If you’ve ever tried making homemade dishwasher detergent and been disappointed with the results, chances are you were closer to a great recipe than you thought! Most do-it-yourself formulas use the same basic ingredients, but there’s a trick to getting them to work.
You see, cleansers like washing soda are considered a base, while buildup removers like citric acid are, well, an acid! While both of these components are essential to a good recipe, they neutralize each other if used at the same time. Many homemade recipes mix them together, when really they’re best left separate.
Here’s an analogy: Hot water is soothing and relaxing, while cold water is refreshing and invigorating. However, when you mix the two together you end up with tepid water and lose the benefits of both.
What makes a good dishwasher detergent recipe?
Most commercial detergents use at least 50% washing soda in their formulas, with the remaining ingredients usually being water softeners and rinse aids.
Unfortunately, the extra ingredients in most popular detergents – this one, for example – get an “F” from the EWG for things like developmental and reproductive toxicity, respiratory concerns, environmental toxicity and carcinogenicity. That’s not a problem that goes away when our dishwater flows back to the municipal treatment plant – many of these chemicals are not filtered out when the water is processed and sent back into our homes.
The reason companies use these chemicals is because they’re not acidic like most natural rinse aids and therefore won’t neutralize the washing soda. However, there’s another way to use washing soda without giving up a natural rinse aid, and that’s to introduce your cleanser and rinse aid during different points of the wash cycle so they don’t cancel each other out.
This detergent recipe calls for pure washing soda as the primary cleansing agent, which should be followed by one or both of the rinse aids I’ll be sharing later this week.
Really, just washing soda?
If this is what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Other homemade recipes contain ingredients like borax, salt, and baking soda, which can make them seem more legitimate somehow. Truth be told, though, all three of these ingredients do the same thing as washing soda – raise pH and soften water – just less effectively.
The only exception is borax, which in addition to helping raise pH also combines with washing soda to create hydrogen peroxide. However, you can get the same effect – only stronger – simply by using a natural oxygen bleach in your formula. This can be helpful if you’re still experiencing hard water deposits after using this detergent plus one or both of the rinse aids.
For instructions on adding oxygen bleach to your recipe, see the troubleshooting section at the bottom of this post.
What to buy if you don’t want to DIY
I often get questions about what store-bought options I recommend for different products – even one-ingredient recipes like this one. When I set out to find a store-bought alternative to this dishwasher detergent, I thought for sure the best option would be another powdered detergent. Turns out, though, that this liquid gel is one of the highest rated for both safety and performance.
For a rinse aid, Eco-Me is made with just four ingredients – vinegar, citric acid, coconut-derived soap and plant-derived solubilizer. The soap and stabilizer both score a “1” with the Environmental Working Group, which is the safest rating possible, and vinegar and citric acid are what I use in my homemade rinse aid.
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Recipe
This is the recipe I use regularly because it’s simple and – more importantly – it works.
- 4 cups washing soda (here’s where to buy it)
- 15-30 drops grapefruit essential oil, optional (this is what I use)
- 5-10 drops lemon essential oil, optional (this is what I use)
Combine ingredients and stir until there are no clumps. Pour into a jar, add clay pouch if desired, and seal tightly with a lid.
Use about 2 tablespoons per load. See instructions on the next two pages for information on using this formula with a homemade rinse aid.
My dishwasher detergent is clumping. Help! – Add two tablespoons of bentonite clay in a pouch or small sock. This prevents the dishwasher detergent from clumping in high humidity areas. It’s placed in a pouch because it’s not meant to mix with the formula, just absorb excess moisture. However, it’s very rarely necessary. I never use the clay in my home and I have no issues with clumping.
I tried the homemade dishwasher detergent and I’m still experiencing hard water deposits. What do I do? – Instead of 4 cups washing soda, use just 2 cups washing soda and add in 2 cups powdered oxygen bleach that contains no fillers – I buy this brand on Amazon. It says it’s 99% pure oxygen bleach (Sodium Percarbonate), but it’s totally pure, non-toxic sodium percarbonate with nothing added. The other 1% is moisture.