2 April 2021

39 comments

Eco-friendly homemade dishwasher tablets

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!

Homemade eco dishwasher tablets | Striving for Simple

What you need to make the dishwasher tablets

Equipment:

  • 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

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

  1. Measure out the dry ingredients and put them in the mixing bowl
  2. Add half the vinegar (the mixture will fizz and expand as the vinegar reacts with the bicarb of soda – this is normal)
  3. Add the essential oil (and a little more vinegar if you need to loosen the mixture)
  4. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. 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)
  7. 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)
  8. 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
  9. 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.

Homemade eco dishwasher tablets | Striving for Simple

Cost savings

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.


Tags

carbon footprint, eco friendly, eco home, environment, environmental impact, ethical, green living, homemade, less plastic, less waste, low waste, natural cleaning, plastic free, sustainable living, zero waste


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  1. I think this is bad advice. There’s a reason the store bought products contain bleach. Vinegar is not a thoroughly effective disinfectant. It does not kill staphylococcus like salmonella. You’re really going to trust some ineffective home made product to kill the bacteria left over from the raw chicken or pork you just had on your knives, bowls, or cutting boards?

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m interested to know what you do when hand-washing dishes, as washing up liquids don’t contain bleach.

      There are a number of natural cleaning agents that have been shown to be effective against bacteria like staph. I recommend reading this article by microbiologist and staph/MRSA expert: https://www.staph-infection-resources.com/prevention/infection-control/.

      Personally, I prefer to use natural cleaning products that I know aren’t going to harm us or the environment.

      1. Thanks for this and my thoughts exactly re- disinfectant – when did we start being persuaded that we needed to disinfect utensils etc…..? When companies like UNIlever needed to increase their profits by introducing new ‘essential’ products into our cleaning routines persuading us we need to kill 99% of all bacteria (bad or good!) – much more hazardous to our health is the pollution of the rivers and water table by these products.

        1. I couldn’t agree more! Going overboard with sterilisation can have negative effects, preventing build up of natural immunity. Yes we should clean our homes but unless you are in a situation where someone is very ill, has an auto-immune disorder or similar there’s no need to kill 99% of bacteria (especially as, like you say, it kills the good bacteria as well as the bad).

  2. Hi Steph! Thanks for this article.

    I am going to try this and just want to ask if 2 parts bicarbonate of soda is 150g?

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Alex, Good to hear you’re going to give them a go – I’d love to hear how you get on!

      I measure the ingredients out by volume rather than weight, so 2 parts = 150ml, NOT grams. I use a short glass tumbler that holds 150ml liquid and fill it with bicarb (1 cup = 2 parts) – same for the citric acid. Then quarter-fill it with dishwasher salt (1/4 cup = 1/2 part) – same for the vinegar.

      Hope that makes sense – let me know if not, or if you have any other questions.

    1. Ah yay – so good to hear this! I wish I had cat paw moulds! Not sure they’d fit so well in the dishwasher tablet compartment though 😉

  3. Hi! You should never mix baking soda and vinegar if you want to use them as cleaning product because the result is water, carbon-dioxid and sodium-acetat, non of these will remove any dirt, ever. And this is why I don’t really understand the reason that 99% of the DIY homemade dishwasher tablet recipes say to mix these 2. You must have noticed that this formula does not cut grease, leave your dishwasher dirty, your tablets might be cheap, but maintaining and fixing your dishwasher surely won’t be. As someone mentioned above tablets from the shop made with bleach are better and safer and you can do that also eco-friendly way if you use sodium percarbonate which is the mix of sodium carbonate and hydrogen-peroxide. Here I give you a recipe that should work more effective:

    3 tbsp baking soda
    2 tbsp citric acid
    2 tbsp salt if you dont put any in the dishwasher’s dispenser
    1 tbsp sodium-percarbonate
    1 tbsp sodium-carbonate
    Little bit of water to mix

    Hope this helps 🙂

    1. Interesting point Izabella, thank you for sharing. I don’t use vinegar and bicarb together for any other cleaning for that reason actually, but I thought the reaction between the vinegar and bicarb here is what makes the tablets set. Does your recipe set or stay powdery? I disagree that using tablets containing bleach is safer. I also do find that these do a good job cleaning my dishes, pans etc, including grease. That said, I’m always open to trying new things and improving on things, so I’d be interested in trying out your recipe. Where do you buy the sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate? Also, do you boil the water first or use it straight from the tap? Thanks 🙂

    2. Out of interest, I tried the recipe you suggested and the tablets didn’t set, so what I suspected about the vinegar being key to making the tablets set does seem to be the case. We also didn’t notice any improvement in results (my recipe does a pretty good job) – if anything, the glasses had more water marks on them (again, I think the vinegar plays a big part as a rinse aid). I’ll be sticking with my recipe but I may experiment with the 2 extra ingredients (sodium carbonate and sodium percarbonate). I appreciate you taking the time to comment and would love to hear if you have any more thoughts.

  4. Hi ,
    I am interested in making some dishwasher tablets but is it possible for you to give me precise measurements please as I find the ‘part’ system confusing.
    Many Thanks,
    Gilliana

    1. Hi Gilliana

      It depends on how many you want to make (and the size of your ice cube tray compartments) but here's what I measure out:

      150ml bicarb of soda
      150ml citric acid
      37.5ml dishwasher salt
      37.5ml white vinegar
      few drops of essential oils

      Hope that helps 🙂
      Steph

  5. Will be giving these a go once i get hold of some dishwasher salt thanks for sharing. Our current solution is leaving the items on the top shelf dirtier than they go in.

    I’m just not sure how my dishwasher will fair from not topping up the rinse aid and salt dispensers.

    1. Jade, I can promise you these will give you far better results than your current solution (unless there’s something wrong with your dishwasher). If you have soft water you shouldn’t need to add salt or rinse aid. Try the tablets on their own and then you can add salt/rinse aid if you feel you need to. Let me know how you get on 🙂

  6. Hi Steph,

    Is white vinegar the same as distilled white vinegar? I just want to double check before i have a go at making these.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Elaine

      I’ve read conflicting things online about the difference between white vinegar and distilled vinegar, so I’m not 100% sure but I reckon for all intents and purposes they are effectively the same thing. Either would likely be fine. The stuff I get is ‘distilled malt vinegar’.

      Hope that helps 🙂
      Steph

    1. Sorry to hear you didn’t get the same results I’ve found with using these tablets. What type of stain do you mean? They don’t work effectively on tea stains but I find them very effectively for anything else. There are a few factors that might affect the results you get, including: a) Is your water hard or soft? I have very soft water, so you may need to use more dishwasher salt and/or citric acid if you have hard water; b) It’s best to rinse dishes off and not let food dry onto plates before putting them in the dishwasher – you may need to pre-soak dishes if that does happen; c) If your dishes come out dirty/greasy, it may mean that the filter needs cleaning. Hope this is helpful.

  7. Hi! I loved the idea of this and made some over the weekend. I found that this didn't get rid of tea stains from cups. Is there any modifications that you have tried that could help with this?

    1. Hi Archie, They don't do well with tea stains – that's the only thing I find they don't do well. 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. I keep meaning to add a note about this to the post – thanks for the reminder, I'll do it now 🙂

  8. Oh my days thanks so much for this great recipe!! Absolutely brilliant and cheap and eco!!! Love making them too!! Like you said just give coffee/tea cups a swill and good to go!!
    Thanks again!

  9. Can I use pure vinger in the formation of the dishwashing tablet???

    Please let me know. will wait for it.
    Thanks

  10. Been looking for a dishwasher tablet recipe for a while. Came across this one. First time making these.

    Figured out a couple thing that maybe useful to those making them.

    1. Filled ice trays with water broken down the 2, 2, 1/2, 1/2 parts into grams. Measurement in grams worked out pretty close. Still to test tablets though.

    2. Small amounts of vinegar at a time keeps the reaction down.

    2. When the reaction settles the mixture does solidify. But it can be broken up into a wet powder.
    (Think rubbing butter into flour for cakes). Power is easily handled when putting into ice trays.

    3. I bought packs of two ice trays (actually got a great deal on 4 packs of 2). One tray to fill one to fit on top and use to compress the mixture. Heavy object like a brick or if your me, I stood on combined trays

    Compressed the mixture tightly into neat tablet form, similar to shop bought.

    Waiting on tablets drying before use. Will report back on how good they work.

    1. Thanks for your comment Amelia. Definitely best to add a little vinegar at a time – in my post I suggest adding half of the amount to start with and adding more if needed. Great tip about compressing the mixture with another ice cube tray, weighted down – might give that a go myself! I'd love to hear how you find the tablets once you've used them. 😀

      1. Now been using the tablets for a coupke of weeks.

        They work out great.

        Using them for so may other tasks also.

        Pre wash or rinsing dishes is something I've always done prior to loading a dishwasher. So , in my case this was just a case of swapping out shop bought tablets to the new eco self made ones.

        Glasswear is squeaky clean. No marks. Pots and pans squeaky clean no oil residues.

        Tablets work a treat.

        But it doesn't stop their..

        Heavy soiled pots – soaked with hot water and one tablet – 5mins – quick wipe and they are ready for the washer.

        I used salt and bi carb in conjunction with soapnuts and essential oils in the washing machine for clothes and towels etc. Now I can just pop in one of these dishwasher tablets also.
        Works great.

        Also cleaning the washing machine. Throw a couple of they in on a hot cycle. Spotless washing machine.

        Toilet cistern couple of block descale and freshen the water pipes.

        So many natural cleaning uses…

  11. Hi, I want to try this recipe but I’m unsure of which dishwasher salt to use. The name sounds chemical-ly in itself. I’ve looked at some and they contradict themselves, stating it’s 99% pure, and it’s 100% sodium chloride. This confuses me. Could you please tell me where I might get safe dishwasher salt to use. Thankyou

    1. Hi Pam,
      I'm not sure about the '99% pure' thing but I wonder if it's something to do with being made in the same room as other products and they have to say that to cover their own back (kinda like having to put a 'may contain nuts' warning on a food product that doesn't contain nuts but is made in same factory as food that does contain nuts). Just a guess though. I'm pretty sure that any dishwasher salt should be fine. I bought mine from Lidl or Aldi, can't remember which now but it came in a cardboard box with no plastic. I transferred it to a large plastic airtight container to keep moisture away, as I don't get through it very quickly.
      Hope that helps.
      Steph

  12. I've just tried your dishwasher pods recioed for the first time and can't figure out what I've done wrong as the mixture just keeps expanding and overflowing the ice cube that's. I've tried pressing it down again but that seems to reactivate the expansion and ouzing?
    I followed instructions to the letter though perhaps didn't leave it sit long enough in the bowl before trying to transfer to ice cube tray. I left it 10 minutes in the mixing bowl but was unclear of your timing description to make a cup of tea.
    Any advice gratefully appreciated,
    Thank you,
    Barbara

    1. Sorry for the late reply Barbara. It sounds like too much vinegar. If you want to give them another go, try putting in less vinegar to start with and only add a little more if needed. Hope that helps!

  13. Hi.

    Just wanted to say that I used your recipe and measurements (it does help to state them rather than part, what's a part) which I found in the comments.

    It worked a treat. Everything was pretty much the same as if we had used a shop bought product. Really happy as we basically want to save money on these kind of products and make our own.

    Thanks very much for your recipe.

    1. You're welcome – it's great to hear you're happy with the results!

      The measurements I use (in ml) are in the post, just under the ingredients list, but perhaps they could be clearer. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

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