Homemade Borax Free Dishwasher Detergent Recipe

dishwashing detergentI am so happy to tell you that I’ve FINALLY came up with the perfect dishwashing detergent without using Borax but with a secret  ingredient.

I posted my recipe for homemade dishwashing detergent using Castile soap awhile ago and I’ve had results from “not-so-great” to “iffy” at best. And the main reason seems to be that Castile soap coats a thin film on some dishes and glasses. I’ve used vinegar as a rinse but it’s still not that effective in making everything spotless. Some people suggest using Borax but I’m not so sure it’s that safe either.

See the “old” and “new” images for my glasses and stainless steel lids and blades above? “Old” ones are using Castile soap. Very disappointing.

So frustrated, I was determined to find the perfect dishwashing liquid, using non-toxic ingredients. I still love Borax in my laundry detergent recipe but decided against using it for washing dishes and utensils.

If you have one of those dishwashing detergent brands that contain synthetic chemicals, throw it out. It’s gross. Use my formula. It’s much safer. Besides, I did all the work in finding the perfect formula for you. I ran my dishwasher a bazillion times to test them all and this is the formula that rocked in making my dishes and utensil spotless!

I’m going to list the exact amount that I use for one load of wash. You can multiply this for a larger quantity but it’s just as easy to scoop out individual portions each time. It only takes a few seconds and scooping it out individually, I know I am getting the exact proportions.

dishwasher detergent

Homemade Borax Free Dishwasher Detergent Recipe

  • 1 Tbsp of Washing Soda – a.k.a. Sodium Carbonate. It acts as a de-greaser and disinfectant.
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt (or Sea Salt) – softens hard water. This amount can be adjusted, according to how hard or soft your water is.
  • Secret ingredient –> 1/2 TSP Plant Based dishwashing liquid soap – the kind you use for hand washing your dishes. Yes, the one that your dishwasher’s manual says NOT to use! But make sure you use no more than this amount. Otherwise, you’ll get a huge sudsy mess and you’ll cuss at me, like I did many times. And I don’t want that to happen. My hubby already did that….after using too much and got my kitchen floor all sudsy. (If by chance, the dishwasher spits out suds from using too much dishwashing liquid, stop the machine and drain the water. Then, pour/splash some vinegar into the suds. It magically makes the suds dissipate. And then, start the machine again, without  putting any more detergents.)
  • Full strength white vinegar in the closed second detergent compartment + in the rinse aid well – The idea is to have the vinegar rinse the dishes after the powder washes the dishes. NOTE: you do NOT want to put vinegar and the soap in the dishwasher at the same time as vinegar is acid and soap or detergent is basic so they will neutralize each other, making the whole thing useless.
  • 1 Tbsp Undiluted Citrus Enzyme (Optional) See the recipe here but you can omit it and you’ll still be fine. There are other detergent recipes that require citric acid (see below for links) but I didn’t want to buy another thing. So since I was going to use this for cleaning anyway, I decided to add it to my wash. If you can make this enzyme, you should. It really makes the dishes and glass squeaky clean! And you can use it in so many other places, including washing fruits and vegetables.


Dishwasher loading tip to maximize the machine: Make sure you load the dishes well so that water can reach inside the bowls, dishes, utensils, and glasses. In trying to be ‘green’, I used to really jam pack the machine and sometimes food residue didn’t come off because water flow was blocked. Make sure utensils are loosely placed and not too compacted. This is especially true if you are not running your dishwasher right away. Obviously, dried up food scraps won’t come off as easily. Also, open the dishwasher door when the wash is done and let air dry. It uses less energy if you let it air dry than use the heat.

Now with the instructions on using the detergent…..add washing soda and kosher salt in the OPEN compartment. Fill the second compartment with vinegar and close the lid. Add the dishwashing liquid (and citrus enzyme, if using) anywhere inside the dishwasher. That’s it! When you use this formula for the first time, just be mindful of the machine and stay nearby, just in case the machine overflows with suds. Using 1/2 Tsp of Ecover brand worked like a charm for my machine. But if you are using another brand, especially if it’s concentrated, you’ll have to adjust the amount. Start with very small amounts and see how your dishes turn out and then increase it little by little if you are not happy with the result.

So far, I am very happy with this formula for my dishes. If you have really greasy dishes and pans, you might need to add a little more of each ingredients, except for dishwashing liquid.

Do you want to know how to make your own Washing Soda? Check out my tutorial! It’s easy peasy!


  1. Mitch says

    I should have added, omit the dish soap, and you don’t get a suds disaster. Atleast, it worked for me.

