Non-Toxic and Cheap Dishwasher Detergent

Non-Toxic Dishwashing Detergent ecokarenOK, the party is over. This middle aged, pampered, prima donna has to get back to doing the dishes after celebrating her 50th birthday. (And THANK YOU for all your birthday wishes. My “Fifty things to Remember” post received over 1100 page views! I feel so loved. ♥)

And after my “AR” finished cooking – yes, he grilled this awesome Asian Citrus Salmon on my birthday and even brought home a Strawberry Shortcake! Emily was sick as a dog to bake me her fabulous version but that’s ok.  And he even did the dishes! Bless his heart.

And, as life doesn’t disappoint, we ran out of the dishwasher detergent.

So instead of buying a new one, I wanted to check to see if my castile soap can be used as a dishwasher detergent. I bought a bottle to make various types of cleansers – remember the Natural Soft Scrub I made?  Dr Bronner’s Castile Soap has NOTHING but certified organic vegetable oils. So even if there’s a little bit of residue left on my dishes, I wouldn’t ingest artificially harmful chemicals so I know it’s safe. Besides, it’s biodegradable so it won’t harm the water system.

These were the same reasons why I used plant derived dishwashing detergents anyway but I wanted to see if I can use this magic soap since it would be cheaper. And being that Dr. Bonner’s soap is for washing and not made specifically for dishwashers, I wasn’t sure if it’d be too sudsy for the dishwasher. So I checked for the recipe and “Bingo!” You sure can use it in the dishwasher! Yesss!

I decided to skip a few ingredients and go to the hardcore version – I wasn’t about to buy a new set of essential oil, yet.

The difference between soap and detergent

But before I tell you the recipe, here is some basics about the difference between soap and detergent.

Detergent is ” synthetic. Simple. Some detergents are very toxic to fish and wildlife. Detergent are better for hard water since it react less to minerals in water.

Soap is naturally derived and is safe for the environment. The drawback of using soap is it reacts with minerals in water, and depending on whether you have hard water or soft water, it may leave an insoluble film on dishes.

Dishwasher VS. Handwashing

You may wonder if it’s more eco-friendly to wash dishes by using the dishwasher. I have great news for you divas.

YES it is!

According to Treehugger;

…thanks to a scientific study at the University of Bonn in Germany, you can have your cake and eat it too-relaxed in the knowledge that the cleaning up with your trusted machine will be a piece of cake and the eco-friendly thing to do…The Bonn study proves that the dishwasher uses only half the energy and one-sixth of the water, less soap too. Even the most sparing and careful washers could not beat the modern dishwasher. The study also rated the cleanliness achieved, again in favor of the washing machine…

Booyah! and Yesssss!

Of course, you wouldn’t want to run a dishwasher if it’s not full but rest be assured that if you are washing the same number of dishes, it’s better to wash in a dishwasher. But I do wash small items and dishes that can’t be washed in a dishwasher in a big pot that needs to be washed or in a dishpan. I dont’ let the water run and I don’t use soap for each dish.

Oh, but before your do your next wash with this detergent recipe, check this article on how to use your dishwasher – Yes, there is a right and a wrong way to use your dishwasher. What’s not on the list, though, is skipping the dry cycle, which uses a ton of energy. Just open the dishwasher door when the wash is done, and air dry. The hot water will evaporate and dry very quickly – you don’t need to use the dry cycle.

Now this a simple recipe for dishwasher detergent soap.

Non-Toxic Dishwashing Detergent ecokaren

Non-Toxic and Cheap Dishwasher Detergent


1 8 oz Bottle of Castile Soap – fragrance of your choice. Almond or Citrus is the best option for the kitchen.
1 C Water
2 Tsp Lemon Juice or more if  you’d like but totally optional. Personally, I didn’t smell any lemon when the dishes were done but  I saw this tip somewhere so I’d try it this time.
1 Qt. Size Glass Jar with lid
IMPORTANT::: > ESPECIALLY if you you have hard water, use about 1 1/2 C to 1 C of White Vinegar in the second detergent compartment (mine opens after the first washing cycle)


Mix the ingredients in a jar, close the lid and shake gently.

