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Squeaky clean: make your own dish detergent

March 3, 2010

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.

By Briana

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2010 7:24 pm

    If I ever am lucky enough to get a dishwasher, I’m sooooooo making this! Thanks for posting it!

    • March 3, 2010 9:22 pm

      We’re hoping at some point to do a homemade dish liquid for those of use w/out machines: but its considerably more complex i’m afraid!

      • March 8, 2010 7:30 am

        Are you thinking I wouldn’t try it, anyway?! I love a good experiment!

        I’ve read that dishwashers waste less water than hand washing, so I do hope I can get one eventually… I also do mountains of dishes, so a hand in that department would be appreciated, green or not!

  2. Sarah permalink
    March 4, 2010 6:39 am

    wow! this is fantastic. I will definitely give it a try. About 6 months ago I switched all of my cleaning products to ‘natural,’ or more ‘green,’ essentially in the attempt to remove toxins from the home and the environment.

    I have to confess, being a bit of a clean freak, that soft scrub has made it back onto my shelf. I love talia’s vinegar cleaner, but i was very disappointed with seventh generation dishwasher powder and detergent. I also have never found anything that gets soap scum out of the shower. anyone have any advice?

    • Clare permalink
      March 4, 2010 11:28 am

      Soap Scum is best cleaned with the soap that made the scum – that is really the greenest way to do it. We use Dr.Bronner’s Castile Soap at home to clean both us and the tub – works like a charm. For the tile we spray Hydrogen Peroxide followed by a spray of White Vinegar/Water.
      Green and clean.

  3. Briana permalink
    March 4, 2010 12:11 pm

    I have the most insane little tiles with deep grooves between them in my shower/tub, so I just get a little OCD and tackle one section at a time with an old toothbrush every other week or so. Like painting a bridge. Full disclosure, I use Bon Ami on my tub, which my mom used, and that I’m a little nostalgic about.
    But I’ve been reading that undiluted white vinegar (some suggest heating it beforehand) sprayed onto the surface and left to sit for 10 -15 minutes works for soap scum. I also saw a suggestion to sprinkle salt and then spray on undiluted white vinegar to make a paste then scrub. I suspect you could do this on the sponge to get the vertical walls of the shower.
    Another substitute for scouring powder is using baking soda directly on a damp sponge. Good luck!

  4. March 8, 2010 7:49 am

    Who knew cleaning information would be greated w/ such enthusiasm. I have now put making hand dish detergent on my to do list. Don’t hold your breath though anyone: its a long long list!!

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