Updated on 01.25.12

Make Your Own Dishwashing Detergent (24/365)

Trent Hamm

The reason that my photography intern and I decided to use virtually the same exact picture for this entry as entry #18 in this series (outlining powdered laundry detergent) is because the two recipes are very similar.

Make Your Own Dishwashing Detergent (24/365)

Just simply mix together one cup of borax and one cup of baking soda or washing soda in a tub. If you wish, you can add a small bit of OxyClean to the batch or a small bit of store-purchased dishwashing detergent – you need one or the other to act as the active detergent ingredient if you’re washing any dishes that are fairly dirty. All you need is a tablespoon or two of this stuff (depending on the size of your dishwasher) to get things fairly clean.

If you want to replace the “finishing” liquid (Jet Dry, for example), just use a tablespoon of vinegar. There’s no smell – just shine on your dishes.

There’s a theme worth noticing here. Between the two recipes, we’re using borax, baking soda, washing soda, OxyClean, a bar of soap, and vinegar. I also keep some club soda These ingredients together manage to clean laundry thoroughly and clean dishes thoroughly.

If you carry that thought out to its logical conclusion, these ingredients can pretty much clean anything in your home thoroughly.

For example, when I’m cleaning windows, I fill up a spray bottle with one part vinegar to two parts water, with perhaps a tiny amount of another cleaning agent (whether it’s dish soap, borax, or something else). I stir it thoroughly, then head to the windows.

If I’m washing dishes by hand, I make a bit of paste out of borax, washing soda, and water, then just use a tiny amount of this on a sponge to clean almost any dish I have.

If I’m facing a carpet stain, I put some baking soda on the spot (a teaspoon or two), spread it thoroughly into the spot, then pour a couple teaspoons of vinegar on top. There’s a fair amount of foam, which I then scrub into the spot.

If there’s a dark stain on clothing and I see it immediately, I put some club soda on it.

If I have any acne (I often did in my twenties, but haven’t had any in a while), I make a paste out of baking soda and water and put it right on the spot before I go to bed.

Heck, if I want to whiten my teeth at home, I brush with baking soda and then use a bit of vinegar while brushing. If my stomach feels out of whack, I usually put a bit of baking soda in a glass of water and drink it (I usually burp like a madman for a while, but my stomach feels better).

I could keep listing things, but the truth is that most home cleaning tasks and even other simple things can be handled with some combination of the ingredients listed above.

The best part? Those ingredients are cheap. I can get a giant bag of baking soda or a jug of vinegar at my local warehouse club for a very low price. Even things like borax and washing soda are pretty inexpensive at my local Fareway.

Why use a product with a brand name and an expensive price on it when homemade mixtures like these will do the job?

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Kathy says:

    I have seen other recipes for dishwasher detergent that call for Lemi-shine or even packets of lemon flavored Kool-Aid. They all list one these because, according to the recipe, some sort of citric acid agent is needed or your dishes will not get clean. I’m looking to try some of this when I run out of my own dishwasher soap.

    Just wondering what kind of luck you’ve had with your recipe?

  2. lurker carl says:

    I’d like to see proof of performance, like the results of experimentation with how well the home recipe conpares to a smattering of popular commercial brands. Like a small scale verision of what Consumer Reports does.

    I tried Trent’s original laundry soap and was not impressed with the outcome. Maybe it performs better now that OxiClean is added to the mixture to make it a detergent but I’m not going to try it again. The washing ziplock baggies in the dishwasher experiment was enough for me.

  3. Tracy says:

    “All you need is a tablespoon or two of this stuff (depending on the size of your dishwasher) to get things fairly clean.”

    Weirdly, I actually want my dishes to be more than ‘fairly’ clean.

  4. Misha says:

    That isn’t “virtually the exact same picture”; it is LITERALLY the exact same picture.

    Also, the very last link in each of these articles is broken – either pointing back to the same article you’re in, or full of rotty HTML. But once I finally did get back to the original article where you introduced your intern, I found the sentence “Hopefully, these images will visually illustrate the beauty of frugality in everyday life.” I think it’s important that you know that the images you and Brittany have chosen lately are failing terribly at this.

  5. Johanna says:

    What are you talking about, Misha? He’s illustrating 365 posts, but he only has to pay for 364 photos – maybe even fewer. What could be more beautifully frugal than that?

  6. Lesley says:

    I feel like many of these articles should
    have been combined for efficiency–this one and the laundry detergent one, for example.
    Frugality and efficiency have a lot in common. And if time is money, you’re taking up more than necessary, of both yours and ours. (I know, I know, I don’t need to read it. But I’m disappointed in the drop in quality on this blog and hope Trent can bring it back.)

