By September 20, 2012 Read More →

Homemade Dishwasher Soap – Save Money Right Now

homemade dishwasher soap

All photos by Stephanie Dayle © 2014

By Stephanie Dayle. Most of the time I hand wash all of my dishes mostly to conserve water and power, but sometimes I am just too busy taking care of the garden, farmstead and working.  Lots of people involved in emergency preparedness and homesteading, get real busy in the summer with food preservation, their garden, and camping – there is no shame in leaning on the dishwasher when time gets tight.  Plus that ‘sanitize’ cycle sure comes in handy when you are washing up box after box used canning jars you just bought at that yard sale up the road.  Here is a recipe for homemade dishwasher soap that will save you some money and you can bank on the fact that its better for you and the environment than the store-bought stuff. Use the extra money on your emergency preparedness items!

Again, there are different versions of this recipe all over the internet.  If you don’t like mine, just search for “homemade dishwasher soap” and you will see many others.  I have tinkered with this one a lot, and finally have the way I like it.  It works really well, and I will never go back to store-bought detergent.

Homemade dishwasher detergent is going to depend a lot on your water.  Is it hard water or do you have a softener?  Is there a lot of iron in it?  (If so, increase the amount of vinegar you use.)  This is because  getting your dishes clean is a snap, getting them shiny and residue free is kind of tricky, as most of that has to do with the type of water you have.  This is what works the best for me.

To maximize your savings, try to get all these ingredients as cheaply as possible.   Price shop, and keep a note who carries them at the lowest prices.  Personally, I stock up on these ingredients while taking advantage of sales.  However I do not to prep them specially for dishwasher soap as almost any long-term emergency will include a power outage and this recipe is specific to dishwashers.  The last time I calculated the cost per load for this it came in at 5 cents a load – and again it’s all going to depend on how cheap you can get all the ingredients for.

 Homemade Dishwasher Soap Recipe

 DIY Dishwasher Detergent

  • 1.5 cup Washing Soda:  Washing soda is a natural water softener, abrasive, and is pure cleaning power – baking soda will only act as an abrasive and is not nearly as effective as washing soda, so I just leave soda out. The main ingredient to many commercial dishwasher detergents is washing soda – Sodium carbonate. 
  • 1/2 cup Borax:  Borax – again, an abrasive not super effective, but I have found it helps with glass, which seems to need a finer abrasive.


    Picture of SUN dishwasher detergent.
    (c) Picture by Stephanie Dayle 2014

  • 1/4 cup Citric Acid: Citric acid, which is also used in canning, will counter your washing soda, so you have to be very conservative with it.  But it can be the only way to deal with some hard water marks and residue. If you don’t have hard water you can reduce this amount.
  • OPTIONAL 3 TBS OxiClean (or generic equivalent): One of the active ingredients in OxiClean is sodium percarbonate (Na2CO3•H2O2), an adduct of sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Dissolved in water, it yields a mixture of hydrogen peroxide (which eventually decomposes to water and oxygen) and sodium carbonate (“soda ash”) both ingredients are commonly used in eco-friendly household cleaning because of their gentle and non-toxic nature.
  • OPTIONAL: 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of Dawn:  This just adds more cleaning power – be VERY careful with it though, just a small amount or you’ll end up with an overflow of suds all over your kitchen floor.
  • Some people add salt:  I don’t bother with salt – it is used as an abrasive and as a softener, and since washing soda AND borax already soften the water, I didn’t find that it added anything to the existing recipe.

Double or triple the recipe as needed.  Combine ingredients, mix with a fork and shake it up real well.  2-3 TBS  in your “Wash” compartment should be all you need for a whole load of dishes, some folks use less!  If using a long cycle, go ahead and sprinkle some in your “Pre-Wash” compartment as well.

I have had great luck using vinegar in the “Rinse Aid” compartment to help get my dishes shiny and residue free. Be careful using too much vinegar though because it is so acidic, and the recipe already contains citric acid, it can be very hard on the gaskets and other plumbing parts of your dishwasher causing problems down the road.

Be proud of your efforts!  Don’t hide them – post a picture of your finished product on Facebook, and see who messages you for the recipe!

