Squeaky clean: make your own dish detergent
In searching for tips on optimal dishwasher performance, I found a lot of information on what kinds of detergent you should use. The Times suggests that powder gets dishes cleaner than liquid detergent. Consumer Reports ranked conventional detergents over phosphate-free detergents for getting dishes clean, but if you’re committed to phosphate-free detergent (yes!), they do rate their top picks for subscribers. I also found a number of product reviews online, and particularly liked one on Grist that gave Ecover, Seventh Generation, and Biokleen high marks.
Though I don’t think asking our Office Services crew to mix up a batch of homemade dishwashing detergent will go over very well, it is also possible to make your own detergent which will eliminate all the mystery ingredients.
The first recipe I found seemed great, you only need to use a tablespoon per wash (not only is this economical but I can’t help feeling that as with most things, using less of something is usually better for the environment.) Unfortunately I had a hard time finding citric acid in the city. I finally found it, but it was spendy ($5 for the equivalent of 1/2c). Ultimately I think I can get my eco-friendly dishwashing detergent for less at the store than it costs to buy all the separate ingredients! My test batch hardened into a fairly solid 3”-plate of detergent in the takeout container where I’d stored it (maybe an airtight jar would have been a better bet), but we easily sliced a little segment out to put in the detergent cup. Dishes came out clean and sparkly.
Then I moved on to recipe number two in my quest to find an economical recipe, I found several online guides for homemade dish detergent that just call for just a tablespoon each of Borax and washing soda, both of which I had on hand from making the recipe above, and both of which had been easy to find – and cheap! – at my grocery store. Because I’d heard that the citric acid is what prevents a film from developing on glassware, I added distilled white vinegar to the rinse cup. Excellent results, and no film or spots on the glasses.
Having tested both, I think I’ll go with the streamlined Borax/washing soda version in the future. For those determined to follow the original recipe, you can substitute unsweetened lemonade packets for the citric acid (for some reason this isn’t carried in NYC grocery stores either), or you should be able to find citric acid in Indian specialty food stores, at this specialty cake shop, or if you have lots of storage space you can buy in bulk (I found a 5# tub) online. The main reason I will be sorry not to use this recipe is that, to work with the solidifying factor, we thought it would be cute to pour it into our rubber ice trays that we have in various shapes (Beattle’s yellow submarine, Rolling Stones lips, skull and crossbones) so that when it hardened it would be, well, a yellow submarine, lips or skull and crossbones, one of which would be the perfect size for a single load of dishes.