  2. Mitch says

    @ecokaren  My bosch dishwasher, pretty old, only uses 6 gallons of water per cycle. I’m not sure about you, but, I have no idea, how to use less than that, to clean up 2 frying pans, and the plates, glasses and silverware that comes along with that. I think in a lot of ways, the dishwasher, uses less water & energy (when you don’t use heated dry, and it uses less hot water)

    Any Ideas? I like to use Hot Water for handwashing, but, I just think it’s wasteful, imo.

  3. Mitch says

    The Liquid Dish soap (ecover), is a horrible, horrible, horrible idea for anyone with soft water.. Just ask my poor, hardwood floors.. :(

    It just suds up too, too much. Obviously, don’t run the dishwasher before you go to work, otherwise you’ll come home to a ruined kitchen.

  4. says

    klynn2020 Yes. Here is my recipe for using Castile soap. http://www.drkarenslee.com/2013/04/borax-free-castile-soap-dishwashing-liquid-formula/

  5. abbylai says

    Hi Sarah, Can you substitute washing soda with baking soda? I only have baking soda at home. Thanks!

  6. Sarah says

    I want to use a borax free recipe to avoid harmful chemicals or toxins but I’ve heard washing soda is extremely toxic so is it any better than using borax from that standpoint? Help!

    • karen says

      Hi Sarah,

      Where did you hear that washing soda is “extremely toxic”? I guess, nothing is totally “toxin free” since a large quantity of even ‘safe’ chemicals can be toxic. But I don’t think Sodium Carbonate – washing soda – is toxic in the amount that you’d be using in a dishwasher. And as I mentioned in the comment, vinegar (acid) would neutralize any residue of the washing soda (basic) when you rinse and it’ll turn it into water.

      LIke you said, I’d be more worried about using Borax to wash dishes than washing soda. You can check on Wikipedia or one EWG. Here is the link from EWG, if you would like to check.



  7. Jennifer says

    Can this be made into a bulk batch or are the measurements important. Trying to work with my parents who like everything convenient.

    • says


      I haven’t tried making the recipe into a liquid version but I assume you can so everything is incorporated. And yes, the measurements are important since you don’t want to use too much liquid dishwashing soap because it will flood the machine with too much suds. And you can’t add vinegar to the formula since it would lose its acidity when mixing with washing soda.

  8. says

    I am sick and not able to get out right now and I need to know how to make dish detergent and don’t have any borax or costal soap or what ever its called,. I just want a simple recipe of stuff that I have in my Apt. nothing hard just something easy, If I could I would go to the the store but I can’t

    • says


      Sorry I didn’t see this comment until recently.

      This recipe does not use Borax or Castile soap. If you are in a bind, try using the dish liquid soap, salt, vinegar, and washing soda. In a pinch and for just a few loads, you should be able to wash a load with these ingredients.

      If you can’t find washing soda, you can order it from Amazon through the link in the post.
      Hope you feel better!

  9. says

    Well, guess what with my new eco conscious reawakening.. and the disgust of my moldy Dishwasher, even though I have cleaned it, I have decided to start washing our dishes for two by hand!! ( We shall see how long this last). I hate to run a partially full d.w. If I run the rinse cycle I waste water and my dishes are in a dark damp environment over night.. so for now Two whole days I am going back to hand washing..thanks Karen for you encouragement!! and BTW the other night thinking about reducing plastic.. I was thinking about repurposing old denim shirts and jeans into grocery and other carry alls.. I loved finding your repurposed sleeveless t-shirt bags on your Etsy bag!! SCORE.. what is it they say about ‘ GREAT MINDS’?? :)

    • says

      Hi Deborah,
      Yeah, running a partially full dishwasher wastes water and energy. Not a good idea for sure. And to leave wet dishes inside the dishwasher will definitely create mold. Yuk! Washing dishes for only TWO people by hand is definitely the way to go….unless you have big pots and pans to wash too. My parents and my in laws never use their dishwashers either. It’s quicker and save more energy to do them by hand. Use s dishpan to squirt some dishwashing liquid and turn off the water. After washing the dishes, fill it up again with new water and rinse. That’ll save a lot of water.

      I LOVE repurposing shirts and pants to totes! So glad you are reducing plastic! Awesome!!

      Yes, “Great Minds” rule!

  10. Lacey says

    Thank you!!! The vinager is really key, you both were right! I found that putting a little more vinager in at the end of the cycle really help to make them clear…and yes, I have HARD water…hate it!!!!

  11. Lulu says

    I used this recipe without the optional ingredients and I also omitted the salt because we have a water softener. At first, the dishes were sparkling and I was thrilled. After about three weeks, I have a film on some of my glassware and dishes. I will try to add a little salt and see if that helps. Any other suggestions?

