Experiments with Homemade Dishwashing Detergent: What Works Best?

A few weeks ago, I was greatly inspired by this HouseLogic article where several different homemade dishwasher soap recipes are compared. I have struggled in the past with finding a homemade dishwashing detergent recipe that worked well, so I had high hopes for these recipes.

Note: I took several pictures for this post, but most of them just depicted essentially identical clean plates or depicted rather disgusting dirty plates. The two points where photographs might have actually been relevant (noted below) were really hard to clearly identify with photography.

The first thing I did was try out the recipe that was most highly recommended from that post. Here’s that recipe:

1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
½ cup kosher salt
5 packets unsweetened lemonade mix

Mix all ingredients and store in a tightly sealed jar. Use 1 tablespoon per load, or 2 tablespoons for extra-dirty dishes. Makes 42 loads.

This costs me about three cents per load. For comparison’s sake, the cost of our previous dishwashing detergent, Finish, was about fifteen cents per load. For the lemonade mix, I just used five heaping tablespoons out of a jar of Country Time lemonade mix that we had in the back of the cupboard.

This new mix got all of my dishes perfectly clean. I have three kids – we put some pretty disgusting items in the dishwasher. After four loads with this mix, I’ve only had to hand-wash two dishes, which is a great rate.

So, you’d think this would be the “ultimate” solution, right? Not quite.

After the third wash, I began to notice that there was a thin haze on some of the cups. They looked clean, but ever so slightly hazy. After the fourth wash, the haze was a little bit stronger. I tried to take photos of this, but it was really hard to distinguish the difference in the image, even with great lighting. You could notice it if you rotated the glass in your hand, though. Also, after the fourth wash, I thought there was just a slight touch of this haze on a few of our ceramic plates.

The “haze” isn’t anything to worry about – it’s just a small amount of mineral buildup, much like what you would get if you had really “hard” water. Of course, it’s undesirable, but it’s easy to remove with a little bit of acid.

So, I ran another experiment. I added a little bit of ordinary white vinegar to the rinse dispenser in the dishwasher on the next load. I used maybe a penny’s worth of vinegar in the process.

The haze was gone, but strangely enough, it didn’t seem to clean the dishes quite as well. One of the bowls and one of the plates still had material on them.

Because of that, I don’t want to use the vinegar every single time, but I want to use it on occasion when I notice haze on the glasses – every four loads or so.

So, that’s the routine we’re adopting. Every three or four loads – particularly when I notice that the dishes aren’t that dirty – I’ll add some vinegar to the rinse dispenser. Other than that, I don’t bother and just use a spoonful of the regular mix.

If you’re going to try this, I recommend mixing the powders thoroughly and store the mix in a large glass jar or plastic container with a lid. Keep a tablespoon right in the container so it’s easy to measure. When you do a load, just add a single tablespoon of the mix into the usual place for detergent and wash as normal. Every few loads, add a little bit of vinegar to the place where you’d normally use Jet Dry.

In my experience, this mixture cleans our dishes very well and drops the cost of each load of dishes by about twelve cents. If I make a large container of the detergent, which takes about a minute, it’ll produce 100 loads of detergent, saving me $12. I consider that well worth it.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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