31 Days to Green Clean: Washing Dishes & Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

31 Days to Green Clean

This is Day 22 of the 31 Days to Green Clean series.

Dirty dishes are my nemesis. I don’t know if any of you can relate, but I hate everything about doing dishes. I despise how quickly they pile up in my sink and on my counter. I get annoyed when I don’t have room to cook or bake because my counters are covered in the remains from previous cooking and baking endevors. My kids go through so many dishes each day it’s really unbelievable. And I really do not like having to wash dishes by hand.

I love using my dishwasher, just because I hate doing dishes so much. But, there are things about using a dishwasher that are not so great either. Our dishwasher is who-knows-how-old, and really doesn’t work all that well. So, we’ve always had to pre-rinse our dishes pretty well before loading them in the dishwasher, especially if we were using homemade or a green brand of dishwasher detergent.

The Dilemma

Then I stumbled upon a decidedly not green dishwasher detergent that cleaned my dishes completely without the need for pre-rinsing. I was sold! But, I was also very torn.

Which was the more green choice – using a natural green dishwasher detergent that required me to use a lot of water for pre-rinsing and sometimes re-washing after the dishes came out of the dishwasher still dirty, or using a dishwasher detergent filled with all kinds of nasty chemicals, but which left my dishes completely clean without the need for extra pre-rinse or post-wash water? I’d love to hear your thoughts on which is the better choice of the two!

But, then the miracle detergent stopped working so well, and we started having to pre-rinse again. Well, if I’m going to have to pre-rinse anyway, I may as well use a natural dishwasher detergent, right?

I had recently found a homemade dishwasher detergent recipe that doesn’t include Borax and figured this was as good a time as any to give it a try. And, I have been pretty pleased with the results!

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

  • 3/4 cup of Washing Soda
  • 3/4 cup of Lemi Shine (I bought mine at Meijer, you can also find it at Walmart or online.)
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup kosher or sea salt

Mix all of the ingredients together. I put mine in a mason jar and shook it up to combine everything.

Use 2 Tbsp per load, and also don’t forget to add vinegar to your rinse aid compartment.

The Reality

Okay, so here’s the thing about homemade and natural dishwasher detergents, I feel like they work well for a while, and then for some reason they stop working so well. I really liked using Biokleen Dishwasher Detergent for a while, it worked great and didn’t require a lot of pre-rinsing, and then all of the sudden it didn’t work so well any more and I couldn’t really justify the expense.

I have used a different recipe of dishwasher detergent in the past, and again, it worked okay for a while, and then it totally stopped working and we had to hand wash so many dishes coming out of the dishwasher that it was a total waste.

Even the conventional brand detergents work pretty well for a while and then stop working for some reason. I don’t know if it is our water, our dishwasher, or what. But it can definitely be frustrating. The only thing that makes me feel a little bit better is knowing I’m not alone in this. My friend Katie at Kitchen Stewardship is having many of the same issues with finding a natural dishwasher detergent.

So, if you want to use a natural dishwasher detergent, either homemade or a natural brand, you’re going to have to do some experimenting for yourself, finding what works best for your dishwasher and your water quality (hard or soft). I don’t think you can expect that something that works well for someone else will automatically work well for you. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I think that’s the reality of homemade and green dishwasher detergents.

For our family, we’re probably going to end up switching back and forth between homemade detergent and conventional detergent, when one stops working we’ll switch to the other, and then when that one stops working we’ll switch back. You do what you have to do to get clean dishes, right?!

Hand Washing Dishes

I guess the other option is just to hand wash all of your dishes, which is probably the most green way to clean your dishes. It uses almost no energy (except yours) and much less water, depending on how old your dishwasher is.

One of my friends stopped using her dishwasher altogether and washes all her dishes by hand. And while it’s not something I really ever want to do (again because I hate doing dishes, so if I had to wash them all by hand they would never get done!), it could be a good option for those of you that don’t mind the hand washing, or have older children that could be good helpers for you!

If you do hand wash your dishes, it’s important to use a natural dish washing soap. We use Seventh Generation and really like it, and it’s available at the places we usually shop, like Meijer and Target. I’ve also tried Mrs. Meyer’s and it is great, but harder for me to find and a little more pricey.

One way you can save money and stretch your dish washing soap is to mix it half and half with water in a spray bottle or squirt bottle, and use that to wash your dishes. You can spray down your dishes directly, or squirt the soap and water mixture onto your dish washing cloth. You’ll still get clean dishes, and you’ll use half the amount of soap. Vinegar and baking soda are also great to use when washing dishes to cut through grease and burnt on food.

