I’d been using those popular gel packs in my dishwasher, but I wasn’t thrilled with the results and at 30 cents a pack, it was time for a change. It turns out that making my own dishwashing detergent and other natural cleaners isn’t just easy and environmentally friendly, but my dishes are coming out cleaner at about a tenth of the cost of expensive commercial detergents. The primary ingredients in this recipe for homemade dishwasher detergent have been around for centuries and have been commercially available for household use since the 1800s. If the pioneers had dishwashers, this is pretty close to what they might have used, and I bet their stemware would have looked spectacular.
Borax (sodium borate decahydrate) was first discovered over 4,000 years ago. Typically found underground, it has been mined outside of Death Valley for commercial sale since the 1800s for use as a cleaner, fungicide and disinfectant. Used in hot water, borax cleans and bleaches through a chemical reaction in which water molecules are converted into hydrogen peroxide. Combined with washing soda (sodium carbonate), a naturally occurring alkaline valued for stain removal and as a hard water fighter, it is a natural cleaning powerhouse.
Kosher salt is added to the mix as an abrasive, and citric acid (found naturally in fruits like lemons and oranges) dissolves grease and cuts down on clouding. Until 2010, many commercial detergents used phosphates for this purpose, despite a negative impact on the environment. The practice was eventually banned by many states, although other synthetic chemicals are still routinely used.
We’re nearly there. As with commercial detergents, you may still find some spotting or clouding. Instead of using expensive finishing rinses, plain old white vinegar added to your finishing reservoir solves the problem and leaves glasses crystal clear. Using vinegar also helps keep your dishwasher clean and odor-free.
All of the ingredients for DIY detergent are inexpensive and can be found through local retailers or online. Your local homebrewing shop will stock citric acid, but unsweetened lemonade-flavored Kool-Aid may be substituted. If your local grocer doesn’t stock washing soda, make your own by spreading baking soda on a cookie sheet and baking in a 400 degree oven for about an hour, converting sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate. Science!
Natural Dishwasher Detergent Recipe
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup citric acid or unsweetened lemonade-flavored Kool-Aid
Place all ingredients in an airtight container and shake to combine. Use 1 heaping tablespoon per dishwasher load. Pour white vinegar into rinsing dispenser as a finishing agent (highly recommended).