10 Things You Should Know Before Making Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

by Ivory Soap on 05/24/2012

Thank you for visiting Little House in the Suburbs. If you like what you see, please check out OUR BOOK.

I have spent HOURS on  this database researching all of the possible chemical formulations of dishwasher detergent and it has completely CHANGED how I make homemade dishwasher detergent!

Cleaning Power

1. NO commercial dishwasher detergents contain BORAX.

Isn’t that nuts?  I was so surprised.  I studied the chemistry and  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a PROBLEM in the dishwasher, but I’m pretty sure it’s just not effective enough to justify the cost of including it commercially.  It’s much less effective than washing soda at water softening and raising the cleaning pH. This means it’s great for washing or boosting the cleaning on your fine china and your delicate laundry, but poo-poos for blasting the crap out of your daily dish grime.

Conclusion:  Borax is fine, but if you’re having trouble getting things CLEAN (which is not the same as deposits), replacing borax with washing soda will make it more powerful.  Don’t wash your fine china without it!

2.  NO commercial dishwasher detergents contain SALT.

It *is* a water softener, but it’s WAY weaker than washing soda.  And if you have lots of stainless steel, ingredients with chlorides are not recommended.

Conclusion:  If it works for you, great.  But if you’re having problems getting things CLEAN or getting spots on your stainless, ditch the salt and put in more washing soda.

3.  ONLY ONE contained any BAKING SODA

Baking soda is only half as strong as washing soda at softening water and doesn’t allow the cleaning pH to go nearly as high.   Like borax, it’s great for delicate stuff, poo-poos for daily dish grime.  And if you have a stronger product on hand, why dilute it with a weaker one?

Conclusion: Like salt, and borax, if you’re having trouble getting something clean, eliminate the baking soda and replace with washing soda.  Conversely, if you want to make your detergent more mild, toss in one of those.


Most commercial detergents at least 50% washing soda.  It’s twice as strong as baking soda or borax or salt.  Unless you’re washing something delicate, none of those three products add anything exciting enough to the equation to merit inclusion.  Washing soda is a super water softener and shoots the cleaning pH through the roof.

Conclusion:  Definitely a must-use.

5. SOME powdered commercial detergents use an oxygen bleach. 

Oxygen bleaches loose their poop after they sit for a while in water, so they come in powders.  But there’s no need to mix your own since they just break down into washing soda and peroxide.  If you have stained plastics, a slosh of hydrogen peroxide or a spoonful of Dollar Store oxygen cleaner will work just as well.  Borax has been touted as an oxygen bleach but it’s very weak, which is likely why it’s never found in dish detergent.

I only have the odd plastic piece that gets stained.  It’s easier and more cost effective to just deal with them individually with a bottle of peroxide than to fool with whole detergent formulations.

Conclusion:  If I have stained plastics, I’ll treat them individually with peroxide.  If you have lots of stained plastic and want it in your every day formula, the cheapest solution is to use the dollar store Oxiclean.

6. SOME commercial dishwasher detergents contain “SURFACTANTS”,

This could mean SOAP or synthetic NON-SOAP detergents.  Yes, both will foam in your dishwasher, but I think the key is type and amount.  I have done it with and without soap in the recipe.

Conclusion:  It’s up to you.  I like it in the mix.  Makes me feel good.

Now, Let’s Talk Sediment

7. Vinegar dissolves the salt deposits on your dishes. 

YAY!!!!  You can just put it in your rinse compartment, but I find that while it works fine on the glass, there’s still sediment on the outside of plastics.  The rinse compartment just doesn’t let enough out to get it off the plastic.  However, I have found that if you mist them with your spray bottle of vinegar, light sediment almost immediately disappears.

Conclusion:  Put it in the rinse compartment.  If there is light sediment when the washer is done, mist the dishes with a spray bottle of vinegar while they dry.  If there is heavy sediment, see the following options.

