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!

We love the Spaghetti Scrub!

We cook a lot here in the SQ household, which means we do a lot of dishes. Thankfully, we do have a dishwasher in our current apartment, but many of our items get used (and therefore washed) multiple times before our dishwasher is full enough to run. We’re always looking for ways to reduce waste and we realized that our kitchen sponge game needed an overhaul.

In doing some research for this post, it seems sponges should be replaced anywhere from every 2-3 uses to every month, depending on how often you sanitize them. Our previous apartment didn’t have a microwave and, honestly, we weren’t great about boiling our sponges on the stove to disinfect them. We also didn’t have a dishwasher, so we went through sponges like woah - usually because they were smelly, but sometimes because they lost their scrubbing ability.

Over the years, we have used several different types of “natural” sponges or kitchen scrubbers made from natural fibers and synthetic fibers. We’ve tried using dishcloths in the past, but found that we almost always require something with more scrubbing power for our cooking habits. So, for the past while we’ve been buying four packs of Scotch-Brite Greener Clean sponges, with a undyed rough surface on one side and a beige sponge on the other. They were easy to find in our local grocery store or Target and did the job well. However, they come wrapped in thin plastic and are not that great for the environment.

Gentle scrub made from peach pits on the left, coarse scrub made form corn cobs on the right.

Gentle scrub made from peach pits on the left, coarse scrub made form corn cobs on the right.

Last fall, we started looking for alternatives that packed that scrubbing punch we needed, but were also environmentally friendly and didn’t come wrapped in plastic. That’s when we discovered the Spaghetti Scrub from Goodbye Detergent. When we purchased the Scrub, it came in a pack of two - one made with peach pits for more gentle scrubbing and one made with corn cobs for tougher jobs - and a stainless steel rack to keep them in. The Scrubs are made of cotton and polyester and look like sandpaper noodles. The description indicates that they will last for months; we’ve had them for over four months so far and they don’t seem to be showing signs of wear.

Since we started using these last November, Goodbye Detergent has changed the product a bit. Instead of having a gentle scrub and a coarse scrub, they now offer one that falls between the two - more of an “all purpose” option. It’s made of 100% cotton, rather than cotton and polyester, which means it should be biodegradable as well.

 

Our Scrubs as of today, April 15. Super curly, still very scrubby!

Our Scrubs as of today, April 15. Super curly, still very scrubby!

 

To use the Scrubs, wet them with water and scrub away - that's it! With use, they curl up, making them look a bit more like fusilli than spaghetti. After washing your dishes, squeeze the scrub out, then place in the stainless steel holder to dry. If needed, they can be sanitized in the microwave or dishwasher, but we haven't found that to be necessary. 

We've thrown all sorts of dirty dishes at our Spaghetti Scrubs and they've been up to the challenge each and every time. We use a fraction of the dish detergent we used to use, which means we're using less plastic, since we're not buying detergent nearly as often (our adventures in homemade dish detergent were disappointing, sadly). Overall, trying the Spaghetti Scrubs was a successful kitchen experiment!

From where we stand, some major benefits of the Spaghetti Scrubs are:

  1. They require little to no detergent for use. The corn and peach cobs are abrasive so you don’t need a lot of soap to remove crusty bits from dishes or pots.
  2. They dry out very easily.
  3. They last forever compared to sponges.
  4. The packaging is 100% recyclable and included no plastic. 

If you can’t tell, we’re head over heels for our Spaghetti Scrubs. When our current ones wear out, we’ll definitely be purchasing the new all purpose option - and of course we’ll update y’all on how that one fares when the time comes.

For those of you who want a close up of the instructions and materials, click here.

What do you use to wash your dishes? Traditional kitchen sponges? Dishcloths? How often do you replace them? Would you try the Spaghetti Scrub? Let us know in the comments!