All photos by Stephanie Dayle © 2014

Can I add a little fragrance to it?
If you put a little Dawn in your soap mix, it will have a fragrance.  But it you absolutely need more fragrance, you can add 5 drops of lemon essential oil to this mix.  Keep in mind that by the time your dishes are washed, if your recipe has done its job, your dishes will not smell anyways – therefore you are basically just making the soap smell.  Sometimes our obsession with fragrances baffles me, I think its nice when things just smell clean.  Walking down the cleaning section at the grocery store gives me a headache sends me into a sneezing fit.

You can add this recipe to a half gallon jar, and keep it under your sink.  Since you are adding a little liquid to dry ingredients expect some clumping.  The next day, get it out and break up the clumps with a fork, and mix it up again real well.  If you want to avoid future clumps you can add a large marshmallow to it – just like you do for brown sugar!

Also click here to check out my recipe for Homemade Laundry Detergent!  It is more compact than many of the recipes on the web, and it has a little more cleaning power as well.  It will also save you money and uses many of the same ingredients as I listed here! I like keeping products around that have more than once use.

Frugal TIP: In my area, the best price on Mule Team Borax used to be found at Target, who used to sell it in bulk – however I have not seen it sold at bulk for two years.  Best price on Washing Soda I can find is usually at Wal-Mart, but I have seen it lower  at Bi-Mart.  The best prices I have seen on Citric Acid were at Wal-Mart, during canning season and Bi-Mart also during canning season.  If you can’t find it there, look at your local Health Food Store!  And you can’t beat Costco or Cash and Carry stores for vinegar prices!  For the price of a gallon of vinegar at the grocery store, you can buy two at Costco – but supporting your local grocers is also important.

Questions?  Have a good recipe of your own??  Share it here!  Remember to include what type of water you have at your house to help others who are maybe working on a similar problem, and stay tuned for more money-wise articles!


There are many homemade dishwashing recipes out there on the internet, any similarities are merely coincidental.

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Click here to follow me at my personal site The Home Front! 

About the Author:

Stephanie is a writer for the American Preppers Network, a small local paper and for her blog, The Home Front and was featured in Marie Claire UK in the October 2012 issue that featured women preppers. She is also the credited writer of "Emergency Bag Essentials (Swatchbook): Everything You Need to Bug Out" released in August 2014 and available on "I write articles based on my own experience with emergency preparedness, self-sufficiency, homesteading, food preservation and life around the farmstead. I grew up in a very rural area where I learned to garden, the art of canning, to hunt and fish, and to raise my own animals for food. I also spent 6 years volunteering for the local county Search and Rescue group where I learned a variety of survival skills and a little bit about law enforcement protocol. " "As a general rule of principle I do not write articles about information that I have only read - if I am writing about something it's because I have done it myself and gone to great lengths to provide you with the facts meshed with personal experience. My alter egos are as an full time mom, amateur photographer, and backpacker." Stephanie's past APN articles are featured below on several pages. To connect with her --> click on one of the many little square social media buttons below!

36 Comments on "Homemade Dishwasher Soap – Save Money Right Now"

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  1. Some of this stuff that makes its rounds on the internet surprises me, this is one such thing. I didn’t think it would work as well as it does, and I didn’t really think it would save me money. It has done both good enough that I have sworn off of store bought detergent. I can’t recommend the vinegar enough though – add that splash in at the bottom before you start your cycle, makes a big difference for me! Let me know how it works for you Samantha!

  2. I’m definately trying this

  3. Lorene Dale says:

    Do you have a recipe for soap for washing dishes by hand?

  4. Stacy says:

    Great newsletter….and thank you so much for all your hard work.  Can’t wait to try the detergent recipe, especially since the cost of things sure are getting crazy!  

  5. Lorene – I have a few different recipes. There are several approaches you can take when making your own soap to wash dishes by hand. If you truly want to make it from scratch it will required you to make your own Cold Processed Castile Soap from lye. I will feature that process in a future article.

    If you want to make some homemade soap for dishing washing by hand in a pinch in an emergency here are a few different recipes, but they basically all require you to go out and buy soap – which isn’t real frugal but it is handy to know that you can do it.

    Here is one (I have had this recipe for so long I don’t remember where it came from) please keep in mind this recipe does not create bubbles but that does not mean that it’s not working:
    -1 ½ cup of hot water
    -½ cup liquid castile soap (unscented, can be found at health food or holistic health stores, I think Whole Foods has several different variates)
    -1 tablespoon Super Washing Soda (used to thicken the soap)
    -1 TSP of shredded soap (Ivory, soap flakes, or shredded homemade soap for thickening) optional
    -1 tablespoon of white vinegar (optional)

    Combine all ingredients into a large pot on your stove on “med-low” and then pour in 1 1/2 cup of hot water. Be sure to stir this mixture until all ingredients are thoroughly blended (and the bar soap is melted) but DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat, allow mixture to cool completely on the counter. Stirring occasionally. Store in any dish soap dispensing bottle and use as you would the commercial brands.

