EWG! This is just a reminder to me to check ingredients and not blindly trust a brand.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Kelly,
    Same idea: we can’t blindly trust EWG (Jen has some good comments on this later in this thread). :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jennifer

    aaarrrrggghhh!!! I picked up a new brand at Target the other day . . . Seventh Generation gel. Wish I had seen this first!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    But it might work for you with your DW and your water – you never know! *fingers crossed* Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sandy

    Some of the differences may be whether you all have soft/hard/chlorinated/well water.
    My Mom, in Portland OR, uses just plain baking soda for 3-4 loads in her dishwasher, alternating with 1 load with Cascade or Electrasol or whatever grocery store brand was on sale, partly because Little Sister, who lives with her, doesn’t really trust the soda, and neither did Dad when he was alive. On average, I guess that’s relatively green. It works, with her dishwasher and her water. This is just dishes, mind you – pans with grease or stuck foods get hand-washed. And it’s just her and Little Sister, who takes sandwiches to work and eats out with friends at least once a week, so the dishes can sit for up to 2 days before there’s a full load. FWIW – it works for them.
    I like 7th Generation, or good old-fashioned Ivory (no scent, easy on the skin!) hand-washing liquid at home, but then I cook fairly simply, just for me and Husband, except for 2-3 meals per year. And I don’t hate washing dishes. I DO dislike dishwashers; they’re noisy, heat up the house (I’m in central TX – this is a consideration in the summer !!) and if you have a small family and don’t need to run a full load every day, they either leave dried food stuck to the dishes and/or waste water. A lot of water.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Sandy,
    I hear you, although the water thing is a fact from the past – new DWs use only a gallon or two of water for the whole load!! Crazy.
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jen

    I’m not sure how much I trust EWG, to be honest. It seems that a LOT of products get bad ratings just for having essential oils in them, which can possibly be skin allergens. Well, a lot of natural things can possibly be allergens. Also, I was checking out the handwash dish soaps they have listed, and their top one has an even distribution of Cs, Bs, and As – yet somehow comes out as an A? While others have lower amounts of low grades (F, for example), but get stuck with that grade? I don’t understand their system – they don’t seem to average the scores out.

    Also, have you read this post: http://www.jillcataldo.com/phosphatedetergents? She’s talking about regular detergents, but if you scroll through, you’ll see her explanation of why she believes phosphates are ok. I found it pretty convincing (I spent a whole afternoon down the rabbit trail). Maybe you could try the additive she talks about along with your natural brands?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Jen,
    Wow, I just spend a good deal of time reading that article and links. Jill’s refutation of the phosphate ban is pretty darn interesting. My “green” side still says “get rid of phosphates!” but it didn’t read any new studies. ;)

    Thanks for all this info! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jen

    Here’s an example of why I question EWG: I was just looking at their rating of Seventh Gen. Gel, which is an F. However, if you scroll down, it actually receives predominantly Cs, and most of those are because they don’t have any info on those ingredients, so they are a cause for “some concern.” How does one F out of 16 ingredients rate an F overall?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Debi Baker Reply:

    I agree, I saw that BioKleen gets a C because of grapefruit seed extract and orange peel — both of which I dont find objectionable at all. I may stop using it because it doesnt work here any more…..

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Jen,
    Now that is interesting…their cleaners guide is brand spanking new and I haven’t spent much time there yet. You won’t be the first to question them…hmmm…

    [Reply to this comment]

  • .ambre. @mytempleremodeling.com

    I don’t see it mentioned here, maybe it was in another post?, but Shaklee is the only natural dish washer detergent that has passed with flying colors for us.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Ambre,
    I tried Shaklee once but it was 3 years ago or more…I probably mentioned it in one of those old, old posts, but I just didn’t get my hands on any this year. Glad to hear it worked for you! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Camille

    A little over a year ago my dishwasher and every single thing I put in it was covered in a white film. I did a ton of research and learned a lot. First, I cleaned out the dishwashwer with Dishwasher Magic. I had to use it TWICE to get it clean. I didn’t bother checking EWG — I needed that puppy cleaned out. Then I found Lemishine, which again I’m sure is not EWG approved, but I now use it 1-2 times a week to keep our hard water from leaving all those white deposits on everything. I also learned that powdered detergent is recommended to keep your dishwasher working at it’s best. Finally, the natural powders don’t contain a chemical that helps keep your drain cleaned out. So once a month I use Cascade in ONE cycle to keep things cleaned out. So far, it’s worked beautifully. I switch between Ecover and 7th Gen powders. It would probably be best to just hand wash, but with all the pots and pans I use… just keeping the dishwasher going is enough work! :-)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Camille,
    I was too curious, so I checked, but EWG doesn’t list either product. ;) I think I heard that Lemishine is at least sort of natural…

