DIY Dishwasher Detergent

August 12, 2012

My desire to try my hand at DIY cleaners usually comes, not from an overwhelming desire to be cheap but rather one of laziness. That is, I’ve run out of a commercial product, and I’m too lazy to go to the story to buy new.

I know this notion sounds counterintuitive, in that making your own cleaning products takes time and effort. But as long as you have the supplies on hand and you find a recipe that works, it’s really no effort at all.

Which is how I came to make homemade dishwasher cleaner this past weekend.

I’d used the last tab of the commercial stuff, and I was weeks behind in clipping coupons. There was no way I was going out to the store to pay full price for dishwashing solution.

I’d done some reading in the past about making your own homemade dishwasher detergent–after I’d successfully started making my own DIY laundry detergent–and I was surprised to learn that the ingredients are nearly the same.

As with laundry detergent the two main components are:

  • Borax
  • Washing Soda

Ingredients for DIY dishwasher detergent.

Because we have hard water, I’d read that it would be wise to add kosher salt to mix to help soften the water in the dishwasher. Then I read further that a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid–the kind that you would use for washing pots and pans in the sink–helps make DIY dishwasher detergent work better. (I’d mentioned this tip in this updated Suddenly Frugal Seal of Approval post for Borax.)

Mix the ingredients in a resealable container.

As I noted in that aforementioned post, I needed to play around with the ratio of elements in order to come up with a recipe that would work, and I think I have.

Here’s how I made my first successful batch of DIY dishwasher detergent:

  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Washing Soda
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • a few drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid

Mix the powdered ingredients in a resealable container by shaking. You add the Dawn when you are putting the powdered dishwasher detergent in to run a load. Important step to remember!

Adding a few drops of Dawn.

The first load I ran, I used 1/4 cup, and that was too much. Many of my dishes came out coated in gritty residue.

So the next load I used 1 tablespoon of the powdered detergent, plus the few drops of dishwashing liquid, and voila! The dishes and plates came out looking great.

I’ll admit that there was a glass or two on the top rack that still looked dirty, but you know what? When I was using commercial dishwasher detergent I had this problem from time to time, and often had to rewash my clean dishes.

Clean dishes for $.05!

Since then I’ve run four loads of dishes–I did a lot of batch cooking this weekend–and my plates, cups, bowls and more are definitely clean. There is still a cloudy film on some of the glassware and plastic, which, like I’d mentioned, was there when I used commercial products. I’m told this is from my hard water, and the only way to remedy this is to use an acid-based dishwasher additive called Lemi-Shine. The kosher salt isn’t hurting but it doesn’t seem to be “strong” enough to fix the problem.

None of the stores near me carry Lemi-Shine–hardware or supermarket–but Target and Walmart do. However, for me a trip to either store is a 30-minute drive. Instead, I went to order the Lemi-Shine on the company’s website, and it “transferred” me over to, a website I’d mentioned in the past as being a great place to buy household supplies at a discount. Even with shipping my three-pack of Lemi-Shine will be cheaper than buying on However, if you live near Target or Walmart, getting it there is probably easiest.

So while I wait for the Lemi-Shine to arrive, I will continue using my DIY recipe.

Like I said, so far so good, as far as cleaning goes. But here’s the part I love: by my calculations, taking into consideration the price of the ingredients, and how many “washings” I’ll get from them, I’m now spending $.05–five cents–on soap to wash my dishes. When I was buying the commercial products, I was spending anywhere from $.22 to $.33 per load. If I run the dishwasher once a day, which isn’t unheard of in this house, especially when I do a lot of cooking, that means that in a year I will have saved between about $62 and $102. I realize that’s not get rich money, but it is money saved nonetheless.
UPDATE: One of the ingredients in this recipe is kosher salt. Here is a coupon that you can use to save money on that purchase.

Buy 1 Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, Save 40ยข.
Expires 9/26/2012.


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7 Responses to DIY Dishwasher Detergent

  1. workingmomfindingfrugal on August 27, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Thanks for posting! This looks great and I’m going to give it a try as well! Quick question for you on your prices — when you say .05 cost, is that per load or per ounce?

    Just wanted to check – I had a coupon for a name brand detergent and end up paying .04 an ounce.

    • Leah Ingram on August 28, 2012 at 7:24 am

      Per load!

  2. Shibby on August 23, 2012 at 3:21 am

    It has to be the Kool-Aid because there is no sugar added. Lemonade DOES have sugar added to it. How bout adding fresh lemon juice to the mix as well?

  3. Jeannette on August 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Yes, packets of Lemon flavored kool-aid works or any lemon (citrus acid ) powered drink. Just get the power with NO sugar added. that’s the key.

    • Leah Ingram on August 23, 2012 at 9:46 am

      Well, I will have to try this as well. Maybe I’ll do a “taste” test–really a wash test–using the Lemi-Shine versus the Lemon Kool-Aid, comparing not only the quality of the clean dishes but the price per ounce. Stay tuned.

  4. Paula on August 20, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Instead of the Lemi Shine try lemon flavored Kool-Aid. Works for us and at 20 cents a package cost effective. Again play with the ingredients and see how it works for you. It has to be lemon flavored because of the citric acid but we have even cleaned our dishwasher with it by adding one package, turning on an empty dishwasher at the highest heat and let it run for about a minute. Open the door and let it sit for about an hour then resume cleaning cycle. Got rid of all the build-up and gunk in the dishwasher.

    • Leah Ingram on August 20, 2012 at 11:21 am

      Seriously? Lemon Kook Aid? And it doesn’t leave things sticky? Given that I wonder if lemonade mix would work, too!

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