Want to make your own eco-friendly, low-waste dishwasher tablets? Here’s the easy recipe I use for sparkling dishes, cutlery, pots, pans and even glasses!
I’ve been gradually working through our household cleaning products, replacing them with eco-friendly alternatives and cutting some things out altogether. I love the convenience of having dishwasher but don’t love the impact on the environment. So I vowed to start using homemade dishwasher tablets.
I clean most things with a solution of distilled white vinegar and water, with bicarbonate of soda when extra cleaning power is needed. For hand washing dishes I use an eco brand washing up liquid that I refill at a local shop.
Homemade dishwasher tablets have been on my to-do list for a while and I finally bit the bullet a few weeks ago, at the end of January 2019.
Why make your own dishwasher tabs?
Firstly, to have control over what chemicals you are using on your dishes and putting into the water system.
Secondly, shop-bought tablets come in little single-use plastic wrappers, which can’t be recycled. Homemade dishwasher tablets, however, can potentially be plastic free.
Thirdly, if you make your own tablets using this recipe you will save money (download my cost comparison sheet to see for yourself).
How eco-friendly are these tablets?
It was very important to me that my homemade dishwasher tablets used all natural, non-toxic ingredients. I looked at a load of recipes online but most used borax, which I’ve decided not to use to clean my dishes. Here’s a useful article on borax being safe to use or not.
I picked a recipe that seemed straight forward and simply replaced the borax with citric acid, which is found in many food products as a preservative and is therefore, in my opinion, completely safe.
The products I bought to make these tablets do have some plastic packaging. The vinegar came in a plastic bottle (widely recycled) but you should be able to get it in a glass bottle or refill at a zero-waste shop. The lid on the vinegar bottle is plastic (this may or not be recycled by your council). I think it must be possible to do it completely plastic free. Even if not, it’s much more eco-friendly than buying dishwasher tablets that come in non-recyclable wrappers.
What you need to make the dishwasher tablets
- small measuring jug
- mixing bowl
- dessert spoon to mix
- ice cube trays
- teaspoon for packing it down
- 2 parts bicarbonate of soda
- 2 parts citric acid
- 1/2 part dishwasher salt*
- 1/2 part distilled white vinegar
- Few drops of essential oil, e.g. lemon or grapefruit (optional**)
*You shouldn’t use salt that we use on food (either table salt or coarse sea salt), as this normally contains anti-caking agents that can interfere with the dishwasher’s mechanical components and promote hard water stains. Make sure you use pure NaCl in coarse granule form, e.g. dishwasher salt.
**I haven’t used the optional essential oil, as I don’t have any and wanted to try without it. I reckon it’s mostly for fragrance, to counteract the vinegar smell, if that bothers you. However, lemon and grapefruit are meant to have antibacterial qualities. No harm in including it if you want to!
I make them in batches of 28 (as my ice cube trays have 14 compartments). To make just the right amount for this, 2 parts = 150ml and ½ part = 37.5ml. The number of tablets this recipe makes depends on the size of your ice cube tray compartments.
So what do the ingredients actually do?
White vinegar: It has antibacterial properties. It is also a nonionic (uncharged) surfactant that helps clean your dishes better and makes them dry faster.
Bicarbonate of soda: It’s a mild abrasive, scouring agent and deodoriser that dissolves dirt, tackles odours and cuts through grime.
Citric acid: It helps to clean and rinse your dishes, and prevents water spots on glasses, by removing dissolved minerals such as calcium from the water (calcium can bind with surfactants, such as vinegar, and stop them working effectively).
Salt: Essential for hard water areas, as it acts on the ions in calcium and magnesium, (limescale) to soften the water. It’s also worth using in soft water areas to aid rinsing.
How to make the dishwasher tablets
- Measure out the dry ingredients and put them in the mixing bowl (I recommend grinding down the dishwasher salt in a pestle and mortar first, to make it a bit finer for more even distribution)
- Add the vinegar and essential oil, if using it (the mixture will fizz as the vinegar reacts with the bicarb of soda – this is normal)
- Mix thoroughly with the dessert spoon (you will notice the mixture start to clump together – that’s good)
- Use the dessert spoon and teaspoon to half fill the ice cube trays with the mixture (you need to do this fairly quickly, as it doesn’t take long for the mixture to start setting, say about 8-10 minutes)
- Compact the mixture down with the back of the teaspoon (it keeps fizzing and expanding while it starts to set)
- Put the rest of the mixture in the trays, filling each compartment up to the top
- Repeat step 5
- Once the trays are filled and the mixture is compacted (and no longer expanding), place the trays somewhere dry and fairly warm for a day to fully set
- Transfer the tablets to a container with a lid and store in a dry place
I’ve worked out that these tablets cost me just 5p (0.05 GBP) each to make. Compare that to shop-bought tablets and that’s a saving of 3-15p per tablet (depending on the brand you buy).
Of course, the cost to make the tablets will vary depending on which products you buy to make them. However, I think you’d be hard pushed not to make a saving, even if it’s only a small one.
Download my cost comparison sheet to see for yourself
Notes and tips
As with any dishwasher tablets, you want to be washing your dishes straight away or leaving them to soak before hand if heavily soiled, to get the best results. Likewise, you need to be using the appropriate setting on your dishwasher for the level of soiling on your dishes. Please refer to your dishwasher’s manual.
Theoretically, you don’t need to use rinse aid alongside these tablets, as the vinegar and citric acid should have this covered. My dishes haven’t been dry at the end of each wash but I can’t say I found rinse aid to be much, if any, more effective. Maybe it depends on the dishwasher. Personally, I don’t find it a major inconvenience to have to run a towel over dishes as I put them away. Besides, if you want to make your own tablets for environmental reasons, buying and using rinse aid kinda defeats the object, doesn’t it?
Side note: You should never put neat vinegar into the rinse aid compartment, as it’s a strong enough acid to corrode the rubber gaskets in the rinse-aid dispenser [click here for source].
Because salt is included in the tablets, you shouldn’t need to put dishwasher salt in the dedicated compartment too, unless you have very hard water. Try the tablets on their own and, if you see a build up of limescale or water spots on your glasses, try putting salt in the compartment.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. Please comment below if you have any questions or feedback. I’d love to hear how you get on making and using the tablets.
Photos my own, please do not use without permission.