    • says


      Do you use vinegar? Are you using too much washing soda? You may have to adjust the amounts a little, depending on the hardness of your water. If you using water softener, you may not need that much washing soda too. My water is pretty neutral so this promotion works for me. Maybe you can use a little more vinegar and less washing soda. Maybe use a bit more dishwashing liquid soap. You’ll have to try to adjust the amounts a little until it reaches the optimum ratio for your water.

      Sorry I don’t have a magic formula that fits everyone. :( But if you play around with it a little, you can still achieve the maximum benefit and still not have to use Borax.

      Hope that helps. :)

      • Lulu says

        Thanks! I’ll keep playing with the amounts until I find the magic formula for our machine and water :)

  12. Lacey says

    Have any tips or what I should do differently if my dishes came out foggy with lots of white spots too? I ran another cycle afterwards with the enzyme and vinegar and they came out perfect!!! But I don’t want to run it twice to get that result…maybe just add more enzyme to the bottom???

    • Cheryl says

      Try cleaning out your dishwasher. The slotted thing at the bottom comes off (mine does) and you can clean it out. Also running an empty wash with just vinegar helped my issue.
      Also vinegar in the 2nd compartment AND in the rinse aid helped me.

      • Cheryl says

        I don’t mean clean it out ever day just every once in awhile. I find I have to do this every so often.

    • says

      Hi Lacey,

      It sounds like you have hard water. Like Cheryl said, run your dishwasher empty with about 2 C. vinegar. Check the bottom of the dishwasher to make sure there are no food waste blocking the drain. Fill the rinse aid compartment with vinegar. Then, the next time you use your dishwasher, use 1 1/2 C of vinegar in the second detergent compartment (mine has a cover that you close before I start my wash). Using the vinegar after you use the Washing Soda and Salt will rinse your dishes well, and soften the water. Let me know if this helps.

  13. says

    Hi Meagan,

    I would put the powders – baking soda and salt in the bottom of the dishwasher, along with the liquid soap. Then put the vinegar in the closed compartment.

    So powders gets used to wash the dishes and the vinegar in the closed compartment opens later to rinse the dishes.

    Hope that help. :)

  14. Meagan says

    I have a question…my “open” compartment is closed off with the same door as the closed one, just kind of vented so that that part of the compartment empties before the door opens. However, it’s a TINY compartment, and was full after just the salt (before the washing soda). Ideas?

  15. says

    Ecover and all the other “natural” “soaps” are in fact corn- or coconut-based *detergents* (made from their fats). They are better for the environment because they are biodegradable, but they are just as harmful to your skin and intestine as detergents made of petroleum. I use real soap (your castille soap is one example of real soap), and for anyone with sensitive skin who would like to learn more, I suggest googling the solveeczema website (which is not mine).

    For HANDWASHING sans build-up: DON’T fill the sink with water. I have no problems as long as I use a sodium tallowate bar, wetted and rubbed on a wet plastic scrubbie (works better than a cloth when using real soap), scrubbing directly onto the pot/pan/dish, and rinsing right away. If something needs to be soaked, let it catch the rinse water of the stuff that doesn’t need to be soaked, then when the time comes to wash it, dump the water into something else that needs to be soaked, scrub and rinse. If you really want to save water and work fast, you can scrub a bunch of dishes, but instead of rinsing them, keep stacking them onto the counter, then rinse a bunch at once before the soap dries. There will be NO build-up.

    This works because the longer you keep your dishes in contact with soap AND water, the more magnesium/calcium/iron/manganese (ie, soap scum) will bond with the sodium atom at the end of the soap molecules, producing a film. Just keep them out of the water after they’re soapy, except to quickly rinse (in hot water).

    • says

      Your comment about Ecover made me look at its ingredients more carefully. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t state that it contains coconut or corn based detergents. And even if it did, as far as my family is concerned, those substances are not the issue. However, it does contain SLS and Wheat protein, which is a concern. I guess every family has to look at what they are sensitive or allergic to before purchasing anything.

      And thanks for your tip on hand washing. I used Castile soap before and no matter how quickly I washed the dishes with and not soak them, it still left film. Big fail.

      My search for hand washing soap hasn’t ended yet so I’m still experimenting.

