Inside: How to make a natural dishwasher rinse aid that works synergistically with homemade dishwasher detergent.
New dishwashers. Old dishwashers. Purple dishwashers. Dishwashers with lima beans stenciled on the front. In 2010 it didn’t matter what kind of dishwasher you had – they all seemed to break overnight.
As it turns out, the problems weren’t mechanical. Seventeen states had recently banned the use of phosphates, prompting detergent manufacturers to reformulate their products without them. While this was a great move for our waterways – phosphates create algae blooms and starve fish of oxygen – the new detergents were less than stellar.
Phosphates help rinse away silt and hard water deposits, leaving dishes shiny and glassware crystal clear. So are we doomed to cloudy glasses without them? No way! Citric acid is a waterway-safe alternative that delivers great results, and in this post I’m going to show you how to use it.
Prefer a Non-DIY Option?
Eco Me makes a rinse aid 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. You can find the rinse aid here. Another option with good ingredients is this one, which earns and A from EWG.
They also make a wonderful non-toxic dish soap – they have one that is scented with essential oils and one that is unscented.
Can I use vinegar as a rinse aid?
Do-it-yourselfers have been raving about the sparkling results they get from straight vinegar for years, but is it safe for the dishwasher? According to some manufacturers and industry experts, commercial rinse aids may be substituted with vinegar as long as it’s no more than 5% acetic acid, which is exactly the ratio you’ll find with most commercially sold vinegar. (source 1, source 2)
However, some newer dishwashers have rubber in the rinse aid compartment, which may be damaged by straight vinegar. Check with your manufacturer for information on whether it is recommended for your particular model. If straight vinegar is not an option, there are a few natural rinse aids you can purchase which use citric acid and vinegar along with coconut derived clarifiers to reduce the acidity of the formula. You can find a link to the one I recommend here.
Preparing Your Dishwasher
Before using the citrus shine rinse aid for the first time it’s important to clear away deposits from your dishwasher. Otherwise, the citric acid will loosen them and they will redeposit on your dishes.
To prepare your dishwasher, place 1⁄4- 1⁄2 cup citric acid in the bottom of your empty dishwasher and start a cycle. Allow to run for 3-5 minutes and then turn the dishwasher off. Let the water/citric acid solution soak for 3-4 hours and then allow the cycle to resume.
Homemade Natural Dishwasher Rinse Aid
The photos above were taken of my kitchen sink, where I keep one large Weck tulip jar full of homemade dishwasher detergent and one smaller Weck jar full of the natural rinse aid recipe below. I keep a measuring spoon in the larger jar to scoop both into my dishwasher – super easy!
- 4 cups citric acid (this is what I use)
- 20 drops citrus essential oil, OPTIONAL (lemon and grapefruit are good options, but you definitely don’t need them)
Combine citric acid and essential oils and stir until there are no clumps. Pour into a jar and seal tightly with a lid.
If your dishwasher has a pre-rinse and main wash receptacle but not a rinse receptacle, place 1 tablespoon rinse aid in the main wash receptacle and place your detergent in the pre-wash receptacle. This ensures that the Citrus Shine Rinse Aid does not interfere with the cleaning power of your detergent, but instead activates after your dishes are clean to remove sediment/ hard water deposits.
If deposits remain, increase the amount used to 2 tablespoons and/or add the liquid rinse aid if recommended by your manufacturer.
Store in a dry place.
If you have very hard water, you may want to consider preventing future buildup by putting 1⁄4 cup citric through a wash cycle (while the dishwasher is empty) once-per-month.
If your rinse aid becomes clumpy, add two tablespoons of bentonite clay in a pouch or small sock. This prevents the citric acid from clumping in high humidity areas. It’s placed in a pouch because it’s not meant to mix with the citric, just absorb excess moisture. However, it’s very rarely necessary. I never use a clay pouch in the jar I keep next to my sink and I have no issues with clumping.
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So, I can just use plain citric acid sprinkled onto the bottom of my dishwasher once a month or so, to keep the inside of my dishwasher clean and shiny? There’s always a build-up of lime or whatever on the sides and bottom of the dishwasher, which also affects those little holes in the spray arms, too, and I’ve tried a couple of different “commerical” type cleaners but they really don’t work and are quite expensive. I also tried straight white vinegar but that didn’t do much (I think you’d have to do it 2-3 times in a row for it to really work).
Any other suggestions for how to clean the actual dishwasher itself? Thanks.
Citric acid and vinegar both work by the same principle, so although I do think it is likely to help you may find that you need to do it a few times to see the results you are looking for.
I found that 1/2 cup of borax in the bottom of the washer to be the best, and it will solve the ultimate problem with my old dishwasher, mineral deposits in the inner workings of the washer! I also crack the door a little once the indicator reads “clean”, but before the dishes have cooled. This prevents condensation from accumulating while the dishes are cooling and, aside from some water in the tops of recessed dishes, they are completely dry and very clean and shiny!
My dishwasher only has compartments for main detergent and liquid rinse aid, but not one for pre-wash. Where do you suggest I put DIY detergent and rinse aid?
Ahh, great question. I have used this rinse aid in a dishwasher like yours. What I did is place the citric acid in the main detergent compartment and then I sprinkled the dish detergent directly onto the dishwasher door. That way as soon as the wash cycle started the detergent began doing it’s work, and then the rinse aid was introduced later on after the initial cycle was complete.