How do you wash your dishes? Do you hand wash? Do you have to pre-rinse before loading your dishwasher? Have you found a homemade or green dishwasher detergent that works for you? Please share your experience with us in the comments!

Go here to read all the posts in the 31 Days to Green Clean series.


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  1. says

    I went through the same thing you have. Maleleuca came to my rescue! Their liquid Dishwasher detergent called Diamond Brite is fabulous. You only need a teaspoon per load and it does a great job. Their products are suppose to be good for the environment also. It is the only product I use from them and wouldn’t use anything else!

  2. says

    Hi Emily! I think I’ve found one that actually works…well, I’ve been using it for at least a year and it’s been working well for me. It’s GrabGreen Automatic Dishwashing Detergent, Thyme with Fig Leaf, and it smells good too!

  3. Kelly H. says

    Also, sometimes your dishwasher needs cleaning itself. I recently learned you can set a bowl with white vinegar on the top shelf of your dishwasher and let it run it’s cycle. That will help clean any buildup and gunk out of it. I’ve also heard of some people only using their dishwasher as a big drying rack for their clean dishes. (i.e. washing dishes by hand and putting them on the clean dishwasher racks to dry.) I haven’t found a natural detergent that works, but we have to scrub our dishes before they go in or they won’t come clean. : (

  4. says

    I’ve tried a similar homemade dishwasher detergent (made with unsweetened Kool-Aid, citric acid). We used vinegar for the rinse also. Horrible results!!! All my dishes, glasses were “coated” and fogged up. Hubby cleaned the entire dishwasher, taking it all apart, and running empty with just citric acid packet. Dishwasher was nice and sparkly clean, but dishes still came out cloudy. Went back to using Cascade gel packs and Jet Dry :-(
    Although my homemade “dishwasher detergent” works as a great degreaser and also to clean the tub/shower!

    • Emily @ Live Renewed says

      My hubs took our dishwasher all apart and cleaned it one time too and I thought that would solve all our dish washing problems, but it didn’t. I feel your pain! :(

  5. says

    As much as possible, I do my household chores using my own energy and hands. I don’t rely so much with the machines out there to make life convenient because I believe that my doing the chores myself, I’m not only contributing to mother nature, I am also contributing to my health since I’m doing exercise productively.


  6. Jessica says

    I use Seventh Generation’s dishwasher detergent, it may not be as green as some other options, but it still works pretty well. I think my mother-in-law uses Trader Joe’s dishwashing detergent, and I’ve wanted to try that as well (it’s also worth nothing that she isn’t really “green” at all and she uses this, and she wouldn’t use something that didn’t work just because it was “green”). Also, I put vinegar in my rinse aid compartment and I’ve noticed that my glasses (which were starting to come out cloudy) are now looking clean again after a wash. I’ve heard that if you have a dishwasher that works well, and you load it to full capacity, it doesn’t always use more water than you would necessarily use in hand washing.

    • Emily @ Live Renewed says

      Do you use Seventh Generation liquid or powder? I’ve heard some good things about the powder, I may have to try it myself sometime. I so wish that we had a Trader Joe’s here in my town! I always stock up on stuff when I’m visiting my sister in the Chicago area, I might have to pick up some dishwasher detergent the next time I’m there!
      Thanks for sharing!

      • Jessica says

        I use the powder. It seems to be pretty effective and I don’t think it is THAT much more expensive. And I wish you had a Trader Joe’s too! It’s so nice to have it around!

  7. says

    Actually, it’s not at all true that hand dishwashing “uses almost no energy (except yours) and much less water.” You’re forgetting about the energy used to HEAT the water (you don’t wash dishes in cold water, right?) and you’re probably picturing the big box of your dishwasher being entirely filled with waves of water, which is just not how it works. Modern dishwashers use half the energy and one-sixth the water of hand dishwashing, so I recommend you ask everyone to make their Christmas presents to you contributions toward buying a new dishwasher! I’m sorry to hear about your detergent problems, though! I bought Biokleen on Kitchen Stewardship’s recommendation and have had no problems with it for 20 months since we got the dishwasher.

