Borax: Borax is a naturally occurring mineral, found deep in the ground. It disinfects, helps rinse food off the dishes, and softens the water. I found Borax at Walmart in the laundry aisle.
Washing Soda: Washing soda is similar to baking soda, but it's more caustic for extra cleaning power. It's an awesome water softener and it cuts grease. I found Arm & Hammer Washing Soda at Walmart in the laundry aisle.
Kosher Salt: Kosher salt softens hard water. I can see a difference in the cleanliness of my dishes when I use kosher salt. You can find it with the other salt at the grocery store.
Citric Acid: Citric acid is a natural acid that is found in many fruits. It is an important ingredient if you have hard water. It removes hard water film and buildup from your dishes and the internal components of your dishwasher. You can find citric acid at your local health food store, Amazon, or Mountain Rose Herbs.
STORE THE CITRIC ACID IN ITS OWN CONTAINER. Mix borax, washing soda, and kosher salt together and store in a separate container. If you mix citric acid with the other ingredients, the detergent will harden and you will find yourself chipping away at it with a knife and cursing the day you ever made homemade dishwasher detergent. I'm talking from experience.
**Update 06/12: The reason citric acid makes the detergent harden is because it has water in it. I noticed Mountain Rose Herbs sells anhydrous citric acid. Anhydrous means without water so I bet anhydrous citric acid can be mixed with the borax, washing soda, kosher salt mixture without hardening. I'll let you know once I try it.
**Update 07/12: I made a batch and mixed in Mountain Rose Herb's anhydrous citric acid, but it still hardened. Bummer! It does do a nice job of rinsing my dishes clean and keeping the silverware shiny. After I realized the detergent was hardening, I left it out on the counter without a lid for a few days and stirred it every so often like some commenters suggested. This did help prevent clumping, but I wasn't able to stir the bottom of the mixture very well because of the size of the container. So the top of the mixture is fine, while the bottom is hard as a rock. Next time I'll keep it in a big bowl without a lid so I can easily stir it for a few days. Then I'll transfer it to my glass jar and see what happens.
Some people like to add dish soap or castile soap to their recipe. I tried Dawn, Palmolive, grated castile soap, liquid castile soap and a natural dish soap, but they all left a powdery film, even when using vinegar to rinse. Since borax is a natural disinfectant, I don't feel like the recipe needs soap.
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
for Hard Water:
1/2 pound Citric Acid
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda
1/2 cup Kosher Salt
Combine borax, washing soda, and kosher salt. Keep citric acid separate. Use 1 teaspoon citric acid and 1 tablespoon borax/washing soda/kosher salt mixture per load. This recipe makes enough for 39 loads. A lot of homemade dishwasher detergent recipes suggest putting vinegar in the rinse aid compartment to prevent a powdery film from covering the dishes. I haven't had to do that with this recipe, which I'm happy about since my husband makes a big fuss every time he smells vinegar.
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
for Soft Water:
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda
8 ounces Citric Acid
Combine borax and washing soda. Keep citric acid separate. Use 1/4 teaspoon citric acid and 1 teaspoon borax/washing soda mixture. This makes enough for 80 loads. You don't need to use as much soap/detergent with soft water. Wish I had me a water softener! This recipe is a starting off point to find your own recipe that works with your water. Add more detergent per load if your dishes aren't getting clean or more citric acid if you notice a powdery film left on the dishes or try the troubleshooting tips below.
- Before starting the load, turn on the kitchen faucet until the water gets really hot. Hot water from the faucet=hot water in the dishwasher=cleaner dishes.
- Use the air dry option instead of heat dry. My silverware always looks shinier after using the air dry option.
- Put dishwasher detergent in the pre-cycle compartment and your citric acid in the wash cycle compartment. The detergent and the citric acid work better when used separately.
- Adjust the recipe to find what works with your water. You may need to add more detergent or more citric acid.
- If you are getting a powdery film on your dishes, put vinegar in the rinse aid compartment. I haven't needed to do this, but everyone's water is different. If this doesn't work, try the next tips.
- Put 1/4-1/2 cup vinegar in a right-side-up bowl before you start the load. Once it fills up with water during the cycle, the vinegar will slowly spill out and help rinse the dishes.
- Put 1/4-1/2 cup of vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher before the load starts.
- After the load is finished, start an extra rinse cycle and throw in 1/4-1/2 cup of vinegar. Try this tip as a last resort since it uses extra water.
Cost of Hard Water Dishwasher Detergent:
$0.27 - 1 c. Borax, $3.38/76 oz.
$0.59 - 1 c. Washing Soda, $3.24/55 oz.
$0.16 - 1/2 c. Kosher Salt, $1.68/48 oz.
$2.00 - 8 oz. Citric Acid, $20/5 pounds
$3.02 - Grand Total for 39 loads
Cost of Soft Water Dishwasher Detergent:
$2.86 - Grand Total for 80 loads
$0.04/load (Lucky soft water people!)
Ecover, a so-called "natural" dishwasher detergent, costs $0.16/load on Amazon. I say "so-called" because it's still full of chemicals I don't want on my dishes. Yay for saving money and knowing exactly what is in my dishwasher detergent!
Read Crunchy Betty's post about how everything was okay when her 1-year-old niece ate some homemade dishwasher detergent made with the same ingredients as my recipe. Still, keep it out of children's reach.
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