Friday, February 10, 2012

Automatic Dishwasher Detergent - Homestyle!

Ran out of "Finish Quantum" (my favorite dishwasher detergent). I am trying to squeeze every penny. So, why not try to squeeze here too? Why not try making my own?

There are so many recipes out there for homemade detergent. I had to be extra careful because I have a septic and well. I want to be extra careful what I return to my soil and groundwater! The earth is my "water treatment plant"! We also want to protect our watersheds and rivers - I loves me some salmons!

My detergent
Most recipes I found had salt. Not mine. Salt is not good for the soil or ground water. Not much will thrive in salty soil - just look at a beach line and the salt flats.
The citric acid was the most costly component of my recipe - but it is supposed to really help with the hard water and the cleaning so I am giving it a go. I could have bought it way cheaper online but, I kinda needed it and that's all they had.


I came up with the following recipe:
2 cups Borax
2 cups Washing Soda
1 can (5oz)(also comes out to be a cup) of citric acid - I used Ball Produce Protector"5 Oz. Fruit-Fresh Produce Protector" since I couldn't find plain-ole citric acid. It has added dextrose (aka. simple sugar) and silicon dioxide (aka. rock that soaks up water- maybe that will help prevent the clumps that folks get when adding the acid)
I also added one of those silicon gel pack things you get in vitamins, shoes etc. to help prevent caking.

one of those packet thingies
I re-purposed a nut container and a coffee scoop for my mix
Use 1-2 tbsp in wash (1 for pre-wash cycle & the other in the closed regular wash cup.)
rinse aid

Ohh.... don't forget a part of the homemade stuff is you have to use the white vinegar as a rinse aid - about 1/4-1/2 cup or you will get cloudy glass. (this is also WAY cheaper than that blue gel rinse aid)

Here is a comparison of cost
Finish - 25cents per load
Homemade -  7 cents per load or up to 14 cents per load if i use a scoop for pre-wash. (I don't like to hand wash my dishes before I dish wash them).
Cost savings of up to $65.70 per year

pre and main wash
Ok. I put in a load. We had a little bit of everything in there. I noticed that the inside of the washer is getting stained a yellowish color - maybe it's mildew?
I ran it on the full wash cycle.
When it reached the rinse cycle I opted to put in 1/4 cup vinegar.
Load completed.
I opened up the washer and everything was just as clean as the commercial stuff.
The inside of the machine was a tad less stained.
To me, who has a very sensitive nose, it did have a vinegar smell. It was not much and may not have been noticeable to others. It was not overwhelming by any means. Usually I get nauseous when my hubby cleans the coffee machine with vinegar. I did not get that at all with the dishes - just a faint trace when I opened it up. Next time I will not open it up so soon.

before - spaghetti on corelle
after - nice

before - mucky
after - sparkly

after - the handle is stained cause its old!

before - cheesy soup on plastic

after - those are water drops

 Ta Da!

After - yes, that IS a chicken water fountain in there
 Note - I used to wash my fountain by hand. It gets that yellow orange mildew in there and even though adding apple cider vinegar to their water has helped tremendously, I still couldn't get it out of the spout. I took it out of the dishwasher and spout is like new! No mildew!
 Note - vinegar also helps with disinfecting.
Now all I have to do is find a cheaper citric acid.
By the way... my mix has not clumped at all in over 48 hours. I guess the rock (silicon dioxide) in the Ball brand really helps!

UPDATE: March 16, 2012

Here we are about  a month later.
Still have not run out of detergent (from original mix).

It DID harden up around the end of week 2. I am not sure if it is from the mixture or the container as it is not airtight.

I use the mix in the pre-wash and the regular cycle.
I think it works almost as good as the quantum Finish.

Some drawbacks I have is that:
~ does not seem to work as well on fatty deposits as the Quantum Finish.
~ MUST use vinegar rinse EVERY Time to get dishes sparkly. Means you have to wait for the rinse cycle to put it in. No more starting and leaving the house. And, I can still smell faint traces of vinegar over-time. Not my favorite smell.

I read on other blogs about using a product called  Lemishine. I picked some up at the Walmart and did a clean cycle. Boy did my machine need it! To be truly honest... I think it needs more of a cleaning than just a Lemishine cycle! The Lemishine DID make a huge difference in the looks of the interior of my machine! And, I have noticed my dishes came out cleaner after the cleaning.
Side note... I also used it as a scrub on my metal sink and WOW! Shiny. Next I will try it on my Tub - ewe. I might blog that if it works well.
When I run out of my mix I will try a new recipe with the Lemishine instead of the citric acid. - I will Update about that one when the time comes.

For the hard mix... I just took a strong butter knife and stabbed it like a crazed killer and use the chunks.

UPDATE: April 11. 2012

Still have detergent! It got SO HARD I could not break it up with a knife! - Remedy - added water to soften it up and it has stayed soft for about 3 weeks so-far.

Lemishine - worked OK on the shower - still had to use more "elbow grease" than I like.

