Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Have You Ever Successfully made a Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Recipe?

April 11th, 2013 · 41 Comments · Cleaning, Do It Yourself

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Recipes

I haven’t.

Being honest right up front there. I had many, many failures using natural DIY dishwasher soap a few years ago, and I’m afraid my husband will never set foot in the kitchen again if I even breathe a word of more homemade dishwasher detergent experimenting, and that would leave me with a LOT of dishes. Not cool.

I already get a scowl when our dishwasher gets super gunky – although I use and believe in this natural dishwasher deep clean method, I still had to get in there by hand and pull out some nastiness last week. I’m hoping that’s a once a year job or less!

Anyway, I’m sticking with the best natural dishwasher detergents that I enjoy, Ecover tablets and Tropical Traditions house brand…but I know a lot of people swear by their homemade detergents, and even more are wishing they could nail one that WORKS.

DSC06588 (500x375)

In my line of work, I get a lot of advice.

A LOT.

Now that I’ve written about natural dishwasher detergents quite a number of times, I have a ridiculous number of links, recipes, and tips in my file titled “homemade dishwasher detergent recipes,” and since I’m never going to use any of them (see above), I thought I might share the wealth with you and just “start the conversation” today.

 

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Recipes

from a reader:

1 part bicarbonate soda (baking soda)
1 part washing soda (sodium carbonate)
1/2 part salt (regular table salt)
1/2 part citric acid

Mix together well in a mixing bowl, then ‘sift’ through a wire strainer backwards and forwards between two bowls until all the lumps are gone and it is well combined.  Don’t breathe in over the bowl, it will make your eyes water.

The only ingredient that is not a food ingredient is the washing soda.   I use 1 tablespoon per load, with white vinegar in the rinse aid compartment.  Sometimes I put an extra 1/2 cup of white vinegar in the bottom of the machine before I turn it on, cleans the machine and gets the glasses just a bit more sparkling.  I don’t rinse anything first either!

My dishwasher is stainless steel on the inside, you might want to use with caution if yours is aluminum or fibreglass (do they make dishwashers out of that?), because washing soda is not good on those surfaces, and citric acid might also be a problem, not sure.

Many readers recommended using soap nuts liquid: soap nuts

The soap nuts tea only works if your dishes are SPOTLESS going in and you use the sanitizing rinse. A better use for them is in the following recipe:

1/8 cup ground soap nuts (grind in coffee grinder and DON’T inhale)
1/4 cup citric acid
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda

That detergent is the best I made at home. =) Works MOST of the time.

from Crunchy Betty:

But…many in comments talk about white film on plastics!

from My Healthy Green Family, borax-free:

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/3 c. citric acid
  • 1/3 c. coarse salt
  • 10-15 drops of citrus essential oil (Optional.  Orange, grapefruit, or lemon essential oils have great cleaning as well as antibacterial properties.)
  • Homemade citrus vinegar cleaner

Click over to see the method and tips.

clean dishwasher with vinegar in a mug (5) (500x375)

This is the vinegar deep clean

More from Crunchy Betty:

  • 2 c. borax
  • 2 c. washing soda
  • 2 c. Lemi-Shine
  • 1 c. kosher salt

Click over for the method and her thoughts on Lemi-Shine.

Her preferred method is:

2 c. borax, 2 c. washing soda, 1 c. kosher or sea salt, 3 Tbsp citric acid, and 30-50 drops of lemon or grapefruit essential oil.

From a reader via Facebook:

I was using baking soda, washing soda, citric acid & coarse salt. After a few months, I noticed the salt was really messing up our dw!  so I switched to equal parts baking soda & washing soda and it works just as well (clean sparkly dishes!) and literally costs just pennies. We also fill the rinse compartment with vinegar.

from Our Homemade Happiness:

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent for Hard Water:

1/2 pound Citric Acid
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda
1/2 cup Kosher Salt

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent for Soft Water:

1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda
8 ounces Citric Acid

Click over to see the method, cost analysis, plus a GREAT bulleted list of homemade dishwasher detergent troubleshooting tips.

Do You Fill the Rinse Compartment with Vinegar?

vinegar

I still do it, even after I read Adrienne’s expose on how the vinegar is eating the plastic dishwasher parts, darn it all. Appliances just aren’t made to last nowadays.

What do you think???

