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.

Dishwasher detergent

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:

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:

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!


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DISCLAIMER: Information on DIY Natural™ is not reviewed or endorsed by the FDA and is NOT intended to be substituted for the advice of your health care professional. If you rely solely upon this advice you do so at your own risk. Read full Disclaimer & Disclosure statements here.

Comments

  1. Tara says

    Thanks for posting this. I love using cleaning products without the chemicals. Do you have any suggestions for dish washing soap when doing dishes the old fashioned way by hand?

  2. Camie says

    The suggestion for preventing clumps by leaving on the counter for a couple of days really works. I have made several batches of this recipe that I store in a giant glass pickle jar. I make enough that it fills it right to the top. My previous batch I tried the suggestion of adding the Lemi Shine (which I will not do again). I made it, and put it in my jar, screwed the top on, and set it in the cupboard — huge mistake. Within a day it was a solid brick, IN A JAR!!! I was not defeated, I just added water to it and made a slurry in the jar and used it that way. This was not my favorite batch. So, the next batch I took the advice to put it in a tub and leave it on the counter for a few days and that worked like a charm. For the citric acid I have always used unsweetened Kool-aide and I will stick with that; it seems to work great!!!

  3. Mimi Richard says

    I took the suggestion of placing the detergent in the freezer and it works!! Haven’t had a problem with clumping since.

  4. Josh says

    I remember the citric acid in the first recipe being outrageously expensive for the amount, and it’s good that alternatives have been proposed. I just want to add that if you have Indian or Pakistani grocery stores in your area, they usually carry citric acid for much cheaper. In my area, I’ve found a 5oz bag for about $3.

  5. Tracie says

    I made this with the Lemi Shine. The recipe I used did not mention that it would become hard as a brick. I was breaking it into little pieces (similar to breaking a block of ice with a pick)and using it and it dissolved and worked fine for a few washes. Then today I found a suggestion to add water. I added the water and slaved away trying to get a liquidy product and it kind of broke down. Then I came back a couple of hours later. After all the mixing and chunking it up, (not easy) and then leaving it, I found it separated back into a brick with water on top. Now I don’t think I can use it at all. I am going to let it sit a day or so more and see what happens.

  6. Bethany says

    I just made this last night and used it! Yay! I couldn’t be happier with the results, thank you so much! Oh, and my dishwasher still has some rinse agent in it, so I omitted the citric acid and it turned out fine :)

  7. Angie says

    One thing that seems to be missing from these homemade recipes is a bleaching agent. My dishes are clean and I use vinegar to help with cloudiness, but some of my plastic wares are retaining stains from tea or coffee that don’t seem to come out with the homemade detergents. Is there some bleaching agent I can add to help with this?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Hmmm… we haven’t had a problem with staining on our dishes, but I suppose you could try adding baking soda (a natural whitener) to the mixture to see if it helps. Be sure to write back if you try it and let us know how it goes! :)

    • SG says

      Try soaking the stains with an oxygen bleach solution, or even add the oxygen bleach to your load of stained plastics? The washung soda is also whitening, so you could try soaking wih it. Just wear gloves to rinse off washing soda, as it really strips oils.

  8. says

    Since I’m allergic to corn, citric acid, lemishine, and koolaid are not an option for me. White vinegar is also not an option. I do have safe corn-free coconut vinegar that I use for a rinsing agent and I have safe lemon juice. If I want to use lemon juice or coconut vinegar for the acidity, how do you suggest that I go about it? Should I just mix all the dry ingredients (sans citric acid) together and then just measure out some lemon juice separate for each load? If so, how much juice (or vinegar) should I use for each tablespoon of homemade dishwasher detergent?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Yes, mix your dry ingredients together, and add your liquid ingredients separately for each load. Use about 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice per load, and fill your rinse compartment on your washer with the vinegar. (That way you won’t have to measure out vinegar each time you do a load.)

  9. sunny says

    so … I mixed the recipe(used lemi-shine but that was the only variation), stored it in a mason jar with a tight lid, requisite gingham ribbon and dedicated scooper tied to the neck, and when I unscrewed it the next day the lid flew off and the powder hissed at me. I have never had a household cleaner so angry about being put to work – usually it’s me grumbling. has anyone else had this happen? maybe it was the gingham?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      LOL! Yikes! We’ve never had this happen, but I’d be interested to hear what other people say. Hopefully nobody got hurt! :)

    • says

      How had your mason jar previously been cleaned, or did it have other contents (possible residue) before the soap? Possibly a chemical reaction to something remaining from earlier?

  10. Kathryn Green says

    I would love to try making your dishwasher detergent, but a friend just warned me about a homemade detergent that wrecked her dishwasher by “gunking up the dispenser” (to use her technical terminology ;->). It seems like you and others have been using this recipe for a while and presumably haven’t destroyed your dishwashers in the process. Just wanted to check before I start sharing this recipe with others . . .