      Thanks for your comment! :)

      • Brittanie says

        Thank you for the post! It was super amazing timing because I was sick of the damage just pure vinegar was doing to the floor of my dishwasher and was about to start experimenting with the very same ingredients you used. I think that citric acid, or your enzyme mixture, should be the secret ingredient, though! I just tried your recipe last night and my dishes still came out foggy, so I ran another cycle, this time with about a 1/4 tsp of citric acid added to the basic ingredients, and the dishes came out better than they ever have– actually, perfect!! The whole point of my getting a dishwasher was to spend more time with my kids, but how much extra time have I gotten when I had to rewash half the cutlery?…

        Thanks again!

          • Brittanie says

            No, I put it in the closed compartment that pops open later. I want to keep bases and acids separate so that they don’t go turning into water, gas, and a salt. =) If I spill any vinegar while trying to get it into the rinse hole, then I wipe it up. So I have salt, washing soda and soap out right away, laying on the door and open compartment to wash the dishes, and then vinegar and citric acid coming out of various compartments to rinse the dishes.

            • says

              Hi Brittanie,

              I use my citrus enzyme in lieu of of citric acid but I also add vinegar in the second compartment and the dishes come out perfect every time. You may have hard water compared to mine so you may need the citric acid, stronger than homemade citrus enzyme. Or maybe more vinegar??? Or reduce the washing soda? I had to adjust the amounts a lot before I came up with this recipe but your water might require you to do the same. If you are happy with using citric acid, then, that’s fine too. It’s just that I heard it was expensive so I decided to try the homemade version. 😉

              Also, I noticed that when I use The Honest Company’s dishwashing soap, I can use a little more than Ecover. It’s less sudsing than Ecover it seems. I want suds but not too much.

              I’m always learning. :)

              • Brittanie says

                My water has a medium hardness to it, so your recipe works perfectly. I never have citrus fruits around and always have citric acid on hand so that’s why I use it. It’s expensive at the few pharmacies that still carry it, but it’s cheap at baking shops and bulk stores.

                Both of those are detergents and the latter has stuff added to it so that it doesn’t foam as much. If you find real liquid soap (health and bulk stores only) then you’ll find it is very low foaming. I actually hate using it because of that, but it’s perfect for this recipe. Other than that, I use bars of soap for everything.

                Real soap is just a fatty acid bonded to either a sodium or potassium atom. There are two liquid soaps in my house right now and one is made by The Soap Works and one is made by NatureClean. They’re just water, soap, glycerin, salt. That’s it. =)

  16. says

    How do all of the products work in a stainless steel dishwasher. I didnt mind using homemade in my old dishwasher but worried it will discolor the stainless steel lining

    • Terry says

      i have been using this recipe as well as others in my stainless steel dishwasher and it works out well….actually the inside of my dishwasher has more sparkle and shine than when i used store brand detergents….terry winchell

  17. Karen says

    “Even you can’t be silly enough”…. Wow… that came across as pretty condescending, Becky. Just because it’s the internet, you don’t need to be rude. Just saying.

    Truthfully speaking, using a dishwasher is more eco-friendly than handwashing dishes, if you’re like most people and will go through three or four sinks full of water before you’re done soaking, forgetting, re-soaking, washing, rinsing under running water…

    Something else I’ve heard of doing for a quick dishwasher clean is runing a package of Tang through it on the quick cycle.

    • Cheryl says

      Karen you took the words out of my mouth lol

      I am SO going to try this recipe vs the one with borax, washing soda and citric acid, which is clumping BIG time since I moved to Cali.

      • says

        Oh…I heard about clumping issue with Borax. One thing I did was to put a little packet of desiccants – you know a little silica packet that comes inside some dried foods and other things??? – in the tub and that worked beautifully.

        But of course, now that I don’t use Borax, I don’t need it.

        Good Luck!

    • says

      Thanks Karen. Love your name! :)
      I explained to Becky about the differences between hand washing and using the dishwasher. Most people don’t know that fact, including my husband who insists on ‘helping’ me by washing by hand.

      Tang must work as Citric Acid. Some recommend using unsweetened colorless kool aid packets (good luck finding that!) instead of citric acid (expensive) so I can see why Tang could be used. You have to be careful that it doesn’t stain any white dishes. I heard that colorants in kool aid stains dishes so it’s better to use either colorless or lemon to minimize stains.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Cheryl says

        I’ve actually used the lemon koolaid with no color issues since its so light.
        Didn’t think to use Tang. Really no color? Hmm who would of thought

        • says

          Yeah, lemon koolaid works well. But I don’t know about the orange color in Tang. And how ‘natural’ is that color anyway? My kids are allergic to certain color dyes. But so far so good with this formula since there is no color. Actually, everything in this formula is edible. lol. I wouldn’t feed it to any animal but….

      • says

        That is awesome! Thank you for the link Victoria!