  7. Vanessa says:

    @ Johanna, is the intern getting paid? I was under the impression she wasn’t but I could be mistaken.

    I don’t have the time, patience, or space to make my own detergent so I try to compensate by being thrifty with the detergent I buy. Detergents these days are so concentrated it’s amazing how many dishes just a few drops will clean. I like the Method brand that comes in a pump because it’s easier to control how much I dispense. I’ve been refilling it with the cheaper brand and I’m really able to stretch it out so one bottle lasts a long time.

    Can you mix the powder with water in a bottle and squirt it out like regular dish soap? I handwash dishes and scooping out powder seems kinda cumbersome.

  8. kc says:

    1st sentence: “virtually same exact…” OMG. Dept of Redundancy Dept.

  9. Johanna says:

    @Vanessa: Trent said that she’s being “compensated.” Whether that’s an unnecessarily obfuscatory synonym for “paid” or a way of weaselling out of saying that she’s not getting paid, I guess we’ll never know.

  10. Johanna says:

    @kc: How do you like “Just simply mix together…”?

  11. Des says:

    Its hard to compare, since we wash our dishes by hand, but I can’t imagine it is worth the time and effort to make our own dish soap. We bought a dozen bottles of brand name “xmas scented” dish soap on sale after Christmas 2010 for $1 each. We go through a bottle every three months or so. So, even if homemade detergent was free, we’d only be saving ~$0.33 a month. I know this article is about dishwasher soap, but that is the best comparison I have.

    Also, maybe it is my location, but Borax and washing soda aren’t exactly cheap. Around $5 a box. Dishwasher detergent costs less than that. It would have been interesting to see an actual cost breakdown…

  12. Tracy says:


    Hey, you gotta admit, that’s better than:

    “I also keep some club soda These ingredients together manage to clean laundry thoroughly and clean dishes thoroughly.”

  13. kc says:

    @ johanna: Genius!

  14. Johanna says:

    @Tracy: It was a while ago, but I still remember the time Trent had a random sentence fragment in the middle of a post that was all about paying attention to detail.

  15. Tracy says:

    Although my favorite bit is “I could keep listing things, but the truth is that most home cleaning tasks and even other simple things can be handled with some combination of the ingredients listed above.”

    I am dying to know more about the non-cleaning ‘other simple things’ that ‘can be handled with some combination of the ingredients.’

    Perhaps they do taxes! Run household errands! Wrote this series of blog posts!

  16. kc says:

    “Heck, if I want to whiten my teeth at home…” Where else would you whiten your teeth?

  17. Johanna says:

    In my mouth?

  18. Tracy says:

    That’s now incredibly disturbing.

  19. Vanessa says:

    @ Johanna
    Given the quality of some of the photos, I kinda hope Trent isn’t paying her. Someone said she was his cousin, so he probably is doing this as a favor to her.

    There is a cost breakdown of the recipe on the laundry detergent post, but for some reason he breaks the price down to the cup. I have never bought a half cup of borax. But there you go.

  20. Johanna says:

    She’s his cousin? I guess that makes sense. Maybe she’s passionate about photography the same way Trent is passionate about writing.

  21. Kai says:

    #16 kc @ 4:24 pm January 25th, 2012
    “Heck, if I want to whiten my teeth at home…” Where else would you whiten your teeth?

    As opposed to professional teeth-whitening done by a dentist, as was originally the more common method.

  22. kc says:

    @ Kai: Yeah, I know that, but we’re talking about a guy who makes his own laundry detergent. “At home” is understood in this case, given the writer and the context, so the words are unnecessary.

  23. kc says:

    @ Johanna: From the post announcing the series:

    “Several years ago, I started to mentor a young woman named Brittany who’s passionate about photography.”

  24. kevin says:

    “Passionate” is over-used on most personal finance blogs, although TSD is especially bad. Does anybody actually talk like this? For example, I like to read, I like to travel etc. It would never occur to me to say I’m “passionate” about reading.

  25. Izabelle says:

    Being “passionate” about something and excelling at it are two very, very different things. Generally, when a(n aspiring) professional makes his/her pitch all about how passionate they are, it’s going to be all about them – not about the client’s need (e.g. RUN).

    Don’t get me wrong, passion usually necessary to succeed, but it should be the catalyst, not the object, if one looks to make a living out of it.