    • Tabatha says

      I had a problem with my whole dishwasher being “gunked up” from my normal store bought detergent. I found a home remedy to clean out your dishwasher. Pour 1 quart of distilled white vinegar in the bottom of your dishwasher and wash normally without dishes. Your dishwasher will be shiny clean! Use vinegar as a rinse agent in the future to prevent build-up. And that’s how my dishwasher is never gunked up anymore :)

  11. Blake says

    Hi. I bought your book a little while back and love it! We use these cleaners almost exclusively. The essential oils are also great. I am having trouble with this recipe though. My dishes just aren’t getting clean. I’ve even disassembled most of my dishwasher and done a thorough cleaning of it thinking it may have been the problem. Still no change. I don’t just mean that the dishes are cloudy. They are actually still dirty. We prewash the dishes that have things caked on so those aren’t usually the problem. As an example, I sliced an apple with a knife and then washed it. It still had the apple residue on it. It’s also not a problem with the dishwasher since it will get clean with store-bought detergent (though they are still cloudy). Any ideas? I really don’t want to give up on this as I love the idea of cleaning with homemade materials. Thanks.

    Blake

    • Betsy Jabs says

      A few questions come to mind:
      1) Are you using the kosher salt (for extra “scrubbing action”) in your recipe?
      2) Does your dishwasher have a “high heat” option you can use?
      3) Is your dishwasher really crammed before running a load, making it difficult for everything to get thoroughly cleaned?

      It’s definitely not a perfect recipe, and it won’t work exactly like commercial dishwasher detergents. Kudos to you for troubleshooting and not giving up!!! I really hope one (or a combination) of these things helps you get closer to clean dishes!

      • Blake says

        Hi Betsy. Thanks for responding. Yes. I am following the recipe exactly. I don’t have a high heat option unless that is “sanitize” but it seems to get really hot in there. The dishes are too hot to touch right after a load. We are having the issue regardless of how loaded the dishwasher is so I don’t think that’s it. Oh well. We are going to try the lemi-shine and see if that makes a difference. Thanks.

        Blake

          • Rebekah says

            I am having this same problem. I’ve tried this recipe, as well as a recipe using Lemi shine. My dishes are coming out dirty. I’m assuming that my hard water is the culprit. I am going to try to add more citric acid, but at this point, I’m nearly ready to give up on natural dishwasher soap. :(

  12. Jordan says

    Whatever you do, don’t use your food processor! I just tried that, and while it did break down the clumping, it also broke off one of my blades and shot it through the side of the bowl, leaving a huge hole in the side of my food processor.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Sorry it was such a disaster for you Jordan! :( We got this tip from several readers who have successfully used their food processors to break up the clumping.

  13. Jkc4863 says

    I saw this same recipe on another website with the exception that we should be placing a few drops of dawn dishwashing detergent on the door (for actual soap action) plus a cup of white vinegar to the bottom of the washer to help clean. I noticed that this did help clear up some residue that would be left behind, but I’m finding that the some dishes aren’t coming clean. Does this mean that maybe I’m overloading the dishwasher? How much prepping of the dishes do you do before placing them in the dishwasher? Just scrape? Quick rinse? Wipe with scrubber? What I’m finding is that my caserole dishes just don’t come clean unless I completely wash them before putting in dishwasher (and what’s the sense in that!) Please advise.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Every dishwasher is different, and your specific water (hard or soft) also affects the outcome of this recipe. We rinse dishes before loading, and make sure there’s no big food chunks left on dishes. You may need to do more than that based on your water and dishwasher model.

  14. Janis says

    I have the same problem dishes don’t come out clean. You would’t be using a Bosch would you? I keep thinking that could be my problem, I did a diaganostic check but it came back fine, not sure what to do from here but really don’t want to go back to chemicals.

  15. says

    I am at my wit’s end. My new Sears washer is the top of the line and is giving me problems with ‘too much suds’ stopping the cycle. I have used a cleaning agent as well as white vinegar which is actually running now. I also don’t fill the detergent compartment to the fill line. I want to try this detergent but want to know, will this give me the same issues? This HE dish washer really does a great job cleaning, but having to bucket out standing water is a pain.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Ugh! That sounds horrible Marla. This homemade dishwasher detergent creates virtually no suds, but still gets our dishes clean. You shouldn’t have the same problems with this recipe. I hope you’ll give it a shot!

  16. Jaime Warren says

    While I know we are trying to get away from most chemicals by making our own dishwashing detergent, I finally found a solution for the hard water issue in my area (Shepherdsville, KY)! 1-3 drops of Dawn soap. I like Dawn personally (it’s safe to use on animals!). I am still using a 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid on the door, and 1/4 in the detergent dispenser with Dawn, and the rest of the ingredients, but I don’t have to use the extra vinegar in a glass. So far so good!

    • Sheri says

      Thanks Jaime, I’m not far from Shepherdsville and have experienced the cloudy film my the dishes. I will try the dawn soap which I already use for cleaning granite. I spent too much on the citric acid to stop now.