FINAL UPDATE: April 30, 2012

Finally ran out the other day. Now I can try a new formula! Thanks to all the comments below! I didn't expect to have so many views on this all at once - thanks folks!
Currently, I am using Method brand  (It was on super clearance at my store for 2 bucks a package! Had to try it especially since my home-made was running low). Used it for 4 loads and works better than my formula here but not quite as well as my Finish Quantum standby. Downside- to get Method regularly would be less frugal although (hopefully) better for the environment than the Finish. I use Method by popping it in the washer tub before starting (not in the main compartment).

Note: my washer instructions advise against using vinegar regularly as it will break down some of the components. Which is ok because I would forget to add it most of the time. ;-P
Anyway... I will have to try a new formula and write a 2.0 post about it when I am done experimenting.

BTW: the formula you use matters on the kind of water you have. Mine is from a well and super mineral heavy especially IRON!


  1. I have heard that some people use packets of lemon Kool-Aid for the citric acid. When I can, I dissolve vitamin C tablets, which are ascorbic acid, to keep the color in my food. I wonder if it would work in the dishwasher?

    1. I have also heard of that (sugar free).
      Some place it in the main compartment and just the detergent in the pre-wash bucket.

  2. I use a similar recipe, but instead of citric acid, I use unsweetened packets of LEMONADE kool-aid. It's cheap, easy to find, and has a nice lemony smell. I also use the white vinegar, but I put it straight into the rinse agent compartment. I've used it for a couple loads now and everything comes out clean and sparkly. Very happy with it.

    1. I tried vinegar in the rinse aid compartment and had no luck. Water is probably too hard :-( Or maybe, my washer is just not the best.

  3. I purchase citric acid at a bulk food store ($3.29/# compared to $3.20-3.99 for 5-7.5 oz.) I keep mine in a recycled plastic mayo jar, it does get hard but I just shake it really good once a day and it hasn't hardened up again. I also find the shaking is a good way to get out some stress.

    1. My sister and I found that using a plastic container seemed to leach stuff into the detergent and made it hard and weird. Using a glass jar to put it in kept it better, it didn't harden up. Just a thought.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I removed this because it had your email on it and I felt uncomfortable about posting it without your permission.

      Nancy had a comment about using lemon oil in the recipe.

  5. A tip for ya- instead of buying citric acid, use those little lemonade packs (like kool-aid). store brand is like 12 cents per pack. I would put 5 or 6 packs in the whole container, but play with it till you like it. Hope this helps! :)

  6. If you have a bulk foods store near by try giving them a call and ask if they have plain citric acid. I have found it in stores like that for use making home made mozzarella, and also purchased it from cheesemaking supply websites.

    It sounds like the secret to making the home made washer detergent work is adding the vinegar. I've had horrible results with the recipes I tried in the past but I may try this one and work on my timing with getting the vinegar in there.

  7. I use YELLOW store brand kook-aid--3 packets--instead of citric acid (it has citric acid in it--but is cheaper and easier to get), but with this recipe being double size, I'd put in 6. I use a glass jar with the locking clip on top to keep it from hardening, but still shake it up before each use to keep it mixed well.

    I also make the washing soda from baking soda.

    Love the pix! And you brought up a good point--a clean dishwasher probably cleans dishes better. I am going to clean mine. Awesome post!

    1. Yes, a clean dishwasher helps. It doesn't hurt to run a cleansing cycle every few months or more if you don't pre-wash by hand first. Also to run a pipe cleaner in the spray-arms and to clean the drain and drain hoses would probably be a great idea.

      Several mentioned the shaking daily - got to try it on version 2.o.

  8. What a great tutorial! I have been looking for a way to make homemade dishwasher detergent. I am going to have try this. Thanks for posting it!

    Also, I hope you don't mind, but I just had to share this great post with my readers on Facebook! Thanks, again!

    1. Thanks! Glad it could help. That's why I post. You may have to tweak the recipe a bit. I suggest doing half recipe to see if it works for you. Mine lasted way too long and I do a load a day. I will post a version 2.o when I am done experimenting with a new recipe.

  9. I was told you can use lemonaid koolaid for your citric acid
    Haven't tryed it yet but it makes sense. What do you think?

    1. many folks have been suggesting the same thing (I have also read on other blogs as well). Citric acid is citric acid. As long as it is sugar-free it could work. I just would like to do the math for cost. Also, extra ingredients and packaging... I try to be cost-effective and minimize carbon footprints and be as simplistic as possible. I am surely considering it in version 2.o.

  10. So instead of the citric acid and lemonade packets..why not use a tablespoon(or a small amount) of lemon juice?? Just wondering...

    1. I also am wondering. Great suggestion. The amount of acid in the juice may not be a strong enough concentration.

  11. Yes, our mixture gets very hard too, but I hack it with a knife like you do. The reason we switched wasn't so much as the cost, but to avoid chemicals on our dishes. Dishwashing detergent is very toxic.

    I buy my citric acid from new england cheesemaking company.
    Thanks for the info!

  12. My comment is that citric acid is used in home brewing so try your local home brewing shop for a bulk bucket!

  13. Most home brew supply stores carry citric acid. Its the only place I have been able to find it locally. It's just plain old food grade citric acid. Nothing added.

  14. I am a little late to the party, but wanted to tell you that I have read in several places that you can substitute unsweetened Lemonade drink mix for citric acid. I am not sure how the cost would compare, but you can often find the envelopes of drink mix on sale for 10/$1, maybe cheaper for the non-brand name ones!


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