Why Don’t the Name Brand Dishwasher Detergents Work Anymore?

dirty dishes in dishwasher (1)

When the government took phosphates out of all detergents in fall 2011, they basically put all the big name brands on level playing field with the “natural” brands, since they had been trying to avoid phosphates for years. In my opinion, I’m guessing this put the natural brands ahead of the game.


Dishwasher detergent without phosphates tends to work “okay” at first, then cause major white buildup on glassware and plastics in particular. It’s a huge bummer, and exactly what we experienced when we thought Biokleen detergent was the answer to our prayers…and then it wasn’t.

Here’s some more fascinating info readers have shared with me about this issue:

Most people who have played with natural detergents say that adding a bit of citric acid takes care of the white film problem.

Here’s a tip from a reader on redeeming Biokleen:

Use only 1/2 the recommended amount (1/2 Tbs). Instead of using toxic, expensive lemi-shine, use any ol’ generic brand of 10 cent lemon koolaid. It has to be lemon. I use about 2 pkgs per biokleen tub. (25 cents-talk about frugal!)

Open biokleen tub, sprinkle about 1/3 to 1/2 pkg of lemon koolaid into biokleen tub and gently stir. After you’ve used the top layer (about an inch or 2), add more and gently (b/c it’s powdery) stir. The lemon koolaid is mostly citric acid. That is what cuts the rest of the film that biokleen tends to leave after the initial honeymoon period.

You can also just buy citric acid but I prefer the koolaid b/c you can smell the lemon and when you don’t smell the lemon anymore that is when you know you need to add more. I’ve done it this way for almost a year and still works great!!!

Your turn! Do you use homemade dishwasher detergent? If you’ve tried and failed, what troubles did you run into?

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Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon, NaturOli, and Mountain Rose Herbs from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. See my full disclosure statement here.

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41 Comments so far ↓

  • Chantelle via Facebook

    No. But somewhere I saw to use a SMALL squirt of liquid dish soap (like if you were going to hand wash) and fill the soap dispenser with baking soda. I’ve been doing that for a few weeks and it works great.

  • Jane via Facebook

    Lately i have not added any detergent. Between the hot water and heat my dishes are sterilized. Detergent works as a surfactant to dislodge gunky deposits.

  • Ann

    These recipes sound interesting… I was so happy when I finally found Ecover (thanks for the recommendation!) since every other natural detergent hadn’t worked well for me and I had gone back to Cascade in desperation.

    FYI, I once called the company that makes Borax to see if it was safe to use in dishwasher detergent and they said they don’t recommend it because it is too harsh and can scratch your dishes.

  • Angie via Facebook

    yes, i do! :) it works wonders…and it’s so much cheaper!

  • Andrea via Facebook

    yes

  • Megan via Facebook

    yep – borax-free too (washing soda, baking soda, salt and citric acid)

  • Lara via Facebook

    To my dispenser I add 1TBS Borax, 1TBS washing soda, 1TSP kosher salt; mix it with 1 TBS water and then add a couple of drops of blue Dawn. Works great! (I add vinegar and lemon to my rinse agent dispenser).

  • Heather via Facebook

    so timely! I just ran out of dishwasher detergent yesterday and won’t make it to the store for a couple days.

  • Heather via Facebook

    I have tried a mixture of borax and washing soda and it leaves a film. I will need to try some of these other ideas.

  • Christa via Facebook

    Lara white vinegar?

  • Heather via Facebook

    I tried My Healthy Green Family’s recipes. The first one worked well for a while, then my dishes started to feel gritty. Then they replaced the baking soda with washing soda. I tried that version but was awful on my dishes. I gave up and use Ecover.

  • Heather via Facebook

    Where can citric acid be bought?

    Cory Reply:

    grocery store canning section, I think.

  • Tiffany via Facebook

    I have also used Branch Basics.

  • Marlee via Facebook

    funny, i was thinking about you last week, wondering if you had figured out what to use as your dishwasher det. What brought you to mind was I was struggling with my dishwasher detergent, so much so that thought it was the dishwasher and that I was going to have to buy a new one. Then, I started using ecover and now I see that’s what you are using. :)

  • Rebecca C

    I don’t really think phosphates are a problem either from what I have read. There’s phosphates in cheerios and people feed those to their babies. I use Cascade for commercial use because it still has phosphates. It’s the same as the old stuff we used to get. I have to special order it online six boxes at a time. I’ve tried all the homemade ones, many natural ones, and the dishes and dishwasher were disgusting. Nothing worked. So this is my one weakness, but again, I really don’t think it’s a major problem to use the phosphates.