  26. Lilly says:

    I did a little facebook stalking, and it does look like Trent and Brittany are relatives (most likely cousins, but my research is inconclusive).

  27. Jen says:

    I love the comments on TSD; the regular people who comment are TRULY and EXTREMELY the best!!!

  28. Mister E says:

    I’m deeply concerned over how much more of this series there is yet to be posted.

  29. Adam P says:

    Oh I’m not concerned. The comments are comedy GOLD.

  30. deRuiter says:

    “Hopefully, these images will visually illustrate the beauty of frugality in everyday life.” If they are images, then “visually” is redundant. These posts, taken from the book, are no brainers for finding a topic a day. Pity the extra time involved in not having to invent a topic a day isn’t invested in more time devoted to improving quality of writing. Evidently having a “passion” for writing doesn’t mean you’re interested enough to write well. Didn’t the author switch his major from English to something else? Now we know why! Can you imagine the red pen marks from an English / Creative writing instructor for the above column?

  31. Annie says:

    I often find deals at supermarkets where they have dish detergent for sale nearly 1/2 the price. I got a very large size Pamolive Antibacterial bottle for 1.99 vs 3.99 which will last me a very long time for 2 dollars. I think for my personal finance that is supercheap for cleaning dishes. I find good deals on laundry detergent also and you can bundle it with coupons. I notice lately that the simple dollar newsletter seem redundant and discussed already. Are you running out of ideas to talk about?

  32. Kerry D. says:

    ok, I actually have a question about using an automatic dishwasher–I usually use a smallish amount of name brand detergent, and my 5 year old Kenmore dishwasher does a horrible job of washing. It’s basically just a sanitizing machine. We have to thoroughly rinse dishes before they go in.

    Any thoughts?

  33. Kai says:

    Have you tried using various amounts of detergent and found no change?

    Have you tried arranging your dishes differently? Perhaps the water is not able to hit them properly in the orientation you usually load?

    Or perhaps it is just a crappy machine..

  34. AnnJo says:

    @32. KerryD, many dishwashers have food traps or overflow traps that need to be cleaned out once in a while. The dishwasher won’t clean well if those devices are clogged. Also, many people refuse to read or follow the instructions that come with appliances, and thus use them incorrectly. Some people load the dishwasher so as to block the soap dispenser. Others need to run the water until it heats up before starting the dishwasher. Others are allowing utensils to block the rotating arms. Some people might have water that is too hard.

    So, first, read your owner’s manual and check that you are loading, maintaining and running your appliance correctly. Check if it has a filter, trap or overflow outlet that could be clogged, and clear it. If that doesn’t work, run a Google search on your make/model and the problem you’re having and do some research. It might give you some other ideas of what could be wrong.

  35. Lilly says:

    Weirdly, Johanna, Tracy and kc have downgraded this blog’s comments section with their nit-picking criticism. It’s very distracting to those of who are actually looking for useful comments. Trent, you don’t have to allow people like this to continue to post, you know.

  36. jim says:

    Lilly, Whether you like all the comments or not, I don’t think that censorship of criticism in the comments is Trents best option. He would lose a lot of credibility if he started deleting comments just because they were critical or nit-picky.

  37. Telephus44 says:

    @32 – trying cleaning your dishwasher. I actually found a video on Youtube that did a good job explaining how to remove most of the arms, remove scaling deposits, etc. I tried this with our dishwasher that we got when we bought this house – it’s about 10 years old – and it started getting the dishes a lot cleaner.

  38. Lilly says:

    I guess I need to start posting under a different name LOL, too many Lillys!

    *I* posted comment #26 but not #35, and for the record I barely read the articles anymore, I skim them then read the comments. I learned a lot of good ideas from this blog when I first started reading, but after you have been reading a while the subject matter (as well as Trent’s writing style) gets very repetitive.

  39. Johanna says:

    @jim #36: Trent has credibility?

  40. Diane says:

    Lilly #26 and #38. Regarding comment #38 LOL – I do the same thing these days. I also see at least one other commenter with the same name. Sometimes her comments are the opposite of mine, so I guess we cancel each other out.
    The good news is that there are a lot of similar PF blogs with many other clear voices. I used to check in every day. Now I pop over once a week or so.

  41. Karen says:

    #25 Izabelle
    “Being “passionate” about something and excelling at it are two very, very different things.”

    THIS is a Great Truth of Life.

  42. Kai says:

    If the comments were censored, he’d lose a good number of readers who come just for the comments – plus those who return to a comment page. Since add revenue is all about pageviews, the more contentious the post, and the more comments made, the better.

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