Homemade: Review of Homemade Dishwasher Powder

Last week I posted a review of homemade laundry detergent, to see if it was cost effective and able to clean clothes as well as commercial products.   I thought I'd try homemade dishwasher detergent since the basic ingredients were the same.
Rather than post a long list of similar recipes, I thought posted a basic recipe and list optional ingredients separately.  The recipes I found all included Borax and washing soda, usually in a 1:1 ratio.

Basic Recipe
  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Arm and Hammer Washing Soda.

Optional ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup Epsom Salts 
This ingredient serves as a water softener, one recipe called for Kosher or pickling salt which is similar to table salt, but lacks the iodine, and usually has coarser crystals.
  • 1 package powdered lemonade 
This is added because it is a cheap source of citric acid, which will help with hard water residue.  These should be the packets where sugar has not been added yet.
  • Dish Soap: NOT recommended.
Some recipes suggest adding a few drops of liquid hand-washing dish soap, however most dishwasher manufactures STRONGLY recommend against using any soap that suds.   
  • Essential Oil
A few drops for the smell, though if you are adding the lemonade, it shouldn't need any.

Rinse Aids:
  • Fill dispenser with white vinegar, or pour a cup in the bottom of the dishwasher.  This helps with hard water residue.
  • Lemi-Shine: mostly citric acid, but it worked wonders removing hard water residue on my cups when vinegar just couldn't do the job.
Directions: use one tablespoon per load, two if you have hard water.

  • Film on Dishes: Many people complain of a film on their dishes after switching to homemade powder.  This film is caused by minerals from hard water being deposited onto the dishes and dishwasher, and is not leftover detergent.  I have VERY hard water, and had this issue while using commercial dish-washing powder.  Using a bit more detergent helped, as did adding vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher, but I still ended up having to wash many of my glasses and plastic-ware with vinegar to get the deposit off after a while.  My sister suggested Lemi-shine, and using this to replace some of the detergent about once or twice a week has made a huge difference in how much film is on my dishes. I expect to need to use Lemi-shine.  I'm not trying to advertise a particular product, but so far I haven't seen a generic brand works for me.
  • Want a higher yield recipe? 4 lbs borax (equals about 11 cups), 2 3lb 7oz box washing soda (one 3lb 7 oz box is about 5.5 cups), 3 cups Epsom Salt, 24 (yes, the recipe I saw said 24, I'm not sure you need that much, see what works for you) packs of lemonade powder.
  • Where can I get the ingredients?  I found both borax and washing soda in the laundry aisle at my supermarket and at Walmart. 
  • Clumping?  Homemade dishwasher detergent tends to settle into clumps.  Stirring or shaking the container each time you use it is supposed to help, as does storing it in an airtight container.  I noticed clumping beginning after a few days, and I live in a very dry environment.
  • Is Borax Safe to use on dishes? According to the product's website, using borax in the dishwasher is one of the intended uses. I wouldn't eat it, but I figure it will be rinsed off enough to not cause problems.  Yes, you can kill ants with it-a little borax mixed with honey has solved a lot of kitchen ant problems for me, but the logic that borax kills ants, therefore it is a pesticide, therefore it is toxic to humans, makes some assumptions that I couldn't find scientific basis for.
To sum up: My water is so hard I figured I'd add the salt and lemonade, just to give the homemade powder a fighting chance.  I didn't figure in the cost of using Lemi-shine since I have to use it either way, though I should note that I need to use it now every wash, instead of once a week.  Surprisingly, the cost per ounce was slightly higher to make my own powder than it was to buy an expensive brand. It was somewhat effective in cleaning, it leaves a film on some dishes, especially plastics, and doesn't seem to remove food as well as the commercial powder I usually use.
Will I make it again?  No.  The reason I was interested in making homemade dishwasher detergent was to save money.  Unless I can find the ingredients for a significantly lower price than I did, I will go back to using commercial powder.

Price Comparison:
Homemade Dishwashing Detergent
Tablespoons (Loads)
1 - 4 lb 12 oz box Borax
2 - 3 lb 7 oz boxes Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
3 Cups Epsom Salts
24 - 0.23 oz packets of powdered lemonade

Total Cost

Cost per Ounce

Cost per Load (double for hard water)

4 lb box Cascade Complete 4 in 1
Total Cost

Cost per Ounce

Cost per Load


I am having a problem with the film others complained of.  It seems worst on plasticware.  I tried a few loads without Lemi-shine to see how it would go, and I had to re-wash a lot of the plastic as the film built up over time.  Using Lemi-shine and adding vinegar to the rinse dispenser helped, but not well enough to satisfy me.

Update:  After several weeks of using this recipe, I am increasingly dissapointed by how ineffective it is.  The slight film builds up over multiple washes even using Lemi-Shine and vinegar unless hand washed with soap...and that to me is a dealbreaker.  I'd ignore it but the film tends to build up on my baby's dishes the most.  I've also noticed more food is left behind than when I used commercial powder, and I don't think I can blame hard water for that.  I've gradually increased the amount of powder until I put three tablespoons per load hoping that would help, I'm using vinegar as a rinse, and I'm using two or three tablespoons of Lemi-shine a load (which is a lot more than I used to use, and that stuff isn't exactly cheap).  I'd really hoped to give you a glowing report about how well it cleaned and how much cheaper it was, but now I'm wishing I hadn't made so much of the stuff.  I think my only solution is to use the homemade powder for the pre-wash, and use commercial powder for the main wash until it is gone.  Hopefully if you make it you have better results.  I'm including a few pictures of the film. 
I washed half of the green cup to show the film better.

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