8.  FEW commercial detergents contain CITRIC ACID.

Citric acid helps take all those hardwater deposits and keeps them suspended in the wash water so they don’t settle on anything.  Citric acid is more often found in rinse aids and dishwasher cleaners.  If you are getting sediment on your plastics, this is where you can turn first.   It will work better in the rinse compartment than vinegar, but I have no idea how strong to mix it.

Conclusion:  Hurray!


As you add more acid to the mix, and decrease the possibility of deposits, you are neutralizing the washing soda.  This is why it’s more often seen in rinse aids, dishwasher cleaners, and other situations where washing soda is used.  To use it with washing soda, you have to overwhelm the citric acid with washing soda to make sure there’s enough left to do it’s high pH cleaning thing.   In the detergents I’ve seen, it’s at least 4 parts washing soda to 1 part citric acid.

Conclusion:  Use 1 cup of washing soda for each 1/4 cup citric acid.  If I still get sediment, I use more detergent, not raise the citric acid concentration in the detergent.

10. Almost all dish detergents contain SODIUM SILICATE

It’s almost 50% in some cases.  Many detergents are just 50/50 washing soda and sodium silicate.  Why?

  • It’s fantastic for rinsing away deposits
  • It doesn’t fight your washing soda like acid
  • It protects the metal in your washer from corrosion
  • It’s fairly hard to come by these days outside of commercial dish detergent.

This is what I believe is the main difference between commercial and homemade dishwasher detergents.  This is why some of us get sediments on the plastics, even if we use citric acid but get none with commercial detergents.  This is why manufacturers want us to use commercial detergent to protect our machine parts.  You *can* make it from potash and sand or silicon packing beads and sodium hydroxide, but it’s akin to trying to make your own lye from ashes.

Conclusion:  Bummer.

So, what to do?

  • I would say, first try a spoonful of plain old washing soda.  Maybe add a little soap, if you like.  This is 100% cleaning power, no sediment protection.
  • Use vinegar in the rinse compartment.
  • If you get sediment, see  if it’s a matter of a quick spritz with vinegar just after the dishes finish.
  • If not, start fooling around with citric acid in the detergent, maybe the rinse compartment too.

have to use citric acid in the detergent, vinegar in the rinse, AND spritz with vinegar at the end.  Here’s my recipe:

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1/4 cup citric acid (Lemi-Shine original)
  • optional 1/2 cup grated soap

Good luck!

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber October 18, 2013 at 7:14 pm

I read once that you can make your own washing soda, by pouring baking soda onto a baking sheet and cooking it at about 200 degrees for 3 hours, or so. Do you have any idea as to the validity and effectiveness of this method? I have a ton of baking soda, but I am all out of washing soda. Curious to know if I can make do with what I have on hand.

brother's keeper October 28, 2013 at 11:43 am

confused about the spritz part. You mean, open the dishwasher and spritz all the dishes with vinegar?

Lisa Bertolini November 2, 2013 at 8:23 am

In my fast paced home, I’m not sure I would want to go through the troubleshooting and chances of cloudy dishes that comes with homemade dishwasher detergents. I appreciate the research you did here. If these popular blogger recipes for dishwasher soap really worked well then wouldn’t the companies would have produced it themselves? Of all the cleaning products on the market, dishwasher detergent isn’t that expensive and there are eco friendly products out there. One last thought…..the dishwasher manuals state specifically what to use for detergent and if we use anything other than their recommendations and something goes wrong…then aren’t the repairs are on us instead of covered by their warranties? I don’t know if I want to risk that kind of financial set back.

Ivory Soap November 13, 2013 at 8:15 am

yes, that is the theory. Spray them down.

momofivejs December 26, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, where table salt is sodium chloride. While they are both salts, they do have different chemical properties.

Wanda January 5, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I’ve been looking for a source and found sodium silicate at Walmart. http://www.walmart.com/ip/Rutland-146-WATER-GLASS-adhesive-and-concrete-sealer-Gal/25480297

Karen January 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm

What is washing soda and where does one find it ?

Christopher McNulty January 11, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Wanda, did you buy and try the Walmart sodium silicate? How did it work?

