Homemade DISHWASHER DETERGENT that works like a charm! (Non-toxic, Borax-free recipe).

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty done with pulling glasses from my dishwasher that look all cloudy and gross. When I go to the trouble to clean my dishes, I want that glass to glister like diamonds in the sun! Don't you? If cloudy glass is all I'm gonna get from store-bought electric dish soap, then forget it. That's how I came to making my own, folks. 

Then something happened while creating a homemade electric dish soap recipe: I learned a little-known secret about making a DIY recipe work. It has to do with chemistry (which I'm no wiz at, let me tell ya, but lucky for me, this is pretty basic). Now today's your lucky day, because I'm going to let you in my secret!

Watch and learn, my friend. Watch and learn.

See this glass? It just came straight from my dishwasher. Yep. Load after load, my glassware looks amazing!

How to make and use homemade electric dishwasher detergent with success...


(Makes one batch that will supply 50-60 loads, depending on how rounded your tablespoons are)

4 cups washing soda
4 cups citric acid
25-35 drops tangerine essential oil (or your choice)
Distilled white vinegar

Ingredient Chart (the what-for of each ingredient)

The beauty of this recipe is that it's all-natural and non-toxic, unlike so many commercial brands. Even many store-bought brands that claim to be environmentally friendly and green often contain harmful chemicals you'd rather not have on your dishes. And it's hard to trust the labels: Companies aren't required to tell you everything they put into their products, so you might believe it's safe when, in reality, there may be something harmful lurking inside. With homemade detergent, you know exactly what's in your dishwasher detergent. Check out what's in this recipe and why:

Washing Soda:
  • Purpose: Cleanser and water softener. Soft water helps avoid the mineral deposits that can make glass appear cloudy. Washing soda is 50% more effective than salt, baking soda, or Borax when it comes cleaning power and water softening ability (so there's really no need to add these other things).
  • What is it? Sodium carbonate is a PH regulator, as well as a food additive used as an acidity regulator, anti-caking agent, raising agent, and stabilizer.
  • Is it safe? Naturally!
OxiClean Laundry Baby Stain Soaker:
  • Purpose: Stain remover. Helps remove mineral stains and deposits, and hard water spots from glass and metal. Works to remove food stains from plastic cutting boards and other plastics.
  • What is it? Sodium carbonate peroxide and sodium carbonate (powdered hydrogen peroxide). It releases oxygen when water is added. It's made from treating baking soda with hydrogen peroxide.
  • Is it safe? Yes. This product scored an A by the EPG (Environmental Work Group). Only the Baby variety is recommended here, as it contains only two ingredients that are both eco-friendly, and no other ingredients. (Other OxiClean products may contain ingredients with higher risk factors, and are therefore not recommended).
Citric Acid:
  • Purpose: Water softener. Helps eliminate mineral deposits and hard water build-up from your dishes. An antibacterial and antiseptic. Helps remove stains, such as coffee and tea.
  • What is it? A crystalline acid present in lemons and sour fruit.
  • Is it safe? Two thumbs up!
Distilled White Vinegar:
  • Purpose: Rinse aid. Helps remove residue (that white powdery stuff) from dishes.
  • What is it? Acetic acid and water. A mild acid used for cooking, baking, medicinal, and cleaning purposes.
  • Is it safe? Positively!
Essential Oil:
  • Purpose: Natural, non-toxic fragrance.
  • What is it? All-natural, fragrant plant-based oil.
  • Is it safe? Absolutely. (Just make sure it's Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade, and you're good to go.)

See? All good stuff!

Now here's how to bring all those goodies together...

Step 1: In a large (10 to 16 cup capacity) canister, combine 4 cups washing soda and 4 cups OxiClean (baby variety). Mix well. Cap with an air-tight lid and set aside.

Combine the washing
soda and OxiClean in its
own large, air-tight

Step 2: In a separate large mixing bowl, mix the tangerine essential the citric acid with a fork until well blended. Place the scented citric acid in its own quart size mason jar or other air-tight canister. Do not mix the citric acid with the washing soda mix, as the citric acid will make the mix harden into a firm impossible-to-use lump, because it draws moisture to itself. Also, as I explain in a moment, it's important for the citric acid and washing soda to be kept separate during the cleaning cycles in your dishwasher in order to see clean dishes. 

Place the citric acid in its
own air tight container.

Step 3: Store the vinegar in it's own bottle. For convenience, keep a bottle near the other two containers dedicated for the purpose of using in your dishwasher. Do nothing to the vinegar. This recipe is so simple, you'll use it just like it is, plain. 

Do not add essential oil
to the vinegar. It should
be used plain.

Now for the method--The little known secret that makes all the difference... 

Did you know that if you mix washing soda and citric acid in water, they neutralize each other? That's because washing soda (sodium carbonate) is an alkaline base, while citric acid is acidic. You've probably seen before how baking soda and vinegar react when combined: The mix creates a fizzy, frothy explosion and when it's all over you're left with a flat neutral liquid. It's the same when citric acid and washing soda combine with water: It produces a similar kind of reaction. There's a bunch of fizzing as the two create carbon dioxide together, and when it's over, they're both neutralized. 

What does this mean for your dishes? It means that when combined in water inside your dishwasher, both the citric acid and the washing soda lose their poop and can't do they're cleaning jobs anymore. 

So here's the SECRET: You have to keep them separate. Let them do their jobs individually (Here I am thinking I'm so smart, and you probably already know this don't you)! 