That’s it!

How to use castile dishwasher detergent

There are some recipes on the web, telling you to add vinegar to Castile soap. Even baking soda.

But let me tell you why that’s a bad idea. Castile soap is basic. Vinegar is acidic. When you add them together, at the same time, you’ll neutralize the soap and you can visibly see clumping in your soap. That means, the two compounds are reacting and the soap will lose the cleaning property. Yes, that might depend on the pH level of both but with most castile soaps, and most household white vinegar, they will neutralize when they meet.

So, DO NOT mix vinegar and soap together. Don’t ever say I never warned you. :)

  1. Fill OPEN compartment with 1 Tbsp of the castile soap mixture made above.
  2. Fill CLOSED compartment with about 1 to 1 1/2 Cup of white vinegar. You can use MORE vinegar if your water is hard. I found that I needed a little more vinegar so I put vinegar in the “Rinse Aid” compartment as well.

Non-Toxic Dishwashing Detergent4 ecokaren

One thing I found is that if I let food dry up on dishes before running the dishwasher, they do not get cleaned very well since I don’t pre-rinse. That sounds like a common sense, no? But I don’t know if my commercial detergents worked better at cleaning dried up food or not since I never really checked as thoroughly before. But with usual washes, I am really satisfied with this recipe and I don’t have to sorry about toxicity on dishes.

FOR HARDWATER – If you find that your dishes are coming out cloudy after a cycle, add 1 CUP of vinegar in the machine – just pour straight into the bottom of the machine – and run a rinse cycle once. Air dry afterwards.

Here is how to make dishwashing liquid soap for washing dishes by hand….for pots and pans, and other little (and big) things that can’t go in the dishwasher.

Do you use Castile soap for dish washing? How do you like it? What is your recipe for various cleaning jobs?

Source: Care 2


  1. says

    AJ Dove  Yes, you are not suppose to mix acids with any soap…as in my post. That’s why the instruction says to put the vinegar in a separate compartment so that it gets released after the wash is done…after the soap has done its job. The small tsp of lemon juice is really negligible so it does not clump or neutralize the soap. It was supposed to be for fragrance. But in my opinion, it’s not needed.  That’s why I said it’s totally optional. Thanks for reading!

  2. AJ Dove says

    Per the Dr. Bronner’s site, you’re not supposed to mix lemon juice or vinegar with their soaps.

  3. goldentwig says

    What I don’t understand is that my two “compartments” in the dishwasher are not nearly as big as you describe. The “closed” compartment (which leaks out anyway) barely held 2 oz of vinegar when I filled it just now. Is my dishwasher going to be sudsing over? I did add 1/2 cup vinegar to the almost empty Rinse Aid compartment.

  4. heidilady72 says

    Excuse me, but lemon juice is acidic.  Putting it in the castile soap will do the same thing as the vinegar.  😉  Lemon or vinegar only goes in at the rinse cycle.  Also pre-rinsing defeats the purpose of water conservation-just saying.  Hot enough water should get the dishes clean.  Hot water makes the soap work better.

  5. richshew says

    also..  im weary of using organic fruit (like a fresh lemon or lime) in anything that has a shelf life because organic fruit bio degrades.  definitely stay with a true essential oil, like lavender or eucalyptus.  even, ive found with other product creations, orange and lime essential oils dont mix well.  i made a bottle of windshield wiping fluid with vinegar and water and lime essential oil, and the oil stays at the top unmixed.  wasnt the same when i made the same recipe but with eucalyptus essential oil.  these are the thing ive found.
    also, along with the other karen here, i too have tried several forms of a recipe calling for citric acid and it’s never panned out.  my wife is sick of my ideas NOT getting our dishes clean lol so i want to try a liquid based recipe.  we’ve always used liquid soap.  it’s just, a few months ago i went and picked up a big bottle at the store and when i read the price, i felt like i was being mugged or robbed at gun point.  i want that to be the last bottle of commercial grade dish detergent i ever purchase.
    thanks for this recipe, karen.  it is appreciated.