Hey, this worked well for me, finally no more deposit on what’s IN the dishwasher. Unfortunately, still quite some deposit on the inner DOOR of the dishwasher. Any ideas on how to avoid that? I used the washing soda + peroxide combo for the main wash, citric acid for rinsing and liquid sodium silicate in the liquid rinsing part. Thanks so much!
Run Orange juice through your dishwasher to get it sparkling clean!! Really works!!!!
My dishwasher also only has one compartment for detergent and liquid rinse aid. If there is no liquid rinse aid in it the dishwasher adds 10 minutes to the time of the cycle! I have been using straight vinegar but I am not happy with the results. Any way to make a liquid rinse aid?
BTW I have used MANY of recipes – cleaning, cooking and health – and NEVER get a complaint!
Hi Brenda, I’m so glad my recipes have been a success for you! What has yielded the best results for me is the pair the liquid vinegar rinse aid with the powdered citric acid in the recipe above. Hope that helps!
I apologize … the answer to my question might be here somewhere but I can’t find it. You mention in a few places that you can use vinegar with the citric acid rinse aid to trouble shoot – is there a specific mix?
Hi, I have the same query as the above. My dishwasher only has a detergent n liquid rinse aid compartment. Love your blog. I’ve tried many recipes including soap from your blog.
Hi Sharifa, I’m so glad you have found my recipes helpful! I have used this rinse aid in a dishwasher like yours. What I did is place the citric acid in the main detergent compartment and then I sprinkled the dish detergent directly onto the dishwasher door. That way as soon as the wash cycle started the detergent began doing it’s work, and then the rinse aid was introduced later on after the initial cycle was complete.
I’m excited to try this. I have tried homemade dishwasher detergents, but always wound up with a solid lump by the next day due to the citric acid. Keeping the citric acid separate will do the trick as my jar of citric acid has never hardened on its own. I still have some commercial pods, but no more rinse aid. Could I put a pod on the floor of the dishwasher and put citric acid in the compartment for the same effect?
I’ve used both a previous homemade dishwashing recipe and a commercial one all with safe ingredients, but both left residue. I used the “prepare your dishwasher” instructions with the rinse aid recipe and it seriously cleaned up my dishwasher with one cycle. Now, I’ve been using the rinse aid recipe (about 1 1/2 T) along with the powdered detergent recipe for about a month now and it has solved the residue problem wonderfully. The dishes come out looking clean! Such a blessing to be able to use safe ingredients that you can make yourself. Your information is a blessing. Thanks! 🙂
I meant to say, “…along with the powdered detergent recipe found on this website…” 🙂
Hi! Can you please tell me what brand of dishwasher you have? It seems like every one of them now have the CA prop 65 label! I need a new one and can’t decide which one is best/healthiest to purchase! Thank you so much for your help! I LOVE your website! 🙂
Can you use your recipe for dishwasher detergent for stainless steel lined dishwashers?
Hi there! How do you use the homemade rinse aid if you don’t have a prewash receptacle just a detergent receptacle and rinse aid receptacle?
Hi Susana, you could try just placing it on the door next to the detergent and rinse aid receptacles. The prewash receptacle doesn’t hold the powder in place once the door closes so I don’t think it likely makes much of a difference whether or not there is a little cup there to hold it in.
Can you tell me how much it costs per load (approximately) and the same for the diswasher detergent? 🙂
I have luck making the rinse aid even cheaper per load by mixing the Citric acid 50-50 with table salt. I have great looking dishes and my citric acid lasts a lot longet
I’ve been reading about this too. I read you shouldn’t use normal table salt in your dishwasher because the edible salt contains an anti caking agent which can damage your machine. It’s suggested to do exactly what you are doing, but switch the table salt to the dishwasher salt.
I’m not chiming in from personal experience, but wanted to pass this on.
The 5lb bag is a much better deal .18 cents per Oz. Vs .47 cents per Oz
I followed all of your instructions and I admit I was so skeptical. But oh my- my dishes and dishwasher have never felt and looked so clean!! Thank you so much!! Now I’m going to try to find out what to do with my conventional dishwasher detergent.
Hi, I am so happy to find this dishwashing help! I am all about the simpler the better and it can get a bit taxing at times making all your own cleaning supplies! Is the essential oil mainly for scent or is it an essential part of the cleaning process? Thanks, I love your blog and read it weekly as does my daughter.
It helps but you can definitely leave it out. I do about half the time I make it 🙂
Can I by any chance make a liquid rinse aid with vinegar & citric acid. What ratios should I use of each?
Hmm good question! but not sure what is the answer!
Thank you!! I didn’t add essential oil, and it works beautifully! My plates and dishwasher have never been so clean!!
How Can I do a rise aid recipe without citric acid? vinegar diluted for avoid the damages in the dishwasher??
Thank you a lot!!
Thanks for all this information – everyone’s comments are helpful; however, I feel like the drooling emoticon 🤤 looks … we went to buy citric acid & the hardware store sold us wood bleach. It’s citric acid, alright, but…… it just doesn’t sound right to me so I haven’t used it. Please clue me in before I further embarrass myself! 😲😞 Thank you!!