Dishwasher Detergent

19 Jul
Dishwasher degergent

The best detergent ever?

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.

Regular Detergent-Clean

Glass cleaned with regular detergent

DIY detergent cleaned glass

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.

15 Responses to “Dishwasher Detergent”

  1. Anna Dunn 07/20/2011 at 8:16 am #

    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?

    • Amanda 07/20/2011 at 8:21 am #

      I got the washing soda at a Dahls grocery store, in the laundry aisle.

    • julie 06/28/2013 at 2:23 am #

      I can’t find washing soda where I live either you can make by putting some baking soda on a cookie sheet and heating it until the texture changes. It will look grainy when done instead of smooth. If you are skeptical google diy washing soda. The difference between the 2 is baking soda has a water molecule.

  2. Kate Rohdenburg 07/20/2011 at 8:48 am #

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

    • Amanda 07/23/2011 at 12:15 pm #

      You know, I hadn’t considered that. But I’m totally going to try it now – I’ll let you know how it goes!

  3. Tracie 08/02/2011 at 8:28 pm #

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

  4. Minimalist Mommi 08/07/2011 at 5:18 pm #

    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.

  5. Farmer Cathy 10/10/2011 at 3:31 pm #

    A little secret. If you buy dairy milkstone remover by the gallon and use that to fill the rinse aid compartment, the white film will disappear. You might even experiment with diluting it a bit before putting it in the dispenser. The chemical it contains is called phosphoric acid, you can Google that to verify it’s actually used in soda (like the kind you drink) so it’s pretty safe stuff to use. It is also sold as a sanitizer for microbrewers. So it will also sanitize your dishes in the right concentration (and trust me that stuff if pretty concentrated). You can find it at Tractor Supply or they can order it in. I have real hard calcium/magnesium water so it is a lifesaver for me.

  6. StoneMaven 10/12/2011 at 1:38 pm #

    You can buy Fruit Fresh for the citric acid (Fancy name for Vitamin C) and buy powdered ascorbic acid (dehydrated vinegar) if you prefer powder rinse.

  7. 4buckaroos 11/28/2011 at 2:16 pm #

    I am pregnant and therefore my brain doesn’t work properly but I *think* there are 16oz in a pound…making your cost breakdown better in your favor 🙂
    I just ordered 10 lbs. on Ebay for $27.90 (shipping included) which breaks down to about .70 for 4oz!! Score. Thank you so much. I am so excited to multi-purpose my clothing detergent supplies!! THANK YOU!!

  8. exPerede 02/12/2013 at 12:41 am #

    cheap [URL= – burberry outlet online[/URL – for promotion code mPEIPLSS [URL= – [/URL –

  9. Tangela 04/14/2013 at 9:58 pm #

    Thanks for finally writing about >Dishwasher Detergent | DIY or Buy <Liked it!

    • Denise Rutland 09/28/2013 at 11:10 am #

      Love these DIY products – much better for the environment and the purse. Thanks to all for sharing and the added comments which help those of us new to the process 🙂

  10. Peter Schmidt 09/11/2014 at 7:26 pm #

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  1. chimesblog» Blog Archive » Humpday Blog Love: DIY or Buy? - 03/07/2012

    […] favorite posts include dishwasher detergent, egg nog and granola. This past week she did a promenade of fried foods in honor of the Iowa State […]

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