    Here are my tips for hand dishwashing–which still has to be done for the few things that can’t go in the dishwasher. From the way you write about it, it sounds like you are applying detergent to every dish when they’re either dry or damp, instead of soaking them in soapy water. Based on my experience and observation of other people’s dishwashing techniques (although I don’t have research to cite here), the soaping-each-dish method uses about 3 times as much soap as soaking and takes a lot more scrubbing effort.

    I’ve used and liked all of these Earth-friendly detergents for hand dishwashing:
    Dishmate (made by Ecos/Earth Friendly Products)
    Kirkland Signature (Costco house brand–they make both a conventional and an earth-friendly one)
    Seventh Generation
    Sun & Earth
    Trader Joe’s.

    • Emily @ Live Renewed says

      Thanks for your comment ‘Becca! You are right – there is definitely energy used in heating the water for hand washing. Our dishwasher is pretty old, I’m not exactly sure how old, so I would guess that it’s not as energy and water efficient as hand-washing. I wish I had enough people giving me Christmas presents to buy a new dishwasher! :)

      You’re also right about the method of hand-washing. Soaking the dishes in a sink of water definitely uses less water and soap than doing each dish individually, but my hubs is often the one who does the hand washing and he is more of a wash and rinse each dish individually kind of guy, and since I hate washing dishes, I’m not going to criticize his method. Also, if I am going to hand wash dishes I often try to do it as I go, meaning I may be only washing a few dishes at a time and I don’t want to run a sink full of water just for that. So, that was the perspective that I was writing the post from. :) Thanks for sharing your tips for hand washing!

  8. Kaylah says

    I’ve been using this exact recipe for quite some time, and even with a rinse aid of vinegar + tea trea oil, it just didn’t seem to always do a perfect job. . . UNTIL I tried turning on the heat cycle to dry all the dishes. I know that’s not super energy-conserving, but just thought I’d pass that along :)

    • Emily @ Live Renewed says

      Huh, that’s interesting that the heated dry made the difference, I wonder why that would be? I usually don’t run the heated dry cycle unless by accident because my son has been pushing the buttons on the dishwasher, but I’ll have to try it now and pay attention if it makes a difference in how clean the dishes are. Thanks for the tip Kaylah!

  9. Liz says

    Just stumbled upon your site. Sounds as if you don’t have a double sink in your kitchen. I always have the one side of my sink full of soapy water when I am cooking to drop things into to soak until I am done then I wash them. When vacationing at a cabin with just a single sink I filled a dish pan and put that on the counter next to the sink. Just some thoughts. Also if you have very hard water with an older machine or if your water is not hot enough coming out of the tap since you prob have your water heater turned down for safety of the kids, you want to use the water heating feature if you have it. Now I am giving these tips from use of a newer energy efficient model in a 100+ year old home with hard water and very old water heater (30+ years) And I feel that washing my dishwasher every few months makes a big difference. I follow the suggestions on One Good thing by Jillie’s web site. hope this helps

  10. says

    We have an old (90s?) whirlpool machine in our rental apartment and it works great! I use Seventh Generation detergent. I don’t pre-wash or rinse my dishes at all because I read on the 7th generation website that the enzymes in the cleaner actually work better if you don’t. (They seek out the food reside and get to work!) I do clean my dish washer every now and then by running it on empty with a cup of vinegar and then again with a cup of baking soda. But I honestly don’t do it that often. I generally wash pots and pans by hand. I really only put oily pots (from making popcorn or melting peanut butter) or chocolate-y pots in the dishwasher because it’s better at getting them clean. I love this blog post and discussion!

  11. Christina Rice says

    We use a bar of Castile Soap, just swish it around in the water for hand washing. The dishes have never been so clean! Leaves a ring in the sink of gunk, that comercial cleaners never did. So I feel it cuts the grease better.

  12. Anne Startin says

    You may solve some of your problems by running the dishwasher through a cycle with no dishes.
    This cleans the dishwasher, it will make it work more efficiently and may solve the problem of dirty dishes. Worth a try and then you can use whichever natural cleaner you like

  13. says

    I have used all the Get Clean products from Shaklee for over 20 years. I would highly recommend Their dish washer powder.Their cleaning products are superior and bio-degrade in 6 hours to 6 days. There is no other products available in the world that are better. And because they are so concentrated they only cost pennies a day to use. If you look at their Get Clean Kit ($99 as a member or $116 retail) it is equivalent to $3400 in products purchased at Wal-Mart, which are not biodegradable. You don’t have to buy the kit, you can buy individual products. I know that my use of these products for more than 20 years have made a difference for my footprint on the earth.


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