    Good info, thanks for sharing! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Stacy Reply:

    I may have to look into both of those. We have water so hard it eats through our pipes and ate a hole in our bathtub (no joke). The only thing repair people have been able to tell us is to run a load of 2 cups of white vinegar through the dishwasher at least once a month.
    The other thing I”ve found that helps is to ALWAYS run the garbage disposal before running the dishwasher.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • TifnGreg via Facebook

    FWIW, I use the free and clear Seventh Gen liquid and it works most of the time. I think part of my problem is we have a portable so the rinse doesn’t get in all the cracks – but it leaves our dishes cleaner than anything else I’ve tried. ~Tif

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Cindi

    I think the water quality has a big impact on performance. I tried the homemade stuff after reading about it on your blog and the blog of a local homeschooling friend. It was ok at first and my husband humored me (“why exactly are we using baking soda and koolade to clean dishes?”), but it became obvious we were re-washing A LOT. My local Bi-Lo had BioKleen on sale so I tried it. It worked great! I went to Whole Foods to get some more, but surprisingly they didn’t carry it, so I tried 7th Generation tabs. They were ok. Then I tried Ecover. Not a fan. I was so happy when that box ran out so I could go back to BioKleen, even for full price at Bi-Lo. It lasts for a really long time and does a good job for me.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Cindi,
    You know, when I saw the water stains on one glass tonight after the Biokleen re-test, I wondered out loud if the hardness of the water has anything to do with it. I know that’s a big deal for cloth diapers and detergent, so it makes sense that it would impact dishes too.

    Thanks for the great feedback! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Emily

    We love Shaklee over here for dishes. I was glad when I found it since DH slightly freaked out when he saw the $5+ price tag on it (3 years ago the only place I could find it close to my home was Walgreens). We recently ran out and I have a few days before my order came through so I caved and bought some Cascade because it was on sale and I had TWO coupons. *sigh* I can still smell the scent after the wash and 24 hours later. I can’t wait until my nonscented Shaklee comes again.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • sara

    I laughed out loud reading this post. I know this must have been very frustrating. I have gone through the same thing (both dish washing detergent and laundry detergent) My husband and I would argue about it because he always wanted me to go back to Cascade and Tide but I was determined to find something that worked because I didn’t want the chemicals emitting out of my dishwasher and in my clothes.

    I now use Melaleuca and I love it. Diamond Bright is effective, concentrated and safer for my home. Yes, I do advertise for Melaleuca now but this is not a sales pitch or anything. I believe every consumer should have the option to buy safer products that are a great value and not break the bank.

    PS
    Thank You for continually posting relevant topics that truly help people.
    [email protected]
    health and wellness

    [Reply to this comment]

    Sara Shay Reply:

    That’s what I use – it is AMAZING. I have no clue what the rating is though. But one place we were living the owner said she had never seem the dishwasher “happier!”

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Brooke G

    I have had the same issues. We have a new, somewhat expensive dishwasher. Bio kleen worked for a while, but then I ended up with a nasty orange buildup. After cleaning, it only takes days to get the stuff again. I use vinegar in the tub, too. I had just ordered some ecover tabs before I read this, so I haven’t gotten the chance to see how they work.

    I was wondering about the rinse aid. I purchased some natural stuff, and the ingredients list only water and anionic surfactant. So, I was wondering about the possibility of using Shaklee’s Basic H and water as a rinse aid. Seems like it’s worth a try.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Polly

    I believe I would return the Biokleen. But first call or write the company and THEM what you think of their detergent.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rebecca

    Have you tried Seventh Generation liquid or powdered? The liquid is decent, but the powder has been working very well for us! It’s a bit more pricey than normal dishwasher detergents, but it actually works better and is healthier.

    By the way, we live in the country and have hard well water. Not sure if that makes a difference either way.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • via Facebook

    TerriAnn Welsh-Farrell – hadn’t heard of that one, thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sarah

    I use Lindsay’s recipe from http://www.passionatehomemaking.com and it works really well. The only time I have major issues is if my hubby just throws stuff into the dishwasher without at least trying to get some of the gunk off (the constant flow of dishes at our house means that some get left with stuff on them that dries and makes it really hard for the dishwasher to get off), or my rinse aid compartment is out of vinegar. When I start wondering why there is a white film on my dishes (lime content of the water in my area is super high), I remember that I have to check the rinse aid compartment and it’s usually empty. Once I refill that, I have no issues. I’ve been using this formula for probably 3-4 years now and it is working very well. I also don’t notice any issues with the seal around the dishwasher due to the vinegar. Only issue with leaks is when I accidentally put too much soap into the compartment and the soap overflows onto the floor. That just means the mop comes out the the kitchen floor gets cleaned….usually. :-)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Janelle

    I feel like I am having the same dishwasher crisis! The dishwasher was flaky until I used some homemade detergent and then it became the worst dishwasher ever. I have just used dishwasher magic even though I am sure it is full of bad stuff because I am desperate. I have limescale buildup in the bathrooms – I am assuming that is the problem in the dishwasher too.

