Make your own homemade dishwasher detergent

February 23 | Guest post by Jillee

My husband introduced me to Jillee's site and I am in love with her cleaning product tutorials, and so HAPPY Jillee's bringing her recipes to Offbeat Home for the next few weeks. Get ready to get spotless. -Cat

I fear my hot water bill is going to be SKY HIGH next month! For the last couple of weeks I have washed and re-washed and re-washed AGAIN load after load of dishes trying to figure out just the right "recipe" for clean and CLEAR dishes! After taking a good, long look at my own dishes, I had to admit that the homemade version wasn't doing quite as good a job as the stuff in the green box I'd been using for years.

Of course the store-bought stuff hasn't been doing as good a job as IT used to do either since the ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergent went into effect. It took us MONTHS to figure THAT one out.

We actually ended up buying a new dishwasher because we thought our old one (which was pretty old) was not working right anymore. Turns out it wasn't our dishwasher, but the new detergent formulations imposed by the federal government back in 2010. Apparently it has caused quite the uprising among the general dishwashing public. There's even a website called Bubble Bandit that you can buy dishwasher detergent WITH phosphates (they sell "commercial" soap, which is NOT affected by the ban). Or you can go to Home Depot or Lowe's and buy a box of TSP for about $4 and add it to your current detergent. You'll find it in the paint section where it's still sold as a cleaning solution for painters.

It's all very complicated, and you're probably asking "What does this have to do with me and my dishes?" Well, I think I have come up with a satisfactory solution without having to go the phosphate route… but I just wanted you to know it IS an option out there for those who are interested.

So, all that being said, after probably a dozen "test" loads of dishes, trying different combinations of different ingredients, this is what is working for us! I obviously can't guarantee the same results for you, but I am hopeful you will see the success I have with it!

The recipe for powdered dishwasher detergent/scouring powder:

  • 1 cup Washing soda or Baking soda (I've seen many recipes that use both so use whatever you have on hand or a combination of the two.)
  • 1 cup Borax (Borax and baking soda/wash are both natural disinfectants and mild abrasives.)
  • 1/4 cup Kosher salt (reduces the effects of hard water)
  • 1/4 cup citric acid (available at brewing places also. Or as an alternative you can use the same amount of Fruit Fresh or two packets of Lemonade-Flavored Kool-Aid, ONLY lemon and ONLY unsweetened!)

Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of this mixture to your dishwasher detergent compartment along with 3 drops of dishwashing liquid. Do not use more than three drops. The dishwasher will overflow if you use too much dish soap!

Then splash 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar into the bottom of the dishwasher and start the machine.

Here is what my dishes looked like WITHOUT the vinegar and 3 drops of dish soap:

Very same dishes WITH vinegar and dish soap:

I have now used this combination of ingredients at least a dozen times with consistent results. I can't tell you what a great feeling it is to open the dishwasher and be greeted by squeaky clean dishes washed with my own homemade mix. :-)

Battling the high cost of brand name cleaning products is always a good thing.

  1. I too noticed a huge difference in our dishes with the new formula of dish washer detergent without phosphates. My husband quickly solved the problem for me, being a former appliance repair technician. He brought home a case of Lemi-Shine one day and it works great, clears up the glass, softens the hard water and removes the hard water stains. For tough loads i always splash some white vinegar in there too, it makes the glasses sparkle! A little tip: clean the dishwasher about once a month. You can buy a separate appliance cleaner in the grocery store, or make your own, but run a cycle with the dishwasher empty to get rid of all the yucky build-up. When that's done, check the holes where the water comes out, and do your best to remove any food particles that may be blocking the holes.

    I've tried making my own detergent, but i wasn't as persistent as you, i gave up after 3 or so tries. For me, the Arm and Hammer washing soda does not work. I open the dishwasher and there is a hardened cake of it in the bottom, it just doesn't dissolve in my dishwasher, glad it worked for you though.
    P.S.
    Borax is awesome!

    8 agree
    • Really nasty dishwasher? Run it empty with a couple packets of lemon Kool-Aid mix. Same concept–the citric acid cleans away just about anything that's in there, though you'll have to clean the food trap by hand.

      4 agree
    • Do I use 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup borax, all of this for 1 load of dishes?

      4 agree
    • Greetings,

      Borax is dangerous and can result in babies malformations.
      See the followng link:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borax

      "(…) Borax was added to the Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) candidate list on 16 December 2010. The SVHC candidate list is part of the EU Regulations on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals 2006 (REACH), and the addition was based on the revised classification of Borax as toxic for reproduction category 1B under the CLP Regulations. Substances and mixtures imported into the EU which contain Borax are now required to be labelled with the warnings "May damage fertility" and "May damage the unborn child".[ (…)"

      Member state committee draft support document for identification of disodium tetraborate, anhydrous as a substance of very high concern because of its CMR properties. Adopted on 9 June 2010. Echa.europa.eu. Retrieved on 2012-02-17.

