Make Your Own: Dishwasher Detergent

All you dishwasher-having SQ readers, this post is for you! While having a dishwasher is a total privilege, if you’re able to have one (ideally an efficient, Energy Star model), they generally use less water and energy than hand washing (not to mention they’re a time saver as well!).

We cook almost all of our meals at home, and, as a result, we create a ton of dirty dishes. Plus, we have streamlined our dish and pot collection, so we have to keep up with the dishes or we won’t have anything to use for cooking or eating. We still do a fair amount of hand washing, since we cook multiple times a day and only run the dishwasher when it’s full...so, we find ourselves using the Spaghetti Scrubbers we wrote about last month for our hand washing needs.

We haven’t yet found a suitable DIY dish detergent for hand washing (not for Kristl’s lack of trying), but we do have one we love for the dishwasher!

Our household is nearly completely fragrance-free, which often makes finding soaps and detergents difficult. When we moved into our new place in December, we went to the nearby Whole Foods and grabbed some “natural” dishwasher pods. We got them home and were aghast to find that the pods in the cardboard box were individually wrapped in plastic. This completely went against our desire to use less plastic (though, honestly, we should have done a bit of research before purchasing - nobody’s perfect!).  

Well, that was the first and final straw. (You know we don’t use plastic straws, either.) If you look in the archives, you’ll see we make our own laundry detergent (link to post). It was time to find a good dishwasher detergent recipe.

I did some research and found this fun play-by-play post by Houselogic, in which they tested six different detergent recipes against oatmeal stuck on a glass lid. I kind of wish they had also tested something greasy, but the oatmeal test was interesting to learn from.

We took the most effective recipe from Houselogic and have tweaked it a little bit.

Here’s what we do:

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 2 packets lemon aid Kool-Aid mix or 2 tsp citric acid

Before you ask any questions, here’s a couple things you should know. Washing soda is baking soda that has been heated up to change its chemical structure a little bit. It’s great at all sorts of cleaning, including removing greasy build-up and it’s just as safe and sustainable as baking soda. You can find it in most super markets in with the laundry/cleaning supplies.

Borax is sodium borate and it’s known for its ability to get stuff really fricken’ clean. Crunchy Betty did an in-depth post on borax, which we found helpful in deciding if we were comfortable using borax in our DIY detergents (clearly, we decided we’re fine with it, but you may want to check out that article for more information).

The Kool-Aid/citric acid helps with shining up those glasses and making everything smell nice and fresh. We cut back on the mix, because six packets seemed excessive. We don’t really want our stuff to smell like lemon or Kool-Aid.

To make this dishwasher detergent, mix the ingredients together thoroughly and store it in a jar with a tight lid. We use 1-2 Tbsp per wash. One other thing we do, especially if there is a lot of grease on our dishes or if we have a lot of glasses in the load, is we add vinegar to the rinse aid section of the dishwasher. Your mileage may vary with the vinegar, depending on how hard your water is, but it’s worth trying.

Sometimes the detergent does clump, but it’s nothing a few scrapes with a fork can’t fix!

Oh, and making your own detergent is totally worth the money. The pods we bought at Whole Foods were at least $0.20 a wash, now we’re paying a cent or two at most. If you make a lot of dishes and you have 10 minutes to measure out ingredients once a month, it’s totally worth it.

Have you ever made your own detergent? What’s your go-to recipe? Let us know in the comments!