Thursday, May 26, 2011

Not Quite: DIY Dishwasher Detergent

One of my continual fascinations, as you know, is attempting to discover cheaper and better ways to accomplish a goal, usually through doing something myself or eliminating a purchase.  This winter, my focus turned to trying to replace commercial dishwasher detergent, as this can cost nearly $4 a box and is a pain to lug home from the grocery store.

I researched online, and most sources suggested a 1:1 mix of baking soda and borax.  This makes sense, but it set off a long research project to determine whether I thought using borax to clean dishes was safe (even though that is one of the uses listed on the box).  I determined that I felt comfortable, and I gave it a try.

And the results were:  OK.  Not great.  Not a substitute for the real thing.  Good enough to get us through in a pinch if we run out of store-bought and don't want to make a special trip, but not good enough to be a total replacement.

(Note:  Things do not get better if you add a drop or two of liquid dish soap to the dispenser.  Let's just say you have a Brady Bunch-esque situation on your hands, and leave it at that.  Those of a certain age will know what I mean!)

To make matters worse, I have also uncovered, through reading other blogs and then experimenting with a cheap, phosphate-free store brand, that it may be the phosphates that account for so much of the cleaning power of my favorite OTC brands of detergent.  Crud.  I wanted to avoid phosphates if possible, so now I feel like I need to figure out what I want to avoid more:  phosphates, or hand-washing dishes.  Believe me, the choice is not an easy one.

The Analysis

Fast:  DIY dishwasher detergent is a snap to mix.

Cheap:  It is also far cheaper than the store brand.

Good:  However, it doesn't work all that well.  I'm going to keep a container of it around for days when I'm just running a load of glasses and relatively clean plates, or for when we run out of store-bought.  However, it isn't a substitute for my old faithful.  Sigh.

Readers:  What do you do?  Do you have a DIY recipe that really works?  Do you have to handwash your dishes, and if so, is that really less expensive? 
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  1. Since I don't have a dishwasher that chews up all the crud, I have to pre-rinse my dishes. I discovered that by the time I did all that, I might as well have just washed by hand. Also, I don't have 12 of each plate, bowl and glass and was always running out of dishes before my dishwasher got full. It makes more sense for me to wash my dishes by hand. We are a family of four and it doesn't really take that long. Since I don't fill up my sink full with water, I don't think I am using that much more water than a dishwasher would. It also helps that I have a lovely view out my kitchen window of my garden!

  2. This is a great tutorial …one of the best I’ve seen from you yet. I really appreciate you sharing your inside tips and tricks…

    Commercial Dishwasher

  3. I broke down and bought a large container of phosphates from the hardware store. I'd rather have clean clothes and dishes with the least amount of effort and water :)