      1 agrees
      • I am looking at these "warnings" with a high dose of skepticism. The movement towards self reliance looks like it is making its inroads and corporations may be trying to throw up road blocks – just sayin ….

        2 agree
      • Borax is not harmful to you. If you read the ingredients it says (sodium tetraborate a natural mineral. I think people get this confused with boric acid. It says on the box does not contain phosphates or chlorine. Dishwasher detergent sold in stores contains bleach which give glasses that white cloudy look. You have the internet look things up. Yolanda

        0 agree
  2. And, as a note, the government didn't just ban the phosphates for fun. They're said to cause algae blooms that starve sea life of oxygen. So adding phosphates is definitely an option, but this recipe for dish liquid is so easy and full of stuff that's probably already in your kitchen, this might be a more advisable route to go.
    Have you tried doing the dishes with regular tabs and adding the soap+vinegar? I use the little tabs and a smidge of the liquid detergent stuff, and my dishes have never come out as foggy as the ones in the first picture, but they do have a lot of water spots… I wonder if the vinegar would help? I WILL TRY IT FOR SCIENCE.

    27 agree
  3. Hoooooleeeeee frak. Octy and I have been complaining about our sucky apartment dishwasher for a year now and all this time it's been sucky soap? Revelations!

    I've apparently got a weekend project. :D

    8 agree
  4. Awesome. I tried making my own, but like a poster above, I gave up after the third try.

    I'll try this one out tonight. =)

    2 agree
  5. I've tried a few recipes for homemade dish washer soap and have always been disappointed. But seeing how clear those glasses are really impresses me. I'm going to try this.

    2 agree
  6. I happened to move right when the phosphate ban went into effect, and thought that my new apartment's dishwasher was just really crappy (even though it was obviously much newer). All my dishes developed a rainbow sheen of grime. I use regular gel packs of detergent but add a teaspoon of TSP. So awesome!

    You can also add TSP to your laundry. Some of my towels had been stained for ages, no matter what I tried, but came out completely clean after one load with TSP.

    Oh, and less than 1% of phosphates in the environment came from household use before than ban. The rest is from industrial use. The ban was from a bipartisan "feel-good" bill which doesn't affect industrial use. I'd rather have clean dishes (I eat off those, you know!) and clean clothes (I sweat in those!) than fret over my millionth-of-a-percent contribution to algae blooms.

    25 agree
    • Please don't add phosphates or encourage people to add phosphate. The ban is there for a reason. Most naturally occurring phosphate gets into the water system by leaching out of rocks. Now we mine it and a put a ton of it into cleaning products. It causes algal and aquatic plant blooms by removing a natural limitation to growth. When the algae and plants die and sink, bacteria digest them and can use all of the oxygen out of the water (eutrophication). Then other critters die. Home use of phosphates has been shown to be a major cause of eutrophication in lakes in the US. Please don't use it. You can read more about it on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eutrophication.

      43 agree
  7. I would be really hesitant to use TSP for dishwashing. Have you ever used it on your walls before repainting? It strips all the shine/gloss off of the paint that's on the wall; I suspect that it would do the same to the pattern on your dishes.

    8 agree
  8. I can't wait for more installments!
    We do dishes by hand since there's just two of us but I am interested in laundry soap and stuff! Yay for homemade!

    4 agree
  9. Wow! This whole time I've been blaming my apartment dishwasher! In fact, for the last few months we've been washing dishes by hand and using the dishwasher as a giant drainer. I had no idea that the soap was the problem! I really hate washing dishes by hand, so I'm definitely going to give this a try.

    0 agree
  10. I found this recipe on a blog somewhere a few weeks back when I was searching for hard water rescues. I haven't tried it, but according to the blogger, this stuff doesn't hold up very well, so you need to mix a fresh batch every wash cycle. That turned me off, but I hope it's useful info for those that want to use this.

    2 agree
  11. Amazing! I have used the washing sode-borax-salt mixture in the past and gave up on it because of the residue it left. I will definitely give it another try with vinegar and dawn! Thanks for this post.

    1 agrees
  12. If anyone is looking for a more eco-friendly in-store dishwasher tablet/detergent, I highly recommend Smarty Dish tablets. After trying all the Seventh Generations, Clean Days, and other brands, Method's Smarty Dish isn't too expensive, pretty readily available, and gets our dishes clean.

    8 agree
    • I just returned from Tarzhay a little while ago and I think they INCREASED the price of the Method Smarty Dish! For a pack of 24 (I use my auto dishwasher 1X per week) they are charging $12.+! I thought they USED to be about $4.-$6. for this! The other dishwashing gel tabs that are good are the blue gel filled FINISH. I formerly tried the Cascade and my dishes always came out cloudy and looked worse than they did when I put them in. That's why I got the FINISH.
      Out of curiosity, I am going to try this recipe for my own homemade dishwasher detergent and as luck would have it, I already have the ingredients under my kitchen sink for laundry :)
      AND…for cheap white vinegar – the 99C Only Store has 1/2 gal. for 99c or if you have a Dollar Tree, you can go there for the vinegar and it will cost A DOLLAR :)

      0 agree
  13. My dishwasher has a rinse aid dispenser, so I bought some but it didn't work at all. I had the brain wave of filling it with white vinegar and it is amazing! My dishes have never been so sparkly. I thought my dishwasher was broken too, but not anymore.

