What to Use If You Run Out of Dishwasher Detergent

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If you've run out of dishwashing liquid or tabs, there are a few ways to make a basic dishwasher detergent alternative.

Powdered Dishwasher Detergent

A classic dishwasher detergent alternative uses borax to make the dishes sparkling clean. It's a fairly simple recipe with just a few items you may need to buy if you don't already have on hand.

Powdered dishwasher detergent recipe needs 1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda, ½ cup citric acid and a ½ cup kosher salt.

Mix the dry ingredients together and keep under the sink for up to three months or more. It should cover 10 to 12 washing cycles. Throw in a cup of vinegar in the base of the tub before each cycle to use as a rinsing agent.

Liquid Dishwasher Detergent

After loading the dishwasher, add a few drops of mild liquid dish soap to the appliance's detergent cup. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt. The measurements can be eyeballed because if you add a bit more than the recommended measurement of each detergent, it won't hurt the dishes.

Run the dishwasher on the setting you typically use. You can also mix 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap to 4 teaspoons of baking powder and 4 cups of warm water. This will keep under the sink for a week and clean about eight to 10 loads of dishes.

Citric Acid to Whisk Away Debris

Citric acid not only cleans the dishes, it can help keep your dishwasher running smoothly. It will eat away at mineral deposits from hard water that can build up in the base of the tub, as well as the holes and crevices of the spinning arms of the dishwasher.

Citric acid can be bought in powder form online or at big box home improvement stores. In a pinch, powdered lemonade or other citrus-based powders that are added to water can be used to clean dishes.

A basic citric acid dishwasher detergent has a base of 1 cup of washing soda mixed with a 1/4 cup of citric acid and a ½ of a cup of grated unscented body soap.

Storing Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Having items on hand to use in a pinch to clean dishes in the dishwasher is a good idea. Making homemade detergent is often better for the environment. Many people with skin allergies or aversion to strong chemical smells prefer to go through the minimal effort of mixing household detergents to create a dishwasher soap alternative.

However, once you put all the ingredients together, you will want to ensure that they can make it to the next wash without disintegrating or turning into a hard lump.

Anything you make as a substitute for dishwasher soap will need to be stored in an air tight container. Placing it under the sink with a screw lid (or jarred lid with hinge) and rubber gasket should work to keep it from clumping or losing its effectiveness.


Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.

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