How To: Homemade Dishwasher Soap & Rinse Agent

Here it is, y’all!  The long awaited Homemade Dishwasher Soap recipe.  We are usually a wash-by-hand family, using dish soap (recipe to come for that as well) as little as possible, only when something is pretty scuzzy or oily.  We like to conserve water and soap (and electricity) as much as possible.  But, we broke down and started using our dishwasher starting in July, as we got moved into our own place again and I started cooking A TON more.  Dishes were piling up…literally on every counter top.  And by the time I was done cooking the dish, I was dead tired and baby and I would have to go sit down to catch our breath or take a nap to recoup.  Dave commits most of his time to work right now, so it’s pretty out of the question to ask him to do a sink full of dishes when he gets home late after a long day.  So I cracked, and began researching natural dishwasher detergent options.

Shocked at what I could (or couldn’t?) find.  Looking at the various manufacturing websites and calling about their ingredients list, I was shocked that these companies called themselves eco-friendly and organic.  But it’s just like with body care products of our world I suppose.  There are no laws about labeling, and they can say these things as long as they have one “natural” ingredient in the product, even if that means they have 20 or 100 other bad ingredients.

So using a liquid or powder detergent from the store was out of the question for our family.  Did you know that dishwasher detergent is one of THE most toxic substances in your household?  And that when you run the dishwasher, the chemicals are literally vaporized and expelled into the air of your home?  It was very important to us to not use any chemicals if we were really going to begin this dishwasher endeavor.  So I got to work!  I pulled out my Easy Green Living book and utilized my best friend Google to find various homemade dishwasher soap recipes.  There are so many different ones out there, I kind of adapted a few different ones to make the recipe that turned out the best for us.  We have super hard water here in North Carolina, so had to increase the citric acid to get it just right.  But this recipe works WONDERS on our dishes!

And the key is the rinse aide.  Your dishes will come out spotty if you do not add the vinegar to each and every load to the “Jet Dry” compartment.  Trust me, I’ve done many different trials and they come out perfectly every time when directions are followed exactly as below.  The ingredients can be found from your local grocery store, in larger sizes at Walmart/Costco, or in bulk online (I’ll link to where we bought ours).  And I forgot to mention the cost savings in making your own dishwasher soap.  I mean, talk about frugal AND green for the family!  This homemade detergent costs only about $.05 cents per load versus a conventional soap, around $.14 cents average per load!!  The savings will certainly add up over time, and you’re offering a much cleaner option for your family.

Here’s the recipe.  I doubled it in the picture below since I had enough of the ingredients, but you don’t need a container quite as large as mine:

Homemade Dishwasher Soap
Makes 2 1/2 cups

Container with tight lid that fits at least 2 1/2 cups (a mason jar 32oz or larger would be great)
1 cup Borax
1/2 cup Salt
1 cup Citric Acid (use 1/2 cup for normal to soft water)
1 cup Baking Soda
1/4 cup Distilled White Vinegar
A scooper of some sort (I use and old scoop from a protein jug, works perfectly)

1.)  To your container, add the borax, salt, citric acid, and baking soda.  Pop on the lid and shake or use a wooden spoon to stir until well combined.  Add your scooper to the jar and seal the lid.  It’s ready to go!  In the dishwasher fill both soap containers full of this powder, it’ll be about 3 Tbsp total per load.  Very important to fill both containers so it does a pre-wash to begin breaking down the grime.  Remember, you’re avoiding the use of chemical surfactants here, so we need to allow the natural ingredients a little extra time to do their magic!

2.)  With each dishwasher load, add 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse agent compartment.  This is a MUST step to avoid spotty dishes.

And that’s it!  I run the load on Normal Wash and turn off the “heated dry” to save energy.  Also run it only when jammed full of dishes to maximize its use, and run it at night so A) we aren’t directly breathing in any vapors from the dishwasher (plastics and such) and B) the A/C doesn’t have to work as hard as it would during daytime hours.  Dishes come out sparkling and literally squeaky clean every time!

A little clumping of the finished product due to the citric acid is normal, as you don’t have the chemicals in there to prevent clumping.  Just break up any clumps as you go along with your scoop, no sweat!

A disclaimer about using powders — you may want to wear a mask around your nose and mouth while preparing this detergent.  If you breathe in the powder dust as you pour/mix, the dust particles can go into your lungs and they then stay there.  This can be dangerous to your health, so I recommend wearing a mask at mixing time.

Enjoy natural cleaning!  I have many other great homemade cleaning recipes to share, so keep an eye out!

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Written by Elise Schwartz
Elise Schwartz

Elise has been living a sugar-free natural lifestyle since 2008, after discovering her PCOS, infertility, and inability to lose weight were caused by toxicity in her food and daily life. She became a certified nutrition and body detox coach, and provides consultations to clients across the world. By living the principles she teaches, Elise proudly welcomed her son, Austin, into the world in 2011. She and her husband, Dr. Dave, own and operate a natural health clinic, Triad Health Center, in Greensboro, NC.


  1. Hi, I wash dishes by hand, Can this recipe be used for that or do have another one for handwashing?

    • Elise Schwartz

      Hi Eldaka! I wouldn’t recommend it for hand washing — the borax and citric acid can be very harsh to the skin (acidic). What I use for hand washing is Castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s), hot water, and a splash or two of white vinegar in the sink, rinse with hot water.

  2. I am using whole sea salt, I’m assuming I should ground it with my mortar and pestle? Also, do you have a recipe for laundry soap?

    • Elise Schwartz

      Yeah, it may be best to grind it up to help it to dissolve in the dish washer. I do make homemade laundry soap, but haven’t posted my recipe on here yet. It’s similar to the hundreds you can find online…try Google-ing it and see what you find. Make sure to switch out the toxic ingredients for natural ones. Like instead of conventional bar soap, I use Dr. Bronner’s castile soap.

  3. I love the soap, but notice that it hardens up in my glass container and becomes really hard to get out. Any idea why or how to prevent this?

    • Elise Schwartz

      Hmm, I’m not sure Rachael. Maybe it’s a bit humid where you’re storing the container, or maybe it’s not an air-tight container. You could try saving some of those little silica packets that come in shoes and supplements to keep them dry. Throw a few of those in the mix to help with absorbing moisture. Hope that helps!

      On the flip side, maybe this is a good thing. You could pack the mixture into a mini muffin tin or a silicone mold and let it sit out to harden. Remove the dishwasher soap bombs and store under your sink. All you’ll have to do is drop 1-2 bombs into your dish washer!

  4. Is fels naptha a natural soap or is it toxic?

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