    I'm going to try this soap too. I have well water and a septic system, so my water is really hard and I'm careful of the cleaning products I use. This sounds perfect.

    4 agree
  14. I'm concerned about the citric acid. I have some flatware that came with a "care guide" that said using lemon-scented dishsoap can cause pitting and rusting of the flatware. What happens if we leave out the lemon?

    1 agrees
  15. The citric acid/vinegar is much more important is you have hard water. The non-well water here in NE Kansas is VERY hard so we always need a rinse agent for soaps in the washer and dishwasher. So if a homemade or eco-friendly alternative isn't doing it for you, research your water and try adding more vinegar.

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  16. Mr. Bear and I braved a snowstorm to collect the ingredients for this, and have a load of dishes in the washer right now! I'm cautiously optimistic…

    0 agree
    • …aaaaand it worked great! Just as well, if not better, than the commercial dish soap we've been using. :D

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      • Rad! I have about a half-box of my pellets left, and when they're out, I'm giving this a go.

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  17. I can attest to the "Do not use too much dish soap" thing. A male coworker of mine once filled the soap cup in the dishwasher with dish soap. There were suds all over the kitchen.

    2 agree
  18. I too tried several versions of home made dishwasher detergent & gave up. Tried this one last night and it worked perfectly!! I believe the cup of vinegar in the bottom of the machine was the magic ingredient, before I had only added vinegar to the rinse aid reservoir and I still had filmy dishes. I hand-rinsed everything in plain water & it came off, but I was discouraged. I've been making my own laundry soap for over a year. Hubby & I are quite excited to have another recipe for home-made cleaning awesomeness. Thanks for experimenting & posting!

    1 agrees
  19. Thank you so much for posting this!!! I could not BELIEVE how well it worked! For anyone else, if you don't have any citric acid or lemonade kool-aid on hand, I threw some lemon juice in the bottom with the vinegar and it worked GREAT. I'm so, so, SO excited with how clean my first load turned out!!!!!

    1 agrees
  20. OK so the 3 drops thing was a joke LOL!….I tried it before my kids and it was like DROP LOL! I am hoping that my dishwasher doesn't have a bubble fest LOL!!

    Thanks for the great ideas I am loving making all the different things out there!! =)
    Have a great weekend.

    0 agree
  21. With four of our five kids at home, we run the dishwasher 1~2x day and we've had consistently great results with this DW recipe over the last month or so. We haven't used liquid drops, and we get by just filling the rinse aid compartment with vinegar. Clean every time!

    One thing worth mentioning- in addition to the new dishwashing detergent formulas, many claim the tightening energy standards for appliances has resulted in the newer dishwashers in general not cleaning as well as their older counterparts.

    3 agree
  22. This works great! I repurposed an empty liquid coffee creamer bottle to put it in…then I can just pour it right in the dispenser.

    6 agree
  23. I am going to try this. my dishes look horrible. I had a repairman out and he told me it was the new soap. He also told me to use only about a teaspoon of liquid dish soap, to run the dishwasher on the hottest setting (so much for environmentalism), to use a rinse aid, and to clean out the dishwasher once a month by running it empty and adding 1/4 cup of vinegar once it had filled with water. All those things helped but the dishes still have a sheen on them.

    Here's my big question: The repairman told me NEVER to use vinegar when any dishes were in the dishwasher. I wonder if he just meant not to use it by itself, and that it's okay with the soap?

    I am also going to try using TSP, maybe every other load or every three loads. I agree with the poster above that home use is not the problem. Many environmental bills, sadly, are "feel good" bills that don't address the real problems.

    4 agree
  24. Can we talk about Borax? I used it as roach poison in a previous apartment. Putting it on dishes sounds scary!! Does anyone know the science of why it would be okay to clean dishes with Borax? Go go gadget Science!

    0 agree
    • Borax is kills bugs because it's a desiccant — it dries them out. The borax isn't going to stick to your dishes (I use it in my laundry too) do you don't have to worry about it affecting you!

      11 agree
    • Borax is OK!!!! Actually GOOD for you. A little LESS harmful than table salt when ingested. (see EarthClinic.com)

      0 agree
  25. This relates to the commenter who said that industrial users utilize the majority of TSP and housholds contribute the least. The problem is that industrial users have to abide by environmental regulations and often treat their wastes whereas households are exempt from most environmental regulations. I'd rather have healthy waterbodies than shiny dishes.

    15 agree

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