  • Lori via Facebook

    Borax, Washing Soda and Citric Acid = Great looking dishes!

  • Erica via Facebook

    Yes, and I love it! No more film on my dishes like I used to get! We live in AZ where the water is very very hard. I use washing soda, boric acid and kosher salt mixture, 1 TBS of that and one TBS of citric acid. I will also put vinegar in the rinse aid dispenser or in an upside down cup on the top rack. If the proportions are off, my dishes get cloudy. Again, our water is insanely hard, so I would imagine proportions would differ elsewhere.

  • Somethings via Facebook

    I do something similar, only I just use the borax, washing soda and salt. I use Lemi Shine also because our water is so hard. Vinegar in the rinse spot.

  • Jeanne via Facebook

    A lot of the recipes combine an acid (like citric acid) with a base (like castile, baking soda, or washing soda). Chemically speaking … the two agents will simply neutralize each other. However, using a base/neutral combo with an acid in the rinse cycle is generally pretty effective.
    I admit, I pre-wash with an eco dishsoap. I don’t prerinse or rinse; I just fill a tub with “sudsy” water, brush everything off, and load them in the dishwasher. Baking soda in the wash compartment (I bet coarse salt would help) and vinegar in the rinse. It works.

  • Gwen

    I’ve never thought about it before, but this does sound interesting. I’m gonna have a play with this recipe :)

  • via Facebook

    Makes sense…only my dishes are covered in so many gunky deposits/grease! ;) We don’t pre-rinse, so that makes a huge difference. :) Katie

  • Lara via Facebook

    Christa, yes, white vinegar. Vinegar added to the soap dispenser won’t work, because chemically it doesn’t jive with the other products and will leave a film. But as a rinse agent it works great!

  • Kris

    So, I made this dishwasher detergent by mistake and it works awesomely. No cloudiness, no problems. You do need to pre rinse the yucky stuff (dried egg yolks, etc).

    4 parts Borax
    4 parts Washing Soda
    1 part Acid Blend

    Let sit in open container for 24 hrs, stirring ever time you think of it. Use 1 TB and vinegar in an overturned cup on the top rack.

    NOTE: Acid blend is something that I use in winemaking. It has citric, tartaric, and malic acids in it and I ran out of citric acid one time and used it! Worked VERY well.

  • Julie

    I’m right there with you, Katie. I’ve tried several homemade detergent recipes and none have worked well. Thanks for being honest!

  • Stacy Makes Cents

    My dishwasher never leaves film. Oh wait. That’s right. I don’t use it. LOL
    I kicked it out. All hand washing for this gal. ;-)

    Julie Reply:

    Me too! At least then I know I only have to wash them once!

  • Melissa from the Blue House

    I personally think it has everything to do with your water. My homemade dishwasher detergent works GREAT… but my water is perfect. If it’s very hard or very soft I think you have trouble.
    http://www.thebluehouseblog.com/2012/06/my-homemade-dishwasher-detergent.html

  • Dawn

    Phosphates ARE a problem from households. The largest contributor to phosphate pollution is “non-point” pollution. In other words, polluters not easily pinpointed. Not factories or other obvious sources. That leaves homes and agriculture. Ag is big, but households have historically been right behind. It is shameful, in my opinion, and definitely not stewardship, to seek out a pollutant to avoid a film on dishes.
    That said, I’ve used Seventh Gen liquid dishwasher detergent for quite a few years, and while it doesn’t do as well with stuck on food as Cascade Complete, I’m not afraid to use a little elbow grease for the sake of my family, and the 7th Gen does a pretty decent job.
    When I run out and need an emergency cupful of detergent, I put just a couple drops regular dishsoap and then fill the cup with vinegar. Works like a charm, but I only use it for a couple loads, I know regular dishsoap isn’t good for the dishwasher.
    And I cannot see how vinegar, diluted with rinse water, would be hard on dishwasher parts? Harder than these chemicals we use otherwise? I will look into this more, but somehow that seems unlikely. Thanks Katie, for the roundup, even thought you aren’t up for a change yourself!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Dawn,
    I agree wholeheartedly! I’m glad the government banned them, and now the companies need to figure out how to do whatever Ecover is doing, phosphate-free, to get dishes clean. Guessing citric or some sort of acid, in the right proportions to the type of water, is the key. Good for you to hold fast to your convictions! :) Katie

  • via Facebook

    Heather Micola There is a link in the post to Mountain Rose Herbs, but I also see it wherever you can buy cheesemaking supplies, often health food stores, sometimes canning sections in regular stores, and of course, lemon Kool Aid! ;)

  • SS

    I like that you acknowledge that the ingredients should be EDIBLE. Personally I won’t use the washing soda since you said it’s not edible. I find it amazing that people don’t realize that anything you wash your dishes with, you end up eating a little bit of. So, over time you are eating ALOT of what you wash your dishes with.