Here's how to set your dishwasher up with your homemade products:

Your dishwasher should have three reservoirs: A pre-wash compartment, a larger compartment for the main wash, and a rinse-aid compartment. Fill the reservoirs as follows:
  1. Put 1 tablespoon of the washing soda / OxiClean mix in the smaller prewash reservoir. 
  2. Put 1 tablespoon citric acid in the larger main wash reservoir.
  3. Fill the rinse-aid reservoir with the vinegar. You will only need to refill this every now and then when it runs low.

That's all there is to it! Now run your dishwasher the way you normally do. This recipe and method have been working beautifully for me for some time now. And I would expect it to work for you in the same way, however, some variables, such as the hardness or softness of your water could change the outcome for you. So here's some tips...

Tips to help your dishes shine:
  1. Remove food and grease residue before loading dishes in the dishwasher. I keep a little scrubby sponge at my sink. I put a little soap on it and give each dish a quick scrub and rinse to remove dried on food or lip-stick before loading.
  2. Wash porcelain enamel by hand. This recipe could cause some porcelain enamel finishes to oxidize and lose their luster. I've had mixed results with porcelain enamel, so I wash mine by hand just to be on the safe side.
  3. Always start with spot-free, unclouded glasses and dishes. If your glasses are already cloudy with mineral deposits, or covered in residue by some other detergent, don't expect this recipe to magically fix them. You should soak them in vinegar and scrub them with a non-abrasive scrubby to remove existing build-up first. Then you can put them through your dishwasher with this recipe and they should come out in as good of shape as they went in.  
  4. Use a heated drying cycle, as this gets rid of water that could leave spots. (I like the heated dry option, but you may like how air dry works better. I've heard recommendations for both, so you'll have to decide which you prefer).

Don't you love that empowered feeling you get when you learn to make your own cleaning products that really work. It feels awesome to pull gleaming glasses from my dishwasher now, knowing they're radiant all because of my homemade product (that works better than store-bought)! You should really try it!

What're you still doing here? Go make some electric dish soap, silly!

Seriously. Go. 

Until next time...

Joy--Fearless Farm Girl,

"Farm girl: it's a verb, because it's what you do."

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  1. This is so amazing!!! I love my glasses to be brilliantly clean. Very good idea to create your own dish washer recipe and sharing it with us. Thank you

    1. Hi Pamela! Thanks for your comment. I've been using this recipe for over a year now, and I'm very happy with it still. It really works well. Enjoy!

  2. Melody,
    Thank you for this post! I have been researching DIY dishwasher detergents all afternoon and no one explained what the ingredients they called for were intended to do or to keep the citric acid separate! I read post after post with comments complaining that the detergents either turned into solid masses of powder or that the glassware was covered in film, and no one gave any scientific answers or suggested storing and dispensing the citric acid separately! I have the ingredients for your recipe in my Amazon cart (except the oxiclean since I recently ordered sodium percarbonate to make laundry detergent) and can't wait to make it!

    1. Hi Beth! I'm so glad you found this post helpful :-) I still use this detergent every day and love it! Thanks for your comment.

    2. I've been using this detergent and method for the past month and have loved it! My dishes were so clear and sparkly. However, the past week or two I've noticed the glasses are covered in very noticeable spots and a bowl or two has had caked on food inside. Any tips? I always rinse dishes before they go in and can't think of why it would've changed. Thanks!

    3. Hi Beth. I'm not sure why the performance changed. Here are my suggestions: Try giving your dishes a good pre-wash with a soapy sponge and rinse before loading them. Also, do you use the vinegar in the rinse compartment? If not, this may help. What I know about DIY dishwasher detergents, is that things can vary depending on the hardness or softness of your water. Sometimes your water can leave mineral deposits on your dishes that leave spots. The vinegar rinse may help remove residue and mineral spots. Hope this helps.

  3. My dishwasher only has one compartment plus the rinse aid. How do you suggest I use this detergent?

    1. Hi Danielle. The best I can suggest in your case is to use only the washing soda and hydrogen peroxide powder in the one compartment. Don't use citric acid with it because, if not kept separate, it will cancel the cleaning power of the washing soda. Be sure to use vinegar in the rinse compartment, though. It will help achieve what the citric acid does: remove residue and mineral build up.

    2. My dishwasher is the same. The "prewash" compartment is called "the bottom of the dishwasher". However, try it without the citric acid first. I don't know why you'd need two acids to neutralize the soda anyway.

    3. Hi there. You don't need two acids to neutralize the soda. Neutralizing the soda is not the aim of the citric acid. The citric acid washes after the soda and helps remove residue left behind by the washing soda, as well as mineral build-up and hard water stains. Then, by the time the vinegar is on the scene, the soda and citric acid are gone. The vinegar acts as a final rinse aid.

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  5. A lot of commercial detergents contain both soda and citric acid. They don't just neutralize each other. When combined they make sodium citrate, which is itself a cleanser. Many commercial products contain sodium citrate preformed. So saying that they simply cancel each other out is not quite true.

    1. Hi there. Thanks for your comment. You sound knowledgeable about chemistry. I am not a chemist. It's my understanding that the ratio between the citric acid and washing soda is important if you want your homemade dishwasher cleaner to work. A small amount of citric acid will not overcome and neutralize the washing soda. However, the ratio of citric acid to washing soda in this recipe does cause a reaction that diminishes the cleaning power of both components, so it really is best to keep them separate.