Zero waste DIY: Dishwasher detergent

So you guys, please don’t hate me — but I can get dish soap in bulk. I actually have my choice of two kinds, one that smells like oranges and another that smells like lemons. And that’s just at the grocery store — I haven’t even looked into the weird little health food place near my office, and who knows what treasures I might find there? Anyway, I have a plastic bottle that I bought before I knew any better (and now feel compelled to continue using to keep it out of the trash) that I use to buy and store the stuff. Hey, it works.

But what I can’t get: Dishwasher detergent. And, coming up on the end of my packaged detergent (at least it’s cardboard … with a metal spout, but I’m 95 percent sure I can recycle that, too), it was high time to figure out my Plan B.

I'll do a tutorial on how to create my awesome jar labels later. HA HA HA.

I’ll do a tutorial on how to create my awesome jar labels later. HA HA HA.

The research I’ve been doing leads me to believe that some items used in homemade cleaning products are better than others, i.e. for health and the planet. (Here’s a post from Bren Did on such matters — and includes her notes and the recipe below.) And you know, both are high on my list.

So this is the recipe I went with:

Dishwasher detergent

Use 1 tablespoon per load

1 cup super washing soda (comes in a cardboard package)

1 cup baking soda (bulk)

1 cup citric acid (bulk)

1/2 cup “table salt” (I used packaged salt I’ve been working on for months now — cardboard package, metal spout)

I decided to price this ordeal out — well, to the best of my abilities, being an English major and everything. The soda cost a whole 59 cents, the citric acid rang in at $2.77, and I figured I used 72 cents worth of salt. (“From an all-natural source.” I probably got ripped off.) The washing soda cost $4.49 for the package … but I didn’t use that much, and if my math is correct (no guarantees), I used 69 cents worth, for a grand total of $4.77 for about 64 loads — or 7 cents a load.

Le crystals. This stuff tends to clump, so there's definitely some stirring action going on here.

Le crystals. This stuff tends to clump, so there’s definitely some stirring action going on here, FYI.

But this is where my guesses math fails me. A 45 ounce box of my usual detergent costs me less than $4. But I don’t measure that out by the tablespoon — I just dump it in — so I have no idea how many loads per box I get. Thanks to Google, I do know that 45 ounces equals about 5 and a half cups … which is a cup and half more than the recipe above makes. Ergo, I assume that my homemade detergent is more expensive.

I know, sorry, Trisha Math is confusing.

So, long story short, I made my detergent and was all excited to try it … and then our dishwasher decided it didn’t want to clean anything on the top rack. That wasn’t as much fun as you’d think it would be. But! Eric is a genius and fixed the thing, so we’ve been back in business for about a week or so now. I tell you what, there’s nothing like NOT having a dishwasher to make you really, really appreciate it when you do.

And it turns out I rather enjoy this cleaner. No smell — I hate industrial smells — and it gets my dishes nice and clean. No weird residue. No detergent left in the … thing that holds the detergent. Even my drinking glasses look good.

I’m calling this a win.

P.S. I’ve been using white vinegar as my rinse aid for a few years now, and find that works just fine.

P.P.S. Here’s a helpful post about avoiding mixing certain products together — like vinegar and castile soap. I was very interested in this particular report, especially since I’m making homemade cleaners in earnest now.

Next up: I no longer stink, thanks to you lovely helpful people.

6 Responses to Zero waste DIY: Dishwasher detergent

    • I found it in my grocery store’s bulk aisle, with the spices. Recently I also found baking powder there, which rocked my world. It’s the little things. Let me know if you find it and if you make this, and how it works for you. It’s always a little weird recommending something like this because water quality makes a difference in overall performance, and we have great water …

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  2. When I began to reduce our waste a couple of years ago, I looked for bulk cleaners and tried a variety of homemade products. I couldn’t get good results with any of the dishwasher detergents. Then I found the “If You Care” brand dishwasher tablets at my local food co-op. They are eco-friendly and basically no waste since I shred and compost the box. The only negative is that they are ridiculously expensive.

    • I haven’t seen those tabs before — that’s interesting. I think this does a fairly decent job, although I have started adding three drops of my bulk dishwashing liquid to the tray before adding the detergent. It seems to be working okay … but I’m open to alternatives! Our store has a bunch of that brand’s products, so I’m going to see if they have the tabs as well. Just in case.

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