    I have also read that you should never pre-wash your dishes with any kind of soap – only pre-rinse if you need.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jen

    We are having the same problems at our house..so what was the consensus? I read a lot of people with troubles too, but besides the Shaklee and maybe Melaluca, were there any answers?

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kris

    Katie –
    Don’t bother with the “magic” dishwasher cleaner. It is essentially citric acid. That is all. We had a repairman look at our dishwasher, and he mentioned that with all the changes in dishwasher detergents (by law), there is a lot of build up issues. We use citric acid in beer, wine and cheese making, so we have some in the house – and I have added it to my “natural” cleaning bucket as well! Works so well against white streaks and build up. What says your research about plain citric acid?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Kris,
    I’ve used citric acid in cheesemaking, too – where did you put it in the DW? Just in with the soap, or as a fancy cleaner cycle?

    I think the only issues with citric acid are that it may be made from GMO corn (??? is my memory working) and can turn to MSGs in some circumstances in foods, but I wouldn’t be worried about that one in a cleaning application.

    I’d use it!
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kris Reply:

    I use citric acid as the NECESSARY component in my dishwasher detergent recipe. which is: 1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda, 1/4 cup citric acid, 1/8 ground soap nuts. 1/8 cup kosher salt. =) Have you tried that one yet? It (citric acid) essentially breaks down grease and removes white spots on dishes, while removing the build up that the rest of the ingredients cause. Oh, and I don’t just fill my rinse compartment with vinegar, I stick a 1/4 cup in the bottom on the dishwasher as well. And use the sanitize cycle, and no heat “dry” cycle. That is the only way homemade dish detergent works in my kitchen! Also, where did you get your dishwasher? The MC at our wedding owns a little appliance store right in your downtown. =) Have a lovely night!

    [Reply to this comment]

    John Reply:

    As far as I know, Lemi Shine is just citric acid with lemon scented oil. I use plain citric acid in my dishwasher instead of Lemishine because I prefer that it’s unscented, and it’s a lot cheaper. The active ingredient in Dishwasher Magic is citric acid. I believe citric acid is made from fruit. Acid, whether citric acid or vinegar work well for hard water spots on dishes. Since borax and washing soda are alkaline, I wonder if it defeats some of the cleaning power by mixing acids and bases together.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • nopinkhere

    If you have a Bosch DW, how often do you clean the filters? Our new DW is a Bosch, and I went from not scrubbing to scrubbing because I didn’t want to clean gunk out of the bottom.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    I think it’s just supposed to be 1x/mo, although ours is not a Bosch. We opted for no Bosch b/c they’re smaller!
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Michelle V

    I just switched to a homemade detergent – equal parts Borax and baking soda. Use 2 T per load. It works great so far! I did notice last time there was a film on a few clear plastic items but i didnt use vinegar in the rinse cycle that load. Previously we tried Seventh Gen tabs…terrible performance and too expensive!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Brandi

    We LOVE Ecover. It works wonderfully…I almost never have a dish that doesn’t come clean. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • via Facebook

    I read your review and then saw tonight that Vitacost is running a deal on Ecover Dishwasher Tablets for $3.99 for 25 tablets (50% off).

    [Reply to this comment]

  • amanda

    i have heard good things about shaklee’s dishwasher detergent. we use the target up and up now after failing with various homemade. but even now, we get a film on our drinking glasses??

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Amanda,
    Try citric acid or the vinegar in the rinse cycle, if you’re not already. All detergents are having this problem since phosphates were taken out…

    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rachel B

    Have you ever tried/heard of Norwex products? I’ve heard their dishwasher detergent is excellent!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Rachel, I’ve tried their cloths, but not DW detergent – Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Audrey C

    Just an fyi, I tried to use the promotion code ON 10/6 and the site didn’t allow it. Guess I had to use it before 10/6?

