Dishwasher detergent FAQs
Our recipe for automatic dishwasher detergent has become a favorite of readers from all over the globe.
To help those just getting started, we’re publishing this FAQ page. It answers all of the common questions encountered by readers trying to perfect the solution in their homes.
Thanks to all our dedicated readers for their feedback, which has helped us arrive at these solutions. Many of the helpful hints come directly from the community, so don’t stop sharing your experience!
Use these FAQs if you’re having challenges.
Q: Will this homemade detergent work in my dishwasher?
A: This recipe is safe for any type of automatic dishwasher. Stainless steel interior, new, old, or any other kind.
Q: Where can I get ingredients for making my own dishwasher (soap) detergent?
A: Our recipe may call for ingredients you can not find easily at your local grocer. If you cannot find them locally, buy them online:
- Arm & Hammer® Super Washing Soda: check the laundry aisle of your local grocery store, Amazon, or Soaps Gone Buy
- 20 Mule Team® Borax: check the laundry aisle of your local grocery stores, Amazon, or Soaps Gone Buy
- Citric Acid: purchase online, at your local health food store, check in the canning aisle at your local grocer, or at home brew supply stores
- Kosher Salt: found at your local grocer in the baking aisle or online
- Vinegar (rinse agent): check the salad dressing/vinegar aisle at your grocery store
Most grocery stores can order things you request. Put in a request (and have your friends do the same) to see if they will begin stocking these ingredients in the future.
Q: What if I still can’t get these ingredients? Are there substitutions that can be used?
A: Unfortunately, the borax and washing soda are staples in the recipe that should always remain the same. However, the following substitutions can be made if needed:
- kosher salt – substitute Epsom salts or any coarsely-grained pure salt
- citric acid – substitute Lemi Shine Super Concentrated Dishwasher Detergent Additive (use as directed), lemonade Kool-Aid (2 packets), or unsweetened lemonade drink mix (about 3 teaspoons)
- vinegar (as a rinse agent) – substitute a cup of brewed green tea, lemon juice, or Lemi Shine Rinse
Q: How can I keep my detergent from turning into a solid rock after mixing?
A: The citric acid in the recipe promotes clumping of ingredients. A great way to avoid having a rock-hard clump of detergent is to leave the mixture out on the counter for 1-2 days (out of reach for kids and pets). Stir the mixture several times each day before storing with a tight-fitting lid.
Adding a teaspoon of rice to the recipe should also help eliminate some (not all) of the clumping by absorbing moisture. One reader suggested putting rice in the toe of an old pair of panty hose and tying off the end. Your rice sachet can be re-used for future batches.
If you diligently stirred the mixture and you still have clumping problems, dump the entire hard mess into a food processor and pulse until it resembles powder again. (You don’t need to have a dedicated food processor for this because it’s the same powder you’ll use to wash dishes anyway.)
Some readers have commented that storing their homemade detergent in the refrigerator keeps the detergent from clumping and makes it more soluble when adding to the dishwasher.
Try adding a silica packet (do not open or eat!), the little bead-filled packets from a vitamin bottle, a new purse, or new shoes. It should absorb moisture and prevent clumping.
Still having problems? Leave the citric acid out of the original recipe, and instead add ½ teaspoon citric acid along with detergent each time you run the dishwasher.
Q: Why are my dishes turning out cloudy?
A: With homemade dishwasher detergent, the success of your formula depends heavily on your water quality. Each city (or well) has water that will react differently to this powdered formula. Most people have hard water (even with city water or water softeners), which can be problematic for this recipe. Hard water will cause cloudiness or a powdery residue to remain on clean dishes. Call your city and inquire about the hardness of your water if you’re not sure. Don’t give up yet… sparkling dishes can still be achieved.
Q: What can I do if the detergent is leaving a residue on dishes?
A: Your powdered dishwasher detergent requires some kind of acidic ingredient to eliminate hard water spots and remove film on dishes. We prefer citric acid, but Lemi Shine or lemonade Kool-Aid packets can also be used. If your dishes are hopelessly cloudy, experiment with each acidic ingredient to find the right one for you. Note: Citric acid can be purchased online, at health food stores, or home brewing supply stores. Lemi Shine can be found in the detergent aisle of the grocery store or purchased online. Use Lemishine as recommended on the packaging.
If you have hard water, you can double the amount of citric acid recommended in our original recipe to help combat some of the cloudiness.
Another good way to increase sparkle and eliminate cloudiness is to add vinegar to the rinse aid compartment of your dishwasher. Lemon juice can also be used, or even brewed green tea (containing tannins). Also, pour about ½ cup white vinegar into an upright wide-mouth glass on the top rack of your dishwasher (or just splash it into the bottom) before starting the load.
Some of the issue might even be corrected by increasing or decreasing the amount of detergent used. If one tablespoon is not working, try one heaping tablespoon dived between the prewash and regular wash compartment. Or try decreasing to about ¾ tablespoon. Every dishwasher is different and will require different amounts.
Experiment with hot water settings if your dishwasher model has this option. A high heat setting tends to work better with this homemade soap.
Q: Is the kosher salt absolutely necessary in the recipe, and what purpose does it serve?
A: The salt is not absolutely necessary, but helps in softening hard water, helping prevent hard water spots on dishes, and also acts as a scouring agent for dirty dishes.
Q: What if the detergent clumps in the detergent dispenser and won’t come out?
A: Try pouring your measured detergent right onto the dishwasher door (instead of inside the compartment) before running a load through.
Q: How can we reduce or eliminate etching of glasses?
A: DIY Natural community member Joyce had this to say: “I deal in a lot of glassware new and antique and I have found you never dry your glassware in the dishwasher because it causes small etching. This can be caused by minerals in the water or things in your detergent. You may not notice this at first but continued drying can cause the cloudy look which could be etching. Once it is etched it is over as far as beauty is concerned.”
In hopes of clean dishes…
We hope our recipe and this FAQ page help you in your journey to saving money, building more sustainable habits, and protecting your family from harsh chemicals found in commercial detergents!
If this recipe isn’t working for you, we encourage you to try all the suggestions listed above. If we missed anything, let us know and we’ll update the page to include more information.
Happy DIY cleaning!