Nine on the Ninth - True Confessions

We're doing our Nine on the Ninth a little differently this month. Some readers may think that because we try to live a sustainable lifestyle we eschew anything that doesn't fall under the eco-friendly/sustainable umbrella. That just isn't true. It's about choices and education. We make choices that make the most sense for us in a specific moment - based on knowledge, budget, and need. Those choices are not always the most sustainable or eco-friendly. And, honestly, sometimes we're just lazy. So, without further ado, here are nine ways in which we do not always make sustainable choices. (This was also inspired a bit by the Christian lenten season, because, let's be real, this is confessional.) 1. We do a lot of dishes by hand, even though we have a portable dishwasher. Dishwashers have been shown to use less water and energy than hand washing, but we have a number of items that aren't dishwasher safe and we cook so much that we have to hand wash most of our cooking utensils because we're going to use them again immediately. All this is to say, we often use more water than we should to wash dishes. (Excessive water usage is only going to become a bigger issue as climates around the country continue to change.  We may be blessed to have the Great Lakes, but who knows how long they'll be around.)

2. We both have a soft spot for peanut butter M&Ms and they do occasionally jump into our basket when we're at CVS or Target. (Ditto for Kristl and gummy candy.) Eating candy isn't 100% unsustainable, but supporting multi-national companies that benefit from exploiting workers and the agriculture system in the U.S. is not sustainable.

Kristl loves gummy candy (though, to be honest, the gummy tummy series from Trader Joe's is not her favorite)

3. We tend to buy our clothes at national retailers who likely have terrible practices and exploit the garment industry (Gap used to be notorious for this). Though we would like to buy well-sourced, fair trade, organic clothing, a lot of it is out of our budget and/or doesn't suit our needs. Rachel has a little more luck, since there is more available in her size, but there just isn't much out there for Kristl's plus-size needs.

4. Rachel has a habit of putting hot soups directly into old plastic containers, even though she knows that can cause the chemicals to leach out. (In Rachel's defense, the liquids are rarely boiling and it takes high temperatures to release anything potentially dangerous.) What is more of a concern is buying canned vegetables/beans in cans coated with plastic containing BPA (specifically tomatoes, because of the high acid content).  See this article for some legitimate pros and cons.

5. We use more plastic and paper in the kitchen than we would like - specifically ziploc bags and paper towels. Even if you are buying paper towels and plastic bags made from post-consumer recycled products, the best choice here, for all of us, would be to use rags and reusable containers (like Pyrex glass containers).

Seriously, we weren't kidding about using a few too many Ziploc bags (also, it's hard to resist a Costco deal).

6. We have a car and use it a lot, definitely more than we need to. It's a luxury we aren't completely willing to give up, even though we know it isn't the most environmentally friendly choice. We're hoping to decrease our car use with some upcoming changes, but we're not going to get rid of it. Check out this infographic about how wasteful it is to idle your car (which is sometimes unavoidable in traffic or extreme weather conditions like we get in Chicago).

7. We don't always eat well-sourced food. Sometimes we just want some chicken wings and fries from the local bar, and that's okay.

8. We LOVE a good sample. Whenever we go to Trader Joe's, Costco, or Whole Foods, we gobble up the samples (sometimes more than one per person - shh!), even though they're frequently in non-recyclable plastic cups. Even the ones in paper cups are problematic, as they are likely not made out of recycled material and probably won't get composted. And don't even get me started on toothpicks! The best way to get around this would be to only sample the things that are served in a sustainable way (e.g. chips served with reusable tongs.)

9. *GASP* We have thrown away perfectly good containers because they'd gotten pushed to the back of the fridge for months on end and were filled with some unidentifiable substance and we couldn't stomach the thought of opening them. Real talk, though, if you haven't done this at some point in your life, more power to you. (We had to have a friend of ours who works in a hospital to get rid of some former pumpkin that had transformed into a many-splendored mutant multi-organism that probably is still lurking out there somewhere and will start the zombie apocalypse.  Thanks, Ashleigh!)

So, that's it for now, since we're keeping it to nine.  We aren't perfect, we aren't even trying to be perfect or preachy or bastions of sustainability in our community.  We are simply sharing our struggles and successes when armed with knowledge and faced with a global system that has (d)evolved to the point of self-destruction.  Swimming against the current is super exhausting and sometimes we fall back on our old habits simply because they are the paths of least resistance. Our hope, the only hope out there really, is that small changes can help, and that our stories will inspire you to make small changes too, so we can get the current moving in the right direction!