How to Make Dishwasher Detergent (And More)


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Wondering how to make dishwasher detergent? Good news, it's really simple – and cheap – to brew your own detergents.

According to the latest government data, Americans spend an average of $659 a year on housekeeping supplies.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which provides that figure, also says the average American earns about $787/week – which means many people are spending most of (if not more than) a week’s pay every year on dish soap, laundry detergent, and other cleaning products.

If that sounds crazy, here’s a better idea: Make your own. In the video below, reporter Jim Robinson explains how to make dishwasher detergent for a third of the cost of the commercial stuff. On the other side, we’ve got more recipes and advice for scrubbing your cleaning budget…

Recipes for cleaning products are as numerous as recipes for dinner. Here are just a few to help with dishes, clothes and more.

How To Make Dishwasher Detergent

Here’s a simple recipe for dishwasher soap: it’s the one you saw in the video above:

You can try to save even more by buying ingredients in bulk, but another idea is to find smaller and much cheaper boxes at your local dollar store:  a good idea to since you’ll want to try a small amount at first to see if you like the results. The amounts listed above are good for 16 loads – one tablespoon each – so even small batches will last a while.

Other recipes online vary: For example, we found one that suggested combining only borax and baking soda, 1 tablespoon each per load.  Another suggested adding a little citrus essential oil to make it smell nice:  We didn’t try that one, however, because we had difficulty finding inexpensive citrus oil online. Then there’s this recipe, which goes in a different direction altogether:

This one calls for melting the shredded soap in five quarts of water and then mixing in the other ingredients. If that sounds a little like the recipe for laundry detergent we wrote about last year, that’s because it is.

Hand Dishwashing Liquid

No dishwasher? No problem. Here’s what to get:

  • 2 Bars shredded Octagon soap
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup washing soda
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

For this one, shred the soap into about 5 quarts of water and heat until it melts.  Then add the other ingredients and pour it into a sealed container.  It isn’t supposed to create a lot of suds, but it’s supposed to work well.

Laundry Detergent

Here’s an easy recipe for laundry detergent. You’ll need:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1/3 bar of cheap soap, grated
  • 1/2 cup washing soda (not baking soda)
  • 1/2 cup of Borax (20 Mule Team)
  • 5-gallon bucket for mixing
  • 3 gallons of water

First, mix the grated soap in a saucepan with 4 cups of water, and heat on low until the soap is completely dissolved. Add hot water/soap mixture to 3 gallons of water in the 5-gallon bucket, stir in the washing soda and Borax, and continue stirring until thickened. Let the mix sit for 24 hours, and voila! Homemade laundry detergent.

Other cleaning products

If you like the results of your homemade concoctions on clothes and dishes, why stop there? The next time you’re at the store, instead of picking up a bottle of some expensive cleanser, grab these six items and make your own cleaning supplies:

  1. Vinegar. It may smell a little weird, but vinegar can handle everything from dishes to laundry and even weeds. We’ve written about the wonders of vinegar before in Household Products Vinegar Can Replace.
  2. Baking soda. Eliminates odors and helps with stains, and also works as a natural method of pest control – ants hate it.
  3. Borax. This mineral salt beats bleach as a toilet cleaner and is also useful for scrubbing walls. And as you see in the recipes above, works with laundry, too.
  4. Fels-Naptha soap. This one’s actually made by one of those big cleaning companies: Dial. They recommend it for “pre-treating” stains. In other words, “use this in addition to a bunch of our other expensive products, like Purex!” But you can turn the tables by using it as part of a recipe for your own laundry detergent, and they can keep the Purex.
  5. Rubbing alcohol. Works as a disinfectant and is also a great glass cleaner. It also gets grime off plastic and metal surfaces like patio furniture or bathroom fixtures.
  6. Lemon juice. This cuts through dish grease and is an ingredient for homemade furniture polish – but it’s not the easiest thing to preserve long-term.

If making your own cleaning products sounds a little extreme, there are still simple ways to save. The best? Buying generics. (See our story 7 Things You Should Always Buy Generic.) And if you insist on using name brands, at least clip those coupons – but only the ones worth your time.

Stacy Johnson

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