The natural dishwasher detergent saga is as old as Kitchen Stewardship itself.
First, I tried a number of homemade dishwasher detergents. 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 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, and then I was actually foolish enough to try a slight change on one of the homemade detergents. 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!
I was too gun shy to try homemade detergent, although we now have a new dishwasher (again) as of June, so maybe I can get up the guts sometime this winter.
In the meantime, 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 agent 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 pled the fifth. 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.
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
I 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.)
Not rated at EWG.
Ingredients: Sodium citrate, sodium carbonate, sodium percarbonate, surfactants, rinse agents, silicate.
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…
When I purchased mine to try, it wasn’t available at Amazon, but now it is.
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
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. (Try it as a Mighty Pack for 50% off with the code 50MPKS through 10/6.)
EWG rating: C (click to see why they’re different; I haven’t examined the new rating system yet, but there’s plenty of explanations about ingredients.)
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
Grab Green Tablets
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.
EWG rating: B, only for unscented
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
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. (coming soon). 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?
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate. See my full disclosure statement here.