Homemade Dishwashing Detergent

If you cook most of your meals at home—like we do in our house—than you know that there is one immutable truth to the home centered economy: you create a lot of dishes. Between breakfast and dinner on the weekdays or three meals plus snacks on the weekends there is a load of dirty dishes in the dishwasher once a day it seems like.

What this also means is that you use a lot of dishwasher detergent. Granted, dishwashers use a lot less water in their modern incarnations and there is a commensurate reduction in the amount of detergent required. However, these costs can add up when you are looking for a phosphate-free detergent that works and does not cost a bunch of money. It’s not easy being green and cheap.

Enter homemade dishwashing detergent. It sounds like the stuff of hair shirts and DIY toothpaste, but it really should be much more mainstream and it could not be easier. Or cheaper for that matter.

The internet is full of recipes for various combinations, but this is what I have found works best for me and my local conditions. Most recipes consist of four ingredients—Borax, washing soda, kosher salt, and citric acid.

The ratio/recipe that has worked the best for me is as follows:

  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • A few packets unsweetened lemon drink mix

Washing soda is important and you cannot just substitute baking soda as some recipes might suggest. While the two compounds share soda in the name and are produced by the same companies there is a distinct chemical and physical difference between the two. You can create washing soda from baking soda with a little heat. Put some baking soda in an oven at 400 degrees or so for about thirty minutes and the chemical bonds keeping the H2O and CO2 will break creating washing soda. Or just find a bag of it in the laundry aisle of your favorite store. I went with option 2.

All the ingredients are dry powders, so you can put them in the container of your choice—I chose a glass jar with a tight fitting lid—and shake the bejeesus out of it. Just use it like you would your store bought and branded powdered dishwasher detergent.

If you listen to the paid hacks hawking mainstream commercial products you will hear about the need for additional scents/perfumes, sanitizers, etc. Bollocks. You want you dishes to be clean not smell like the industrial version of a fresh meadow and most dishwashers have a sanitary cycle that utilizes hot water to achieve sanitation, not chlorine.

Granted, you might want a rinse aid but that does not need to come in the form of a mysterious colored liquid. Good ol’ distilled white vinegar in the rinse aid dispenser will do the job. Yes, vinegar is an amazing product that can be used for about a million different things around the house. Trust me, as I was cleaning for guests this weekend I felt like I should own stock in a vinegar factory given the number of cleaning chores that humble liquid was performing around my home.


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