  6. richshew says

    cannot find basic castile soap in stores near me.  no trader joes around here.  we do have a whole foods, but everything there is quite expensive.  i did find a nice recipe to make my own castile bars.  i have everything i need except a thick plastic bowl.  they take up to ten weeks to cure, though..  ill likely pick up an expensive bottle of castile.  im sure it will still be less than a bottle of cascade lol
    thanks for the recipe.

  7. ecokaren says

    You are welcome! ‘soap” is not that great for ‘water’ if that makes sense…and the first link explains why. So castile soap, which is made with vegetable oil, is not the best for the dishwasher, I found out. For a quick handwashing is ok though but the updated formula works great for me and I don’t have hard water! For handwashing, try this without Borax (giveaway ended though) –>

  8. ecokaren says

    Did you use kosher salt and washing soda? I have an ‘updated’ post on the dishwasher detergent recipe. If you have hard water, it might be enough. See below for a better recipe for you.

  9. Colleen Sauvé says

    I did this Karen. I was very excited about it, unfortunately my dishes came out looking quit rough despite using the castile mixture and vinegar. We’re back to hand washing because my husband believes it’s the only way to get them clean. :(

  10. Tom says

    Hi Karen,

    I’m new to castile soap. Is this a frugal persons product or is the pleasure in knowing that it is environmentally friendly?

    • says

      Hi Tom,
      Personally, I like Castile soap because it’s made with mostly organic vegetable oils. I know it’s gentle on my skin and when it gets into our waster system, it won’t harm the environment too. I also like the fact that I can buy one large bottle for multipurpose around the house. No need to buy so many different kinds of soap. I’m sure some use it because it’s very inexpensive.

  11. Lauren says

    I’m wondering if anyone has used this and has an issue with suds. I recently had my NEW dishwasher serviced and the technician said it was full of suds and couldn’t drain water or wash properly because of the suds. I’ve been using white vinegar as a rinse agent since I bought the dishwasher. Now, I know we had a suds problem because my husband uses too much detergent AND soaks dishes in soapy water before putting them in the dishwasher. The tech told him to never allow any dish soap to get into the dishwasher, but if it does, he should put a little bit of vegetable oil in the drain. Anyway, I’m a bit hesitant to introduce the dishwasher to castile soap, although I absolutely love it and use it as a cleaner and even an insect repellent in the garden.

    • says

      Hi Lauren,

      I didn’t use the ‘recommended’ amount of commercial dishwasher detergent even when I used to use them (Seventh Generation). In fact, SG founder Steve Hollander stated in one of the interviews NOT to use that much detergent. It is not necessary. It’s a gimmick for companies for you to use a lot of detergent so that they can sell more. And you should never pre-rinse either. That defeats the reason for using the dishwasher to save water. So presoaking them is even worse since you are using up more soap! Besides, your dishwasher needs food particles for the detergent and the water to work to clean your dishes. Otherwise, the water and the detergent will actually pit your dishes, damaging them.

      The tech is right. You should NEVER let dishwasher LIQUID SOAP get into the dishwasher. The high suds cause lots of problems.

      But surprisingly, using just ONE TBSP of Castile soap is plenty to wash the dishes. I left out the vinegar one time to see what would happen and it did get very sudsy. So you definitely need to use the vinegar with this formula.

      I use 1 TBSP Castile sop in the OPEN soap compartment. And I FILL the COLSED compartment with vinegar. Dishes come out clean and I never have suds problem.

      I never pre-soak my dishes in the dishwashing soap either. I just scrape the food off and then load the dishwasher, and start the machine.

      If you don’t run your dishwasher right away and you have food stuck on your dishes, they will remain there. If I know that I’m not going to run my dishwasher right away, I rinse out the food before putting them in the dishwasher.

