page contents

living eco-friendly on a budget + ​natural parenting + fresh takes on theology

≡ Menu

Dishwasher Detergent

Improved Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

I posted quite awhile ago about my homemade dish detergent (and why we use it over conventional) and how we were using it in spite of cloudiness. Reader Special765 suggested adding citric acid to the mix to help. That did the trick! It took us some time to get the amounts just right for our water conditions, but I feel like we finally have it perfected. Here is the new and improved recipe:

One Batch of More Green for Less Green Dishwasher Detergent
(Yields about 70 loads)

Dry ingredients:

  • 3 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • ¼ cup citric acid*

Wet ingredients:

  • Essential oil (optional)
  • Vinegar

Mix dry ingredients in a container and shake to mix. Keep wet ingredients on-hand for each load of dishes.

Shake dry mix before each use and then open container pointing away from your face. Moisture causes clumping and activates the citric acid so make sure your container is air-tight. We got a container similar to this at a yard sale for $1. For extra protection, consider adding a dried out brown sugar bear (or the like) to absorb any moisture. I suspect any piece of terracotta will do.

For each load, pour the detergent to the lowest line on the dispenser cup (for us this is 1 tablespoon). Most people use too much detergent and go to the top of the cup, but more is not necessarily better— and is probably not what your machine’s user manual suggests. If 1 tablespoon is also the right amount for your machine, one batch of this detergent will last for 70 loads.

I add 2 drops of essential oil per load on top of the dry mix. Generally I use tea tree oil, which has natural antiseptic properties, but if I’ll be in the kitchen I’ll put in a smell I really love like bergamot or sweet orange since the scent will be released in the steam that comes out of the machine.

I’ve stopped using the rinse-aid compartment for vinegar. Instead, I put a healthy squirt of vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher (between 1/8 and 1/4 cup). I use an old, plastic sports bottle with squeeze top for this. It is so handy to just grab and squirt! Adding more vinegar than the rinse aid dispenses seems to do the job better. My bottle is similar to this. Used ones are abundant and dirt cheap or free, so no need to buy new plastic!

This mixture is just right for the water in my area, but you may need to play with the ratios for water conditions in your area.

*To find citric acid locally check at an Indian grocer (probably the best chance for a good price, since they will likely sell by the bag and not in a pricey brand-name bottle). Also try specialty supply shops that sell things for making cakes, candy, soap, or cheese; or try a health food stores (e.g.Healthway, but it is pricey there). You also can buy it online.


9 Changes for 2009- #4 Dish Detergent

This entry is part of a series on changes I made in 2008 that I want to stick with in 2009…

  1. Cut out commercial breakfast bars
  2. Cut out canned beans
  3. Use only environmentally friendly dish detergent
    (homemade to boot)


    So question one is why an environmentally friendly detergent even matters, right? Most conventional dishwasher detergents contain phosphates and chlorine. Phosphates seriously impact our water supply by encouraging excessive algae growth which kills fish and plant life. Chlorine bleach is an environmental pollutant and it may cause immune and reproductive system problems. Now, I am not alarmist about many things, so the possible concern about bleach doesn’t faze me too much. But, the dangerous chemical reaction caused by bleach mixing with ammonia that we’ve all been warned about since we were kids is undoubtedly of concern. Ammonia is a more eco-friendly choice, so I’d just as soon stick with that one and keep out the bleach.

    Here’s what we did…

    We made our own. We started off by using a recipe from Green Clean of 1 part borax to 1 part washing soda. We put 1 heaping teaspoon of the mix in the release cup and vinegar in the rinse aid. We started off using 2 tablespoons of the dry mix, but that made the dishes cloudy, so we cut down until we got the right amount for our water. But, we were having issues with cloudiness and chunks of food remaining. So onto blend two…

    Our second attempt was 3 parts baking soda to 1 part borax along with the vinegar in the rinse aid compartment. With this mix you use just as much as you would with a conventional powdered detergent. I read the instructions for the dishwasher to refresh my memory, and it turns out that we’ve long been putting in too much: the lowest line on the cup is ample for normal loads. We also add 2 drops of essential oil per load on top of the dry mix. Generally I use tea tree oil, which has natural anti-bacterial properties, but if I’ll be in the kitchen I’ll put in a smell I really love, like bergamot or sweet orange, since the scent will be released in the steam that comes out of the machine.

    We’ve stuck with this second blend for many months now. I use an old 32 oz yogurt container to mix the powder (measure and dump in, put lid on, then shake to mix). I only need to make up a new batch every other month or so.

    I will be perfectly honest and say that we are still dealing with cloudiness. We’ve taken to wiping the dishes with a slightly damp cloth as we put them in the cabinet to fix this problem, but I know that cloudiness simply is unacceptable to some people. Some days it bothers me and I consider trying out Ecover or another similar green product, but most days I love that it is so much cheaper than anything else. My price per year is about the cost of a single box of brand name commercial dishwasher detergent. Even if we go to a commercial product, I am committed to staying away from dish detergents with phosphates or chlorine bleach.

    UPDATE: See my improved (dare I say, perfected) recipe here.