Ashley April 1, 2014 at 5:30 am

I am just a little confused…why do you spray your dishes with vinegar after they are done from the dishwasher? That seems superfluous to me? Wouldn’t you want to spray them before starting the dishwasher? Won’t they have a vinegar residue on them and leave spots?….do you rinse them again and hand dry each piece from the dishwasher when the cycle is done after spraying everything down with vinegar?

Thanks just trying to wrap my head around the processes…step by step pictures are my best way to learn! ;)

ChetMC April 1, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I’ve read the vinegar will dry out the seals in your dishwasher and shouldn’t be used, is this true?

Glo May 19, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Wow! This is a great deal of compacted information. Thank you so much!

Glo May 19, 2014 at 6:10 pm

you just saved me a whole lot of time!

Brandon July 8, 2014 at 1:08 pm

You can get sodium silicate (or rather sodium metasilicate) at the hardware store. Look for Lundmark brand TSP or any other TSP (trisodium phosphate) alternative. But for even better results.get real TSP. It’s in the paint section and is used for cleaning surfaces prior to painting. The environmental dangers of TSP have been greatly exaggerated. But be careful, many of the products labeled as TSP are not actually TSP, but sodium metasilicate so ready the label. I would also recommend this for laundry. Your clothes will be much cleaner and since TSP helps remove all of the soap and detergent better the clothes actually stay cleaner for longer! Soap and detergent residue attack dirt and grime!

Ivory Soap July 8, 2014 at 4:28 pm

You can? That’s amazing. I need to go get some and test it out!

michael July 13, 2014 at 7:15 pm

washing soda works great. can be found here too

Archaa July 22, 2014 at 11:52 am

Was the recipe you listed at the end of your post (1 cup washing soda
1/4 cup citric acid (Lemi-Shine original) optional 1/2 cup grated soap) for 1 load of dishes? Also, which soap brand/kind of soap do you use?

Ashley August 1, 2014 at 8:51 pm

When you add water to the regular homemade dish detergent, it becomes an environment for a reaction to take place. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and washing soda (sodium carbonate) both react to citric acid, which is a weak acid just like vinegar. Does baking soda and vinegar ring a bell? General rule: carbonate + acid —> salt + water + carbon dioxide. This is what it looked like in our case: sodium carbonate (aq) + citric acid (aq) —-> sodium citrate (aq) + water (l) + carbon dioxide (g). (Aq) means aqueous, which means they are dissolved in water, (l) means liquid, and (g) means gas. Luckily enough, sodium citrate is completely harmless, but wait, it gets better! It’s actually a great cleaning agent! This is why this detergent works well. “Sodium citrate is used as a builder in phosphate-free, heavy duty laundry products, hard surface cleaners, hand dishwashing products and automatic dishwashing products.” Builders are cleaning agents that boost the effectiveness of detergents (surfactants), and in our case, this is done by sequestering hard-water ions. So honestly, I don’t understand how citric acid neutralizes the washing soda. I agree with the 1:4 ratio, but I disagree with how you say it neutralizes it.

Kathy September 19, 2014 at 9:42 am

I would also be interested in kmowing whether Ivory bar soap could be used in the recipe.

Jason Thurston December 9, 2014 at 12:07 am

Do you have a source for your second assertion that “[salt] *is* a water softener”? I’ve never heard this before and can’t understand how dissolving salt in water will remove calcium and magnesium to make it soft? Water softeners use salt to soften water but only to recharge the resin. A small amount of salt ends up in the water but that’s only because the recharging and flushing of the tank isn’t perfect so some salt remains in the tanks and thus a small amount ends up in your water.

Sandy December 14, 2014 at 7:12 pm

I’m going to climb on my poor, beat-up, and well-used soapbox, and casually mention that “PLASTICS ARE BAD!!! BAD, BAD, BAD! Bad chemicals!” I finally retired all my plastics from the kitchen, and only use glass, metal, and silicon. That eliminates the sediment problem on plastics. >^;^<

Otherwise, super washing soda and a drop of detergent in the soap dispenser, plus vinegar in the rinse aid dispenser, and I don't have any problems. And I have really hard well water.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: