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 making my own natural dishwasher tablets since January 2019 and can honestly say I can’t see me ever going back to using shop-bought tablets.
I’d been gradually working through our household cleaning products, replacing them with eco-friendly alternatives and cutting some things out altogether. I loved the convenience of having a dishwasher but I wanted to reduce the impact this has on the environment. So I decided to start using homemade dishwasher tablets.
Making your own tablets does of course take a bit more time and effort than buying them ready-made but I really enjoy making them. I relish how it makes me slow down and take a break from other things (work, technology etc). Sometimes I’ll listen to music or a podcast as I’m doing it but often, I’ll just use the time to think or drift off into my own world.
I feel it’s important to say that you’re not likely to get the same results as you would with mainstream brands. That’s because they contain a whole host of harsh chemicals and I assume that you’re here because you don’t want to be using them. You’re also not going to get your kitchenware as clean and sparkly as you would if you wash things by hand.
What you will get with these tablets is good consistent results (as long as you’re following dishwasher best practice, i.e. not overloading, not letting food get dried on before washing etc).
The one thing they don’t do well is clean tannin stains from tea and coffee mugs. A quick wipe with a loofah/scourer before putting them in should do the trick, if you do that regularly – if you forget, like I do, then a quick scrub with bicarbonate of soda lifts the stains right off.
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. Then there’s the plastic bag most brands of dishwasher tablets are packaged in, which aren’t widely recycled (but there is a Terracycle scheme).
Homemade dishwasher tablets, however, can potentially be plastic free.
Thirdly, if you make your own tablets using this recipe you will save money. It might not be a huge saving but over the course of a year, it certainly adds up! 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 various 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.
I’ve since played around with the recipe slightly, trying different ratios of the ingredients. I also tried making a loose powder instead of tablets, which I thought would be easier and quicker to make. However, it was just as much effort to make but not as convenient when using it.
Keep reading for the recipe I now use consistently, which I find gives the best results and takes the least effort (though, of course, it does take some effort).
When I first started making the tablets, I managed to get all but one of the ingredients plastic free. I bought the dry ingredients in cardboard boxes. The distilled vinegar came in a plastic bottle, as I couldn’t find it in a glass bottle or at a refill station. I started buying large 5 litre bottles of vinegar to reduce the amount of plastic and save money.
Since then, a shop near me that has a refill station has started supplying distilled vinegar, so I can now make them completely plastic free – hooray!
What you need to make the dishwasher tablets
- small measuring jug (if you want to be really precise) or a short glass tumbler (if you want to measure by eye)
- mixing bowl
- tablespoon for mixing
- ice cube trays
- teaspoon for packing it down
- gloves if you have very sensitive skin and may react to any of the ingredients
- 2 parts bicarbonate of soda
- 2 parts citric acid (powder)
- 1/2 part dishwasher salt*
- 1/2 part distilled/white vinegar
- A few drops of citrus essential oil, e.g. lemon, orange 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 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. I add 5-6 drops of essential oil. 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/distilled 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.
Lemon/orange/grapefruit essential oil: These have antibacterial properties and they add a nice fragrance.
How to make the dishwasher tablets
- Measure out the dry ingredients and put them in the mixing bowl
- Add half the vinegar (the mixture will fizz and expand as the vinegar reacts with the bicarb of soda – this is normal)
- Add the essential oil (and a little more vinegar if you need to loosen the mixture)
- Mix thoroughly with the tablespoon and then stir at intervals until the fizzing starts to subside and the mixture starts to clump together (this can take a while, so you might want to use this time to make a cup of tea – just keep an eye on the mixture and stir it every so often)
- Half fill each ice cube compartment and compact the mixture down with the back of the teaspoon (if the mixture is still expanding, keep pressing it back down – keep going, it will stop)
- Once the mixture has stopped expanding, put the rest of the mixture in, filling each compartment up to the top (it can seem to take a long time for the fizzing to stop and then suddenly it will set quite quickly – you can add a little more vinegar to loosen it if you need to)
- Press down the mixture with the spoon and/or your fingers until it is fully compacted (top the compartments up with more of the mixture if necessary)
- Once the trays are filled and the mixture is no longer expanding, place the trays somewhere dry and room temperature for a day or overnight to fully set
- Transfer the tablets to a container with a lid and store in a dry place
Top tip: If you have any mixture left over, you can use it for cleaning various surfaces in your home, including your bathroom. Store it in a container with a lid in a dry place until you want to use it. As it contains vinegar, you shouldn’t use it on natural stone surfaces.
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
Using the tablets
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. Also make sure you don’t overload the dishwasher.
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 haven’t found rinse aid to be much, if any, more effective. Maybe it depends on the dishwasher. The best thing you can do to help your dishes dry is to open the dishwasher door after it has finished, to let the steam out.
Important: 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 [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.