    Here is another recipe I found on a box of soap flakes along time ago, I have made it in a pinch rather than running to town for soap. Again this recipe does not make a bunch of soap bubbles but that does not mean that it isn’t working.
    -2 cups Soap Flakes
    -1 gallon of water
    -2 TBS of Borax

    Put Soap Flakes and Borax into a large pot, add water and stir. Heat over medium heat stirring occasionally until soap is dissolved. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool. Store in tightly covered container. Add a little white vinegar to your dishwater when you wash dishes to cut grease.

    Soap Flakes are very mild (often used as baby soap) and are a handy item to prep as they have many uses. They can be purchased at grocery stores or online. Many people take this recipe and substitute their own shredded soap as well.

  6. jewels says:

    How many loads do you get from your dishwasher detergent recipe? Thank you!

    • Hi Jewels, 

      I had that all figured out when I originally calculated the costs – but along with alot of other paperwork that got lost when our house suffered water damage this fall after a plumbing ‘malfunction’. Anyways I am just about ready to make another batch, so what I will do is weigh everything while I am making it and comment back here with an estimate for you.

  7. Billy Pinner says:

    This looks like a copy of the recipe at DIY Natural, is that where you got it? Anyway, the recipe works GREAT!

    • Tom Martin says:

      I just looked at both recipes, they do appear similar, but certainly not a copy. I think she did specify that there were several versions on the web but that this was one that she uses.

  8. Thanks Tom,

    And no, I absolutely did not get it from that site. I didn’t even know DIY Natural existed. This recipe is one I have modified and tinkered with for 3 years. Adding things and changing amounts as I learned about the ingredients, till it worked right with my water and washer (in fact I just changed it again this fall, adding more borax). Like I stated in the article there are literally hundreds of recipes online – mine is no doubt just like one someone else uses somewhere, AND its not guaranteed to work for everyone – it all depends on what type of water you have at your house.

  9. Nancy says:

    Salt water has disinfecting properties. Even if you saw no difference, I would guess that salt was recommended for this reason. Restaurants in Japan have long used salt water solutions as an alternative to harsh chemical disinfectants.

    • Yes salt water does have disinfecting capabilities to a certain extent. However, hot water and soap still far exceed salt water in it’s disinfecting properties. Also most modern dishwashers have a sanitize cycle which completely disinfects with hot water alone. Like I mentioned in the article if you want to use it – it won’t hurt anything, but I don’t see any benefit or need to add it to the existing recipe. 

      • Salt has wonderful antibacterial properties, which is why it’s even used as a gargle for sore throats. The salt helps to kill the bacteria causing the sore throat, and it helps to remove the film of mucus from the throat. The film of mucus contributes to the pain when one has a sore throat, so gargling with a warm salt water gargle has a double benefit.

        To use, simply mix 1/2 teaspoon table salt with 1/2 glass warm water and gargle for about 15 seconds. You can also use this as a mouthwash since it will help destroy germs in your mouth which can cause bad breath.

    • The reason for using Kosher Salt (or you can even use Epsom Salt) is because many homes have some issues with hard water. If you have soft water, then you can leave out the salt. Otherwise, the salt will soften the water inside the dishwasher, making the dishwasher detergent work more effectively. As for Citric Acid, Wal-Mart sells a product called Lemi Shine. It is a citric acid formula which can be used for dishwashers. Use a cup of Lemi Shine when you mix the ingredients. I’ve also heard about using Lemonade flavored Kool Aid in the packets. The lemonade has citric acid. Make sure you get the unsweetened packets.

  10. Paul Wilson says:

    How much did your citric acid cost? I found a 5 lb tub on Amazon for $29 shipped. I did some basic calculations using your volume measurments and chemcial densities for each of the 3 products and I am calculating that the recipe costs $3+ and that each treatment of 0.25 cups (I am assuming that this is just 0.25 cups of the dry ingredients mixed together) costs about $0.34 per load.