        I don’t think washing soda is that toxic. Besides, I am using vinegar afterwards to rinse and neutralize any washing soda residue that might be left in the dishwasher, so I think using washing soda is safe.

        Thanks again!

        • Victoria N says

          Yes washing soda is safe.. it is part of baking soda. This just helps if you have a hard time finding washing soda ( been hearing that some can’t find it in the stores ) or if you want to be extra extra frugal .. which I love being lol.. Thanks so much for all the wonderful info you give us!!

  18. BlueB says

    Becky3086 Did you know you save a lot more water using a dishwasher than washing by hand???

    I’m curious about the lemon, could it leave pock marks on my flatware? I have to stay away from any citrus cleaners due to the type of flatware I have.

    • says

      So far, it hasn’t affected my stainless steel utensils or pans. Maybe if there is a direct contact, it might? But since I’m putting it down on the floor of the dishwasher and not on the dishes, it hasn’t affected my flatware so far.

      If you are not sure, then, you can leave it out.

  19. says

    I was hooked until you said “dishwasher”. So what exactly is in washing soda and you plant based dish washing liquid. Even you can’t be silly enough to think that you can make a natural plant look like dish soap and it still be natural….really?
    Besides this there is NOTHING about a dishwasher that is eco friendly…just saying.. Really how hard is it to wash dishes in a dish pan?

    • says

      There are many sources that say hand washing wastes more water than using the dishwasher. But if you use the sink or a dishpan to collect water to wash and then rinse, without letting the water run, it saves water. But in general, using the dishwasher actually saves more water. So, how much water you use depends on how you hand wash.

      Also, by saving water, you’re also helping your city’s wastewater facility save on the energy used to pump it, treat it, and clean it. Up to 50 percent of a typical city’s energy bill goes to supplying water and cleaning it after use, according to one source.

      Washing Soda is a naturally occurring chemical, Sodium Carbonate. Natural doesn’t always means it safe but it’s safer than synthetic chemicals that are used in making commercial detergents like Cascade that I showed in the post. That is toxic for sure. And the plant based liquid soap I use, Ecover (there are others), is derived from plants and the ingredients are biodegradable and are totally safe for the rivers and ocean. You can check their ingredients in any of their websites. Dishwashing soaps like Dawn, Palmolive, Dove, etc are all derived from petroleum. Not exactly what I want to wash my dishes with or let the runoffs go downstream to rivers and ocean and affect marine life.

      Great questions and thanks for reading. :)

  20. says

    One more question for the list: I don’t have an open compartment in my dishwasher. Both compartments close behind the little door. So…should I put the other things in the bottom of the dishwasher? Or close it all up in the little compartment with the door?

    • says

      You should put the powder in the compartment that opens up FIRST and the vinegar in the compartment opens up afterwards.

      The idea is to use the powder to wash the dishes and vinegar for the rinsing part.

      If one door closes both compartments, which seems odd, then, put the powder in the bottom of the dishwasher and fill one of the compartment with vinegar. This way, powder gets used up to wash, and then vinegar will rinse the dishes.

      Hope that helps. :)

        • Terry says

          hi kiki…..don’t think you’re nuts…..i have the same problem….two compartments and only one lid for both…so they both open at the same time…..i used this soap recipe for the first time last night and it worked great…..

          • Renyel says

            I too have the double compartment w/ 1 lid scenario, however one section is bigger than the other and both are meant for dishwasher detergent I believe. The part of the lid that covers the small section has little holes in it so that SOME of the detergent gets used first, maybe as a pre-wash or something? Then later, the lid will flip open and the rest of the detergent will get used out of the bigger section. So do your lids have these little holes in it? Otherwise, I see no point in having 2 separate compartments with 1 lid.

            So anyways, I’m going to put the powder and salt in the small section and the vinegar in the big section and hopefully the powder will come out of the holes ok when water is splashing on it.

  21. Annette says

    Question: does it need to be kosher salt? Or could I use sea salt? (it would save me a trip to the store)

  22. Deb says

    can this recipe be used for hand washing dishes or do you have one that will work, I have tried the one using castille soap and it leaves a horrible film, even after adding vinegar when I rinse my dishes, I don’t want to go back to store dishwashing soap, I’ve been playing with using my homemade laundry detergent and rinse extra well…but would love to have something without borax for my dishes…

    • says

      Hi Deb,

      Believe it or not, I’m in the middle of experimenting with dishwashing liquid too. While I love Castile soap for laundry, it does leave a thin whitish film on dishes. And since I don’t do too many ‘dishes’ by hand – mostly pots and pans – the filmy coating gets me frustrated.

      So stay tuned for my recipe for hand washing liquid. :)

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