Dishwasher Detergent

Posted at July 19, 2011 by 6 Comments

We’ve been having this sort of running conversation in our house over the past few weeks:

Rob: Hey, will you add dishwasher detergent to the things-we-need-at-the-store list? We’re almost out.

Me: No way, I’m going to make some! I have the recipe and everything.

Rob: Oh, good idea. Can’t wait to try it.

{time passes}

Rob: Hey, it looks like we’re almost out of dishwasher detergent. Were you going to make some, or should I just buy it?

Me: Oh, I forgot about that. No, don’t buy it – I’ll make it! Totally.

{time passes}

Rob: Um… I think this is the last load we can do here. How about that dishwasher detergent?

Me: Oh, yeah. Detergent. I was going to do that, wasn’t I?

See, the problem is, that I HATE doing the dishes. With a passion. I’m not good at it (mostly because I don’t want to be doing it) and, you know… I don’t want to be doing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s loading our (teeny, tiny, ineffective) dishwasher or hand-washing dishes. So, I try to spend as little time as possible thinking about dishes, and thus, I also don’t spend much time thinking about dishwasher detergent.

Until now.

Last night, I finally broke down and made a batch of dishwasher detergent. And then I (we) actually did a load of dishes! In the dishwasher! And so, now I can write authoratatively about the comparative benefits and drawbacks of dishwasher soap. Yay!

(For what it’s worth, I’ve actually spent a lot of time doing dishes. This division-of-labor things is a new venture in Casa Amanda-and-Rob.)

Challenge: Dishwasher Detergent

The Palmolive Eco Lemon Splash detergent has water, sodium carbonate, sodium silicate, sodium salt of polyacrylic acid, sodium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite, disodium decyl phenyl ether disulfonate, polyquaternium, zinc chloride, sodium stearate, fragrance, titanium dioxide and sulfuric acid.

My homemade detergent, following a recipe that someone posted on a friend’s facebook page (but is also found scattered about on the Internet), is:
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup citric acid
Distilled vinegar


Everything you need: Borax, Washing Soda, Salt, Citric Acid. Not Shown: Vinegar.

Okay, now follow along carefully: Mix all of the dry ingredients together. (That’s everything but the vinegar.)

Ta-Da! That’s it! Use one tablespoon of the powder per load of dishes. Fill your rinse compartment with vinegar. You’re set.

(Also, you may think that some of these ingredients look familiar. They do! If you’ve ever made homemade laundry soap, you’ll have the borox and the washing soda on-hand. Yay for multi-tasking ingredients.)

Time and Cost Comparison 

Buying dishwasher detergent is fast and easy.  The Palmolive costs $4.84 for 120 ounces, and you should get (I estimate) about 45 loads out of the bottle. That works out to to $0.10 per load.

The homemade detergent took about 5 minutes, tops, to throw together. It’s EASY. Total cost is $4.64 for 3 cups. At one tablespoon per load, that works out to 48 loads from the batch. That works out to $0.09 per load.

NOTE: I had to go to a local health-food store to pick up citric acid (it’s evidently good for keeping your home-grown sprouts from going bad quickly). But you can order it online easily, and get a large amount for much less money than I paid, thus bringing down the cost of this detergent. I paid $4.99 for 4 ounces. Amazon sells citric acid in 5 lb. batches for $22, which works out to $2.20 per 4 ounces.

Ingredient Comparison 

The Palmolive detergent has a lot of chemicals I can’t pronounce and were lab-created, but according to the website, they’re meant to scour, clean and buff. And scent – exactly what is the point of scented dishwasher detergent? My dishes don’t come out smelling like lemon, nor would I want them to. It’s ridiculous.

The homemade stuff is full of basic cleaning ingredients that weren’t created in a lab, that as far as I can tell, are meant to scour, clean and buff.

As far as I can tell, neither detergent has petroleum-based products or phosphates, which is important to me and to Mother Nature.

Effectiveness Comparison

Pretty comparative, I’d say. We cleaned our dishwasher (it needed to be done), then ran a load with the regular detergent, and a load with the new detergent. A glass-comparison (we have SO much trouble getting glasses clean) showed that the DIY was equally as effective as the store-bought, if not a little bit better. NOTE: Both of these detergents are phosphate free – which leaves a bit of a film. I promise our dishes are clean and sanitized. Phosphate-free is better for the environment – and we’ve learned to live with it.

store detergent results

Glass cleaned with store-bought detergent

DIY detergent results

Glass cleaned with DIY detergent

PITA Factor 

1. Maybe less than one. This is SO EASY. The hardest part was finding citric acid – everything else was gravy.

DIY or Buy? 

Um. DIY, I guess, if you by the citric acid in bulk. It’ll be much more cost-effective that way, and you’ll get the same cleanliness of dishes. Plus, you know, ingredients that are a little better-known. But you know, if you can’t find the citric acid, I won’t fault you for using a nice phosphate- and petroleum-free purchased product.

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6 Responses to “Dishwasher Detergent”

  1. Anna Dunn says:

    OK I’m going to give this a try next time we’re out of soap. I also live in Iowa; where do you buy your washing soda?

  2. Would you just mix this into a tub for hand dish washing?

  3. Tracie says:

    Instead of buying citric acid, you can use kool aid lemonade flavor. if you look at the first ingredient it is citric acid!

  4. I make it too. A quick thing if you don’t have citric acid–purchase unsweetened lemonade packets. I use 15 per batch (about 3/4C). I’m wondering though if it will just be cheaper to buy the citric acid in bulk now that I know it works.


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