      I hope these tips help. Try the Castile soap and WV. You’ll love the combo.

  12. KarenDF says

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ve tried the homemade dishwasher detergent in the powder version & was not impressed … got tired of experimenting with the recipe & citric acid is not cheap! I LOVE castille soap; so, I was ecstatic to see this post! I use peppermint castille liquid soap in my mop water, to make all-purpose spray cleansers & in my hand soap dispensers (especially in my kitchen dispenser … great for after chopping onions, cooking fish, etc.). Trader Jo’s carries Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Liquid Castille Soap 32 oz bottle at a savings ($10-11 as opposed to $14-16 elsewhere). You can find several varieties & brands of castille soap (Dr. Bronner’s, Desert Essence, etc.) at a savings online at Amazon, LuckyVitamin, Iherb, etc. I use the almond castille as shampoo, shower gel, etc. You can even find it with African Black Soap or shea butter in some brands on LuckyVitamin site.

      • says

        Thanks for all the resources where we can get Dr. Bonner’s Castile Soap! I think its website also sells too. I didn’t compare the prices though. I used Peppermint when I made Soft Scrub and it makes my bathroom smell so clean!
        Love your name too! 😀

        • KarenDF says

          Ever loaded your dishwasher & discovered you were out of detergent (#palmtoforehead)? That’s me today … then, imagine my horror when this page wasn’t bookmarked! Yup … it’s that kinda day! ugh. Google to the rescue … found this page again, mixed up your recipe & hoping thati t’s working on my dishes as I type. Meanwhile, I found a great re-use for an empty, beautiful, narrow-necked bottle that I saved (since I don’t have a one-quart jar). :-)

          • says

            I hope your dishes came out clean. I use only one tbsp of the soap and about 1/4 C of straight vinegar in the second compartment and it comes out really clean. I made a mistake once and forgot to add the vinegar and there was too much suds….. and suds overflowed through the door crack a little. Never will I forget adding the vinegar now.

        • KarenDF says

          Happy New Year & thanks for the additional information! I misread your instructions & didn’t add enough vinegar in the second compartment … my dishes weren’t clean. Thankfully, I didn’t experience the sudsy overflow that you did. Our water here is hard; so, additional tweaking may be in order anyway. Hard water wreaks havoc … grrr! With that said …

          I’m researching water filtration systems for the kitchen sink & bathroom showerheads. Please share any insight you may have on this. Aquasana looks promising; but, I was distracted by an HSN Clean & Pure countertop filtration system sale until I googled that brand further. If you would prefer to share your insights (& recommendations) via email instead of in this thread (since this is slightly off-topic), please do.

  13. says

    This looks so incredibly easy. I’m curious: Do you rinse your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher or do you put them straight in, food smears and all?

  14. says

    I knew there was a reason ecokaren is my favorite blog! I was thinking I needed a new dish detergent recipe and here it is! thanks!

    • says

      Aww….thanks for the kind words, Rachel!

      Let me know what formula works for you. Like I was saying to Mary above, your machine and water might be a little different from mine so definitely play with the acids – lemon (I think it’s really for the smell but it wasn’t really that lemon-y) and vinegar – to get to the right balance. It took a couple of tries before I came up with this formula that worked for me. If you get spots, just add a little more vinegar for the next wash and see if it makes a difference. Good Luck!

  15. says

    Looking good! I haven’t been able to get my glasses to be as consistently shiny. I’ll have to try adding lemon juice – that must be the magic ingredient.

    • says

      I had to experiment with the formula a little to get the amount of of lemon and vinegar correctly. I think lemon is really for the smell – although I don’t smell the lemon afterwards. 😉 If I have lemon around, I use it. If not, I just put extra vinegar when the wash starts. I just love the squeaky sound it makes when I take the dishes out. Your machine might be a little different than mine so definitely play around with the formula. It’s worth it!

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