Does Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Really Work?

A clean glass being removed from the dishwasher.

After years of faithfully buying commercial dishwasher detergent, it can be hard to switch to a homemade version, but that’s exactly what many people are deciding to do. 

At first, it’s normal to doubt your ability to make a homemade dishwasher detergent that actually works, but with time, you’ll gain confidence. 

Of course, the results are what will make you a believer.

Does homemade dishwasher detergent really work? Yes. Homemade dishwasher detergents really work to clean dishes due to the fact that most recipes call for effective, cleansing, natural ingredients such as washing soda, baking soda, borax, salt, and citric acid, items commonly found in commercial detergents. 

Ready to learn how easy it can be to create your own dishwasher detergent that really works and discover reasons why so many are choosing this option? Let’s go.

Is Making Your Own Dishwasher Detergent Really Worth It?

Well, if you enjoy having sparkling clean dishes and knowing that the detergent you used contained no questionable or dangerous ingredients, then yes, making a homemade dishwasher detergent is definitely worth it. 

Homemade dishwasher detergents do work to effectively clean your dishes and come with several advantages. 

Customization

With homemade versions, you can adjust ingredient amounts or even swap out one ingredient for another to fit your family’s preferences. For example:

  • Prefer not to use borax? Double the amount of washing soda called for instead.
  • Tend to not rinse dishes very well before loading the dishwasher? Increase the amount of washing soda.
  • Don’t want to use salt due to septic system concerns? Skip it.
  • Have trouble with hazy film or spots? Add vinegar to the rinse aid compartment.

You get the idea.

Easy to Make

To make your own dishwasher detergent, you only need a couple of minutes, a handful of ingredients, a bowl and spoon for mixing, a measuring cup, and an airtight container. 

Inexpensive

The most common ingredients for homemade dishwasher detergents can usually be found for just a few dollars each, and chances are good that you already have a few of them in your kitchen or laundry room.

If you opt for boxes of borax or washing soda and purchase large sizes of baking soda or citric acid, you’ll have plenty on hand to be able to make multiple big batches of detergent.

Environment Friendly

Nearly all of the most commonly used ingredients are all natural and biodegradable. The same certainly can’t be said of store-bought detergents. 

There’s no need for fillers, preservatives, dyes, harsh surfactants, or fragrances – just pure, cleansing power from natural ingredients. 

Why Make the Switch to Homemade Dishwasher Detergent?

Since 2010, when phosphates were removed from most dishwasher detergents due to environmental concerns, many people have been less than satisfied with the cleaning power of store-bought dishwasher detergents.

Food remnants, spots, and films are the main complaints. 

Granted, formulations have improved in the last decade to eliminate these issues, but many still contain potentially harmful ingredients.

For example, Cascade Complete Gel received a “D” by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for concerns over ingredients such as:

  • Polyacrylates.
  • Alcohol alkoxylates.
  • Zinc sulfates.
  • Fragrance.

These ingredients can negatively affect the nervous, reproductive, endocrine, and respiratory systems as well as irritate skin and allergies, damage DNA and vision, harm the environment, and cause cancer.

Not exactly what you want to wash your dishes, right?

Ready for more bad news? Those brightly colored, fresh scented dish soaps for washing dishes by hand also often contain harmful ingredients.

You can learn more in my article on homemade dish soap with essential oils.

There are dishwasher detergents that use safer ingredients, like this one by Lemi Shine, but they often cost more than the “regular” detergents.

You may be surprised to learn that a large percentage of ingredients in these safer products are likely to be sitting on a shelf somewhere in your home.

Why pay more when you can recreate and customize your own version without taking such a hard hit to your wallet?

Ingredients Commonly Used in Homemade Versions

When you begin researching recipes for DIY dishwasher detergents, you’ll notice that the same few ingredients keep popping up.

  • Washing soda.
  • Borax.
  • Baking soda.
  • Salt.
  • Citric acid.
  • Unsweetened lemonade mixes.
  • Essential oils.
  • Vinegar.

There’s a good reason for this. They work. 

They’re also inexpensive, easy to find in grocery stores, and most are all natural (with the exception of lemonade mixes) and therefore healthier for you and the environment. 

How to Make Your Own Dishwasher Detergent

Powder

This recipe comes together in just a few minutes and will last quite a while. Just mix together well and store in an airtight container.

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup borax (can be substituted with baking soda)
  • 3 packets unsweetened lemonade mix or ½ cup citric acid
  • 1 cup salt

Here’s an even simpler one, though it doesn’t make nearly as much as the recipe above:

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • ¼ cup citric acid

Word of Warning (And Genius Solution)

Many people, myself included, have found that homemade powder detergents will turn into one massive, rock-hard clump when exposed to the least bit of humidity.

The product is still perfectly fine to use, and indeed does a great job on your dishes, but you’ll need to break it up (I use a screwdriver) before each use. 

If pounding away at a rock of detergent isn’t your idea of a good time, you’ll be glad to know that this major disadvantage can actually be turned into a good thing. 

Need a hint? Think of those convenient, one-time-use little detergent tabs that are so popular.

Yep, instead of dealing with an impenetrable clump, you can make tabs and put that tendency to harden to work for you. 

Tabs

Both of the following recipes will get your dishes nice and clean, but one contains borax and the other does not. 

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • ½ cup salt
  • ½ cup water or white vinegar

Mix the dry ingredients together. Slowly add the water or vinegar (you’ll note some fizzing action taking place) and stir together until the mixture feels like damp sand and will briefly hold its shape when squeezed in your hand.

Press firmly into either ice cube trays or silicone molds with fun shapes, like those used for making candy or guest soaps. 

Once filled, set aside for at least 24 hours until the concoction is solid and dry. Gently remove the tabs from the tray and store in an airtight container.

For those who would rather steer clear of borax, try the following adaptation.

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 3 packages unsweetened lemonade mix
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup water or white vinegar

Instructions are the same as for the recipe above.

Tip: Measure the dimensions of your detergent compartment before filling the trays or molds to avoid making tabs too large. Alternatively, fill several cavities with different amounts of water and freeze. Once frozen, pop them out and test which size best fits in your compartment.

Liquid

With only five ingredients and an empty gallon jug, you can easily create the following liquid detergent.

  • 1 cup salt
  • ½  cup borax
  • ½ cup washing soda
  • 1 cup water
  • 15 drops lemon or grapefruit essential oil

Mix gently and use a funnel to pour into an empty jug or bottle. Note that this will not be as thick as commercial products but will get the job done.

Additional Tips

  • If you have trouble with spots or hard water, add a natural rinse aid such as white vinegar or lemon juice to your dishwasher’s rinse aid compartment or put ¼ of a cup in a small bowl and place on the top rack just before the final rinse.
  • When the inevitable day comes that you’re short on detergent and don’t have all of your recipe’s ingredients, fill the detergent compartment ¾ full with baking soda and add 1 teaspoon of salt and a couple of drops of liquid dishwashing soap or liquid castile.
  • Do not fill the detergent compartment with liquid dishwashing soap (try my DIY recipes). Way too many suds will form and may ooze out onto your floor. Your kids may think it’s the greatest thing ever, but you’ll be left with a mess.
  • To clean the inside of your dishwasher, add ½ of a cup of borax to the bottom of the machine, add the usual amount of detergent to the compartment, and let it run through a cycle. That’s all there is to it!