A mom who likes to live outside the norm

Homemade Homemaker: Dishwasher Detergent

There are many reasons to make your own dishwasher soap: you want to save money, you don’t like some of the ingredients in store bought versions, you like to make things yourself, you want other ways to use ingredients on hand, etc.

No matter your reasons, you want it to work.  I’ve tried several different recipes, they don’t always work.  This recipe may not work for you.  The liquid works for me if I follow the tips at the bottom of this post.  I also included a powdered option if that is what you prefer.

There are many factors that effect how well your dishwasher works: hard/soft water, city/well water, drainage from your dishwasher, temperature of the water, soil level of the dishes.  Some of them you can change.  At the end of this post I’ll share some general tips to get the most effective cleaning out of your dishwasher, but first the recipes.

Liquid Dishwasher Soap

  • Water
  • 1 ½ cups washing soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • ½ cup liquid castile soap (you could also grate half a bar of soap)
  • ¼ cup citric acid (or 2 packets unsweetened lemon kool-aid)

Fill a medium sized stock pot (there’s a reason for this) a quarter full with water.

Add the remaining ingredients. When you add the citric acid, it will bubble like crazy.

When I used a sauce pan, it overflowed onto my counter.  I wished I’d taken a picture, but I wasn’t going to recreate it!

Heat on medium-high until melted and mixed well.

It’s so easy, your kids can help!

Let it cool for about 30 minutes.  Pour into a gallon sized container of your choice.  A funnel really helps.

I used a milk jug

Fill with water, and shake well to mix.  Use 1 Tbsp per load.  This recipe does not gel as much as the store bought detergent, but it is not too watery.

Powdered Dishwasher Soap

  • 1 ½ cups washing soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • ¼ cup salt
  • ¼ cup citric acid (or 2 packets unsweetened lemon kool-aid)
  • 1 tsp rice

Combine ingredients in container of your choice.  Use 1 tsp per load.

The rice is used to soak up the moisture and reduce clumping.  It can be left out, but it will go down the drain without any issues (think of everything else that goes down!), and it really helps keep your powder from turning into a solid block.  If you don’t use rice, you may want to keep the lid off the container for a few days in a dry location so that moisture can evaporate.  I didn’t add soap to this recipe, but you can add a few ounces of finely grated soap if you wish.

Here’s the cost savings:

I priced a few different laundry detergents (of course, there are many more options).

  • Cascade Gel – 75 ozs at Walmart $4.36.  That will get you roughly 75 loads at $0.06/load.
  • Cascade Pacs – 48ct at Walmart $10.97 or $0.23/load.
  • Great Value Pacs– 85ct at Walmart $9.97 or $0.12/load.
  • Earth Friendly Gel – 40 ozs at Walmart $34.86 or $0.87/load (at that price I don’t care if it works, I’m washing by hand!!!).
  • Seventh Generation Gel – 42 ozs at Walmart $3.97 or $0.10/load.

Here’s the prices of my ingredients:

  • Borax –  ”20 Mule Team” borax at Walmart $3.38
  • Washing Soda – Arm & Hammer washing soda at Walmart $3.24
  •  32 ozs of Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap at Whole Foods $14.99
  • Citric Acid – I bought a 5 lbs on amazon for $28 (there are many sizes and options).  You can also get the lemonade kool aid when it’s on sale (around $0.10/pack).  If you’re going for pure cost effectiveness, get the lemonade powder!

The breakdown in cost for a gallon of liquid detergent is:

  • Borax is a 76 oz box and you use roughly 8 ozs per batch (1 gallon liquid), so that’s $0.72 per batch.
  • Washing soda is a 55 oz box, using 12 ozs per batch is $1.44 per batch.
  • Castile soap is 32 ozs and you use roughly 4 ozs, it’s $2 per batch.
  • Citric Acid – I hope I calculated this one right.  5 lbs is roughly 10 cups, so you’d use about 1/40th of the container.  That’s $0.70/batch.  It’s cheaper to use kool aid, but I have citric acid already.

Adding that up, your cost is $4.86/gallon (which is twice the amount you buy at the store).  If you use 1 Tbsp per load, the cost is $0.02/load.

If you’re using the powdered version, you leave out the soap and add the salt at about $0.12/batch.  The cost of rice is minimal per batch.  So it’s roughly $3 (cheaper if you use lemonade powder) to make.  If you use 1 tsp per load, that will get you roughly 130 loads done at roughly $0.02/load.

Tips to make this and all dishwasher detergents work better:

  • Run your garbage disposal before running your dishwasher.
  • Run the hot water in the sink while running your disposal to get the hot water flowing.
  • Scrape off all the big chunks of food (but don’t prewash your dishes!).
  • Use rinse aid (vinegar is all you need and is a lot cheaper).
  • Regularly clean out the gunk that builds up at the bottom of the dishwasher.
  • Ensure that the dishwasher is evenly loaded and not overly full (also make sure that nothing is blocked).
  • Less is more with the soap.  Too much soap will leave soap residue.  It is the hot flowing water that does most of the cleaning.

That really is the key.  1 Tbsp of liquid and 1 tsp of powder really doesn’t look like much, but if you add too much all you’re doing is adding soap scum to your dishes.   If you really like store bought dishwasher soap, try using less.  This will also add to your cost savings.

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2 thoughts on “Homemade Homemaker: Dishwasher Detergent

  1. Thanks for the post! You answered some things I was looking for like why my dishes have residue on them. I always filled the soap thingy up to the top because there were no directions on the box for how much to use. When you use dishwasher gel, do you only use a tablespoon? I have a stockpile of Cascade right now and have no clue how much I should use.


    • Sorry it took me so long to respond. Yes, I would use around a tablespoon. Honestly, it’s the hot water and the churning action that does most of the cleaning anyway. Then you get more for your money!

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