  • mama bear

    Washing soda technically is still food!!! It is just baking soda Baked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. It is still baking soda. Just baked. :) I have done a ton of research on soaps the past 2 years. If you must, make your own washing soda!!! :)

  • The Truth About Homemade Dishwasher Detergents

    [...] at Kitchen Stewardship wrote her thoughts on several of the most popular homemade dishwasher detergents in the [...]

  • Becki

    I use Biokleen and have for several years. When I started seeing film and buildup on my dishes it was because my dishwasher needed to be cleaned, not because Biokleen stopped working. Hubby cleaned everything out and my dishes are sparkling again.

  • Michael

    Out of curiosity, have you ever evaluated the “green-ness” of these commercial dishwasher detergents, that claim to be green.

    I’ve called P&G before, and obtained a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for Cascade and it was an almost replica of Seventh Generations.

    Phosphates (the only real harmful ingredient) we’re banned years ago, and unless you purchased Gel Detergents, none of them should have even an ounce of Chlorine in them.

    Also worth noting, a lots of these Green Cleaners, are full of Petrochemicals, that aren’t biodegradable at all. I’ve even found some commercial detergents on store shelves, that were greener than ecovers.

    It’s really something to look into…

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Michael,
    I agree, it IS something to look into. :( (and I’m sorry your comment got lost for a few weeks! I’m digging out!)

    I haven’t really spent enough time doing exactly what you said, and I’m sure there is some “greenwashing” going on. I just added an update to my dishwasher detergent review post about my mom’s experience with etching glasses with Cascade after using Ecover successfully for a few years – she switched right back! So that at least makes me feel good. I also know that Tropical Traditions, for example, has crazy high standards. I hate to trust others to do the research I should be doing…but sometimes I have to. So I’m fairly confident that their brand will be super-green.

    A question: As we try to evaluate without spending an hour on each one, what are “petrochemicals” as far as how you locate them on an ingredients list? Petro means made from petroleum, I get that – but how do you know they’re in there?

    Thanks for pushing my thinking! I appreciate the nudge, even though I don’t want to research this stuff…someday I know I need to!
    :) Katie

    Michael Reply:

    When I have more time, I’d love to post what I know.

    What I would do is (if the company actually list All of there ingridents) was one by one, lookup what they do with Google.

    It’s quite time consuming, but you really learn a lot. And think about it, a lot of detergents contain “rinse” aids, that stay on, after the detergent goes down the drain, and have to last past the rinse cycle to keep things spotless.

    These chemical cocktails, are made out of crazy ethyl alcohol combinations, and are considered “toxic” if ingested.

    That’s what scares me. I know Vinegar probably does a job on rinsing them all away, but you can never be too sure..

  • Michael

    Here’s a decoding, of the ingredients in Tropical Traditions. Be sure to comment, if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

    Sodium citrate – is a natural, occurring acid byproduct, as part as fruit concentrate production. It’s not a petro-chemical :)

    Sodium Carbonate, is considered toxic, but for the most part. It’s just high heated baking soda, and is renewable. It’s not really a concern, for the environment, and is one of the better things.

    Sodium Percarbonate, is Dried Baking soda, mixed with a stabilized Oxygen Gas (hydrogen peroxide), it is toxic if ingested, and can cause some pretty bad burns, if touched. But, it is biodegradable, and considered Green.

    Surfactants, is a very vague term, but generally it’s always a petrochemical.

    As are “rinse agents” & sodium silicate. Silicate is actually very toxic as well, and there’s a lot of questions regarding it’s biodegradability, but, it’s not too bad. It really is needed in there, to prevent spotting and, to keep metal from corroding, but, I do wish they could find a greener replacement for it.

    The Rinse Agents, though, and Surfactants, are considered “petrochemicals” because, they’re made from non-renewable petroleum based products, and often are not biodegradable, or easily removed in waste water treatment. Some are Biodegradable, but, normally they’ll be listed as such, these aren’t. :(

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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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