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How to Make Natural Dishwasher Detergent

This recipe took quite a bit of trial and error. Quite honestly, this is one of the trickier DIY cleaning products that I have tried to create.

I wanted something that…

  • Cleaned dishes well
  • Didn’t leave a residue
  • Didn’t clump and remain in the soap dispenser

Now, this was a tricky proposition because we have an old dishwasher that doesn’t work super well and a soap dispenser that doesn’t like to open the whole way. Yikes!

It took me a while to figure out the magic ingredient in homemade dishwasher detergent…citric acid!

Without this ingredient, everything I tried left residue on my dishes–especially my glasses. I thought it might be my water or possibly creating dishwasher detergent was just an area I should leave to chemists who are smarter than I am about how to create cleaners…but I didn’t give up because I really like knowing what is in my cleaners! Especially when they clean my dishes and possibly leave behind residue that my family and I are going to consume with my food!

In case you don’t have the time to make your own dishwasher detergent, Seventh Generation Dishwasher Detergent is the best one I have found. Environmental Working Group rates it an A.  I bet that Seventh Generation Dishwasher Detergent Pods are great too, but, as I previously said, our soap dispenser doesn’t like to open the whole way so pods are out for us!


Ingredients Common in Dishwasher Detergent (Cascade, Finish, Etc)

Sulfuric Acid

This is actually a common ingredient in dishwasher detergent. Are you kidding me? Known to cause cancer according to the State of California (Prop 65). It causes asthma irritation and can cause severe skin burns and eye damage. (1)


Benzene is a well-established cause of cancer in humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified benzene as carcinogenic to humans. Benzene causes acute myeloid leukemia. (2)


These dyes are used just to make dish detergent look “pretty”. But really, who needs green dish detergent that is far from “green” for the environment? You can recognize these by FD&C or D&C followed by a color. Originally derived from coal (sometimes called “coal tar dyes”), these are now often made from petroleum which is easily contaminated. They are also formulated by using  toluene, xylene, benzene. (Remember these chemicals from my article on plants that clean the air? You don’t want to breathe them or have their residue on your dishes!). These are linked to various cancers and cause behavioral effects in children. (3)

Sodium Hypochlorite

This ingredient is very toxic to aquatic life. It can cause severe skin burns and eye damage. It can also have chloroform as an impurity which is known to cause reproductive toxicity. Additionally, it can contain chlorine as an impurity. (4)

Sodium Polyacrylate

This substance is persistent in the environment and is not degradable according to the European Union Ecolabel program. While it doesn’t seem to pose a threat to humans, it is highly toxic to the environment. (5)


Fragrances are known to be contaminated with all kinds of chemicals including Phthlates. Basically, “fragrance” is a catch-all category that is highly unregulated. Fragrance alone (not talking about the hidden chemical cocktail) is known to cause skin allergies, contact dermatitis, and respiratory symptoms. (6)

 Oxygen Bleach

One of the components of oxygen bleach, sodium borate, causes endocrine disruption including infertility or harm to the unborn child. (7)


Note on Borax

A note on Borax…I know this is a somewhat controversial ingredient. After looking at what is in most commercial dishwasher detergents, I think Borax is much, much safer than common dishwasher detergents! However, I understand the concerns that are out there. If you are interested, wrote a great article called Is Borax Safe for Natural Cleaning? She concludes that it is safe to use as a natural cleaner. I agree, but absolutely do your own research! If you still feel that you would like to avoid borax in your dish detergent, replace it in this recipe with washing soda.



1 Cup Washing Soda (where to buy Washing Soda)

1 Cup Borax (or Washing Soda if you are omitting Borax) (where to buy Borax)

1 Cup Citric Acid (where to buy Citric Acid)

1/2 Cup Kosher (or other coarse) Salt (where to buy Kosher Salt)



Combine all ingredients in a container of choice.

Mix thoroughly.

Use 1 Tablespoon per load.



Add white vinegar to the rinse compartment of your dishwasher for a sparkling clean!

If you find that you are experiencing a residue, try increasing the amount of citric acid. I found that I needed this much to keep from getting a residue.

Since citric acid is the most expensive ingredient, you could try decreasing the amount you use too. If you experience a residue, then increase the amount to the recommended recipe!









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