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Julie

    Have you tried the Aldi brand of powdered detergent called REEVA? The ingredients are:
    “Sodium carbonate, sodium silicate, biodegradable surfactants and enzymes. Contains no phosphates or chlorine. ”
    Sodium carbonate was rated ‘A’ and sodium silicate was rated ‘B’. I guess I’m a bit curious as to what types of surfactants they are using, but it’s says biodegradable….
    It’s the best I can do with my budget and it’s better than Cascade, right?!?! ;>)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Julie,
    You know, Aldi impresses me sometimes. Unless there is something fishy going on, that’s awesome! I also get their sour cream when I can because it’s one of the few brands that only uses cream and enzymes instead of 5-10 fillers. Good for Aldi!
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Danielle

    Thanks for this post! It inspired me to try out 7th Generation, which is so far cleaning WAY better than the F-graded Finish I was using.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • julia

    1 cup borax
    .5 cup citric acid
    .5 cup baking soda

    [Reply to this comment]

  • julia

    I forgot as .5 cup salt to that canning salt

    This recipe works awesome

    [Reply to this comment]

  • 'Becca

    Funny, when we got our dishwasher, we got Biokleen powder based on your recommendation at the time, and it has been working fine for us for 20 months now! The only problem we’ve had has been the white film on plastic lids–but we usually don’t put plastic lids in the dishwasher because of concern about overheated plastics releasing chemicals or warping out of shape, and because we have found the dishwasher doesn’t get food out of the groove all the way around the lid, whereas that’s easy to get out when you soak it during hand dishwashing. So I hand-wash all the lids.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Ten

    My favorite trick is to get the hot water running at it’s hottest in the sink before turning on the dish washer. Easy to do if you scrub out your sink for the night before hitting the start button! This will make any dishwasher with any detergent run great. We don’t even pre-rinse our dishes…just scrape and load. I usually use Trader Joe’s detergent with no rinse aid, unless I remember to fill it with vinegar. Right now I have a box of 7th. Even cleans well when I am out of box stuff and just use a tiny squirt of Bronner’s with a handful of salt. We also have seriously hard water that rots our pipes, too. I really think the hot water is the secret to clean dishes…however we rarely have anything plastic in there either. Mostly glass, china, and flatware. We hand wash pots in vinegar and baking soda. They are anodized aluminum on the exterior and look awful run through the machine. Hope that helps!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sharon

    Ivr been using seventh generation liquid for 5 years now and havent had a problem but just saw on the EWG list that it’s rated F!! So does that mean I’m better off with Cascade? So disappointed. Also saw on the EWG site that Up &Up is in their Hall of shame for not disclosing ingredients on their labels. That’s why it’s rated so high. They just don’t mention what’s in it so based on the label it looks great. But isn’t, I’m guessing.

    So I’m back to square one. How upsetting.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Sharon,
    Ew, yuck, I don’t like that EWG’s system is so complex! Why a good rating and a hall of shame; that’s ridiculous. Maybe we take 7th Gen’s “F” with a grain of salt too then?
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Christine

    I use Citra-dish and just 1 T clean our dishes well. EWG gives it a D though.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Washing Dishes and Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

    [...] Even the conventional brand detergents work pretty well for a while and then stop working for some reason. I don’t know if it is our water, our dishwasher, or what. But it can definitely be frustrating. The only thing that makes me feel a little bit better is knowing I’m not alone in this. My friend Katie at Kitchen Stewardship is having many of the same issues with finding a natural dishwasher detergent. [...]

  • Anastacia

    Hi – this isn’t about dish washer soap but closely related – can you recommend a safe hand soap that is unscented? Mightynest has one in the Mightypack but I prefer unscented. Thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Anastacia,
    I use Shaklee Basic H (unscented) concentrate and mix it with water in a foaming pump, Unscented castile soap also works. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Heather

    I was wondering after trying all of these different products what did you end up sticking with? Thanks :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Heather,
    I pretty much still have them all, but my favorite is Ecover.
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Deb

    When our water softener is in need of salt, nasty stuff is blown all over my dishes. We always know that when my dishes don’t come out clean, to check the softener, it is always the problem.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Janet

    I’m curious after reading, do you rinse your dishes before putting them into the dishwasher?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Hardly ever! ;)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Ri

    We have been using 7th Generation powder for years with good results. They also make a good rinse aid. Our dishwasher suddenly stopped working well. We ran a few cleaning cycles with various products and cleaned the bottom filter (major yuck) which seemed to improve the situation but not solve it. So we called a repairman who informed us that powder is the best formula, but it has a very short shelf life, especially if it gets moist! He said it is best to use it within a month or so, and never buy more than two boxes at a time. Well, I’d stocked up on 7th Gen a couple of years ago, and stored it in our basement. We realized that these problems had started to get worse just as we have noticed that our detergent is very clumpy. Maybe this explains why the large quantity purchases work great at first, but stop working.

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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