With just three simple ingredients (that you probably already have in your kitchen) you can easily make your own dishwashing detergent – that actually works!
I was skeptical. Not only because it seemed too easy to be true, but because powdered detergents historically have never worked in my mini-dishwasher that we bought second-hand off craigslist about a year ago.
Commercial powdered detergent, even the bio-safe versions, just caked up in the soap well of my dishwasher and didn’t clean the dishes. It was a bummer, because the best I have found as a “sustainable” option for dish detergent in stores is products that are packaged in post consumer recycled plastic, which is still plastic, and still needs to be recycled, which costs clean water, energy, and produces greenhouse gasses.
So, if you can’t find that product, or you don’t have an awesome refill service in your area, we have got you covered.
And what about savings? Well, the biggest savings are in the packing itself. Whereas some dishwashing detergents are quite costly, like Meyer’s at $0.39 per load, Seventh Generation’s dishwashing liquid works out to about $0.11 per load. And even though these companies often use post consumer recycled plastic, it’s plastic nonetheless, that will have to be recycled again, which costs clean water, energy, and releases fossil fuels.
Using just three ingredients, you have an easy DIY dishwashing detergent, that’s environmentally safe! And the best part is, you probably don’t need to leave home to find them, the recipe is just baking soda, salt, and 3 drops of regular dish soap.
Baking soda is easy enough to find in compostable cardboard boxes, but lately, it can even be found in bulk food stores! The same goes for salt. In almost every single bulk food store, package free salt is a staple item. I recommend kosher salt if and when possible, avoid ionized salt for this recipe.
Liquid dish soap is notoriously hard to find without plastic, but some areas are fortunate and have refill services or refill stores local to them. In the Bay Area, Fillgood.co, refills a bunch of household and personal care supplies. But if they’re not within your reach, there are many refill companies sprouting up all over the place.
Check out our: California and U.S. Bulk, Refill, and Zero Waste Store List.
Alternatively, co-ops and natural food stores are more frequently providing refill services for liquid goods, soaps included! See what your area has to offer, or find some place a little out of the way, make a day trip out of it, and stock up on as many bulk and package free foods as you can while you are there!
Other than refilling your liquid soap containers, I have not been able to find a truly sustainable option for liquid soap. Some companies, like Seventh Generation, package their liquid dish soap in post-consumer recycled plastic, but again, that’s still plastic. They don’t offer compostable packaging for this specific product, that I have found, only their laundry detergent.
If your dishwasher soap well is divided into a small and large load, you will need to adjust the recipe a bit. As you can see in this photo, I am using the small (1.5) load side:
Small Load Recipe:
- 3 drops (2 squirts) of regular dish soap
- 3/4 tablespoon of baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon of salt (1/4-1/2 teaspoon for soft water)
Large Load Recipe:
- 5 drops (4 squirts) of regular dish soap
- 1 1/4 tablespoon of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of salt (1/2-3/4 teaspoon for soft water)
- Fill the well in the order listed:
- First you will want to squirt the soap drops into the bottom of the soap well.
- Second, layer the baking soda into the well evenly, covering the soap. and
- Third, layer the top evenly with salt, covering the baking soda as best you can, it does not have to be perfect.
- Close the well and wash dishes on appropriate setting (whatever setting you would normally use for the amount of dishes being washed.)
Add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the second well.
Tada! Clean dishes!
Q: Dishes coming out with powdery white residue.
A: This happened to me at first before I got the ratio right for my dishwasher. This has happened before with other detergents, but I felt better knowing this powder was just baking soda and nothing harmful. It wiped off easily with a dish towel and did not need to be re-washed. Next time, I adjusted the ratio to add a bit less baking soda and a pinch more salt. Don’t give up! Dishwashers are different, and a different ratio of soap : baking soda : salt might be more effective. Also, adding a tablespoon of white vinegar to the second soap well will help!
Trouble finding sponges?
Commercial sponges are full of toxins and cannot be composted or recycled. Do you want that on the dishes you eat off of? Here is a better option if you can’t find any package-free in your local stores.:
And what about paper towels?
Just use regular towels! If your bath towel is getting worn to bits, cut it up and use as dish rags. But if you’re reallllllly addicted to the convenience of pulling a fresh towel off a roll, try these:
Stop wasting paper! These are a great alternative to paper towels that will save you money less than a year if you buy paper towels regularly.