  17. Kate says

    I have had no problems using this in my own dishwasher, but I gave some to my uncle to use and in the week he used it the paint on the inside of his dishwasher started to chip… He said the only thing he changed was the detergent and rinse agent.
    Is this related? How do I prevent this from happening?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      This sounds very odd. (I have never heard of a painted interior in a dishwasher.) Most dishwasher interiors are made of either plastic or stainless steel. We have never heard of this happening from using this homemade detergent. We’ve found it to be very gentle on our dishes and our washer.

  18. Carrie says

    For those without a high-heat option on their dishwashers, I always turn the tap on until it gets hot to drain out the cold water. That way when the dishwasher starts, it starts out hot already.

  19. Chrissy says

    I’ve been using this homemade recipe as well as vinegar in the rinse aid compartment for over a month and it has worked great. Suddenly, yesterday, the glasses did not get completely clean. The wine glasses on the top rack, which have been coming out beautifully clean, were cloudy with a rough feeling. I ran everything that didn’t come clean through again in case it was just overloaded on the first run. They came out less cloudy, but definitely filmy. What could be going wrong? I have no intentions of going back to store bought cleaners and I need clean dishes. Help!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      It may have to do with changes in your water. Do you have a water softener, possibly running low on salt? Or city water that your city may be making changes to? You may need to use the trick mentioned in the article (1/2 cup vinegar in a wide-mouth cup on the top rack) to eliminate the cloudiness for a while.

  20. Kyra says

    Need help. Will this stuff take the finish off of my silver-plated silverware? Because I just noticed one of my spoons, where it seems to be coming off…

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I can’t be certain because we don’t put anything with silver plating in our dishwasher. You may want to err on the safe side and hand wash the silver.

  21. Christine says

    I need clarification on the KoolAid – Citric Acid conversion. Recipes call for a whole box of the Borax and Super Washing Soda 3 cups of epsom Salt and 24 pkgs of KoolAid (used for the citric acid). 24 pkgs of KoolAid amount to 4.8 oz total. Why is the conversion to straight Citric Acid come out to so much more?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      That’s a good question Christine. We don’t personally use KoolAid, but many readers have told us the amount that works for them…and those are the amounts we reported in this article. We based our original recipe on the type of water we had at the time of writing…we needed more citric acid to make it work. However, everyone’s water is different and will react differently to the dishwashing formula. You can try using a lesser amount of citric acid (equal to the KoolAid amounts), and it might work fine for your washer. I hope I’m making sense here. :)

  22. Mary says

    I had pickeling salt kosher salt is hard to find i hope it works, the pickeling salt is a very pure form a salt.

  23. Christina says

    I’m excited about trying this when I get close to running out of my store bought! However I have been using white vinegar as my rinse add for a month or two now and has been workin great. But I add it to a small plastic container on the top rack. I was told not to pour it into the rinse aid compartment because the it would eat the rubber seals eventually. Do you know if that is a ligitment concern or was that bad information I received?

  24. Susan says

    I have been using homemade dish soap for a while now. I have found that each time you use the soap, shake your container to give a good mix. Then after you close it up, store it upside down. Like you do with a paint can, it keeps the air from really getting in. Seems to be working for me.

  25. Marion says

    Hi, this is slightly off topic, however having suffered for months with this allergy I feel the need to share. I am highly allergic to isothiazolinone. It is a preservative found in the majority of cleansers, make up, natural latex, shampoo, laundry detergent . . . It is in Dawn. If you have an allergy to latex, STAY AWAY from the Dawn. I love making my own cleansers. I find that the bonus to having the clean house is the wonderful scents too.

  26. Sandra W. says

    I initially got frustrated with the clumping/hardening, so I came up with the idea (I’m sure someone already did as well) of putting the powder mixture in ice cube trays and cover to harden. After hardening I take them out and put in a container for future use. I filled them up to about 2/3 of the way and that seems to work for us. I prefer to handwash but my daughter and husband use the dishwasher. We also put vinegar in each wash and just dump it at the bottom of the machine. Works great!

  27. Lori Green says

    Cloudiness in areas where the majority of people soften their water because it is extremely hard (like here) can occur because of etching. This usually happens because too much detergent has been used in the past. I do not know of any solution to etching – does anyone out there?

  28. Summer says

    Hi – I just bought the ingredients for making the dw soap. I looked at the above advice and decided to keep my koolaid separate and just add 1/2 tsp at a time. If I WERE to mix the koolaid in with everything else, you had mentioned using two packets of koolaid per 1 c. borax/1 c. washing soda…but if there’s 32 tbsp. in that mixture, with 1 tbsp per dw load in use, isn’t it overkill to use 1/2 tsp of koolaid separately per dw load? The ratios seem to be off. If I do it that way, it doesn’t seem to save me much $ at $.20 per koolaid packet…am I doing it wrong? Thanks!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Yes Summer, the ratios are off when you begin separating the ingredients for each use. I can’t remember, but I think when we wrote this post we were just thinking 1/2 teaspoon was a tiny insignificant amount, and easy to measure out and dump in. But when you do the math, you really could use less. Try using less and see how you like the results. :)