    • Hi Paul,

      Getting all your ingredients super cheap is key to keeping your costs down. I get my Citric Acid in two spots. From either Bi-Mart during canning season or from Walmart – at both places I find in the canning/food preservation section. I only buy when its on sale or when they are on clearance at the end of canning season and I don’t care which brand I buy as long as its cheap.  I usually pay .89 but never higher than .99 cents for a 5oz bottle, once time I  got it as cheap as .69 cents per bottle and bought everything they had at the store at that time. Now if you work that up – that means if I were to buy 5 lbs of citric acid I would be paying just over $14.

  11. Tam Brizzle says:

    I love Bi-Mart lol

  12. I just got a dishwasher for the first time in my life. There is so much work that goes into homesteading that I felt this would take away one of my most undesirable tasks of each day. I make all of my own housecleaning products so of course I want to do the same for my new gadget. The only thing is that I got my unit from the restore and have no clue what compartment is meant for what since there was no manual. I have a door with two separate compartments under it and a screw off lid on another compartment. What should go where? Also can a little Castile soap be substituted for the dawn if I feel it is needed? Thank you for all of the helpful tips. If it weren’t for the internet I don’t how I would figure all of this stuff that no seems to teach or pass on anymore.

    • Hi Molly  – lol, no worries…

      The door with the two little compartments: when the door is open and you are looking down at it – the top one is usually your wash compartment. That is where the soap goes. The bottom one is your “Pre-Soak” compartment. If you run your washer on a long cycle (Pots and Pans – is usually one of the longest ones) having a little bit of soap in your pre-wash compartment is handy. Otherwise I skip it. It releases a small amount of soap during the time when the dishes are getting wet (rinsed) – prior to the wash cycle.

      The screw off lid is for your rinse agent – they want you to use jet dry. I put vinegar in there.

      Be careful on the amount of vinegar you add to your wash cycle – its acidic and I have heard from several people now who have reported that it has ruined the gasket seals on their dishwashers. Vinegar is usually used to help remove hard water stains – if you have soft water you may not need to add any additional vinegar, like I do prior to the wash cycle. Or you may be able to eliminate the citric acid and just use the vinegar in the rinse compartment. From what I am reading it is beneficial to the plastic and rubber parts on the dishwasher to only use as much acid as you absolutely need to. 

      Yes you can sub in some castile soap I have heard from many people who do that – start small and increase the amount till you reach the desired effects in your recipe. Once you nail it – post it back here for everyone else to learn from.

      So much of dishwasher soap depends on the type of water you have – everyone’s recipe is a little bit different because of this.   

  13. I tried this some time ago and did not work well. Didn’t clean well and left a white film on everything and the dishwasher. I had the citric acid and the vinegar. Has this worked for any of you??

  14. It’s really too bad the comments are down – there was some good trouble shooting information on there. White film after just a couple washes means (usually) you are using too much of the mix and/or you may need some vinegar in your rinse aid compartment, this will help them rinse clean. I add an extra splash in the bottom of my washer before I start it, because I have such hard water but if you only used it a couple times it may not be hard water – it may be detergent residue.

  15. I use my laundry soap recipe with added citric acid and only use a scant table spoon per load and haven’t had any problems with withe film. The recipe is 2 C grated soap, 1C washing soda, 1C borax, 1C baking soda and when I put it in the container for the DW I add 1T citric acid per cup of laundry detergent.

  16. I have purchased enough Borax & Washing soda to make 3 years worth of laundry detergent. I use ivory soap enstead of felz-naptha.

  17. Hey the comments are back – just letting you all know if anyone wants to go check them out.

  18. No disrespect and not related except as a homemade product but I use the DIY sites recipe and it works well for us but I do have to be careful about the clumping. I was using a few tablespoons of rice in a nylon knee high that I knot and cut but I’ve started saving all the little moisture remover packets that come in various products that I buy (especially vitamins) and they work well too. 

    For laundry detergent I use the Duggar’s recipe and since you get 10 gallons out of it and it works for me and my HE machine I’m sold. I made my first bucket of it 14 months ago and still enough to get me through the rest of the month. I have six kids and we do a lot of laundry so I would imagine a smaller family could stretch it out for several more months than me. 

    I love your articles. Just wanted to pass on what we do. 

  19. Rachel says:

    FYI, you can probably get the washing soda MUCH cheaper in the pool care isle or a pool care center. They sell big buckets of it under the name, Soda Ash. It’s the same chemical though.

  20. Laura says:

    Try pressing this into ice cube molds so you just have to throw one in the dispenser and you don’t have to worry about clumping.