I have been experimenting quite a bit with making my own products, mostly for cleaning, though I have ventured into beauty products. Some projects have been a huge success, some have been failures (big ones), and others… I can’t figure out and have no scientific proof that it’s working or not working–though everyone on the internet seems to say it is. In a previous post, I went through my odyssey to create a safe, cheap, green alternative to expensive and chemicall-y all-purpose surface cleaner. That was one of my huge successes, by the way. I absolutely love the solution I have created. If you missed that article…well I just linked to it like five times, so go read it! As noted above, though, other experiments have been a little less successful, as you will see below.
In this post I want to talk about the dishwasher and my quest for the right detergent. Let me begin by explaining that while I am sometimes motivated by avoiding harsh chemicals, in this product that was not my primary motivation. I mean, you don’t ever really handle dishwashing detergent, so it is hard to get a sense for its harshness. It was different with the all-purpose surface cleaner where I was concerned about what was remaining on surfaces, what I was inhaling, and what might unintentionally get on food. Also, I don’t have allergies, and quite frankly, have never even heard of an allergy to dishwashing detergent like you would for laundry detergent. It wasn’t so much the chemicals in my dishwashing detergent, it was the cost. The stuff is expensive! When my husband and I finally committed to our weekly grocery budget, I decided staying out of the household cleaners aisle completely would go a long way towards staying under budget.
However, I put off trying to make the detergent for a while because my sister-in-law assurred me it wouldn’t work. Shaking her head in her been-there, done-that wisdom, she said, “no, it leaves stuff all over your dishes.” In the end, it’s not that I didn’t believe her. It’s just that I had decided my situation was different. Maybe it was her hard water, I thought. (honestly, I don’t even know if they had hard water… that just seems to be the go-to excuse with things being washed or rinsed.) Or… maybe she had a different recipe. Plus, I had already purchased Borax and Super Washing Soda for Laundry Detergent, so I pretty much already had all of the ingredients. And all these people on the internet said it was soooo easy and perfect. So, why not!?
Like always, I hit the internet and found a recipe for the kind of detergent I could mold into shapes. These recipes were essentially the same as the powder detergents, but added a bit more of a wet ingredient to allow it to clump together. Recipes on-line were all very similar. They all pretty much used borax and super washing soda and some thing for an acid–vinegar, lemon juice, kool-aid (yes, kool-aid). Sometimes recipes also used regular baking soda, essential oils, and castille soap. I went with borax and super washing soda, vinegar, and a dash of Sal’s suds–not castille soap because we all learned from my eco-heroine, Lisa Bronner, in this amazing post that vinegar and castille soap do not mix. I mixed everything up until it clumped like sand for a sand castle and then pressed it into my little molds.
I have these nice silicone cupcake cups that I used, though I have also used plastic candy molds. Both work well, because the little guys can be popped out when fully dry. Depending how wet the mixture was, it would take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days to dry. Like usual, my science wasn’t exact, so it varied a lot. Sometimes I had a sloppy mess from trying to remove the wet detergent from a mold too soon, or when I put in too much Sal’s Suds. More often than not, though, the stuff hardened up and I could place them individually in a re-used jar. And voila! I had loads and loads of detergent for mere pennies.
I was so proud of my self. I felt like I was single-handedly saving the planet and our budget. But I was pre-maturely smug. And this is where I feel the internet and many blogs often lead us astray. They don’t really honestly explore the question about how well something works after someone brilliantly, cheaply, and easily makes something with their very own hands in their very own kitchen for the first time. You can often get a better sense of how something actually works from the comments to post than from the post itself.
In my different batches, I would make little changes here and there…more vinegar, less vinegar, added vinegar to the wash cycle, or sometimes vingear soaked in citrus peels for some additional essential oils. I also added sometimes added essential oils, reduced the borax, etc. It really didn‘t matter what I did, my dishwasher left most of my dishes clean, but also left a white deposit on many dishes. It wasn’t necessarily a film (thought sometimes it was) it was more like these white Rorschach-test splotches on some of my dishes that I would have to scrub off before the next cycle or it would get caked on. Was I putting in too much detergent? Or was I putting in too much of one ingredient into the detergent, Borax or Super Washing Soda? I put in less… made adjustments to all of it. I still had the same problem. I don’t have hard water or soft-water, so I couldn’t figure it out.
Still, I was stubborn. I convinced myself, and my husband, that it was not my beautiful, little, pressed pods that were a problem, but our dingy 15 year-old dishwasher. I felt sure that once we got a new dishwasher, everything would be spotless. So, we bought a new dishwasher (Aside–this was not as flippant a decision as it sounds. The dishwasher had not been performing well, was staring to leak, the nozzles were not nozzling and every cycle was leaving behind a lot of dried food particles. Plus we gave it away for free, so it lessened the guilt a bit about replacing an appliance.) We did not buy a top-of-the-line dishwasher, but solid, inexpensive one. I remained in denial for four cycles. And then had to admit that my dishwashing detergent was still leaving white stuff all over everything–though all the other problems were solved. We received two little Sample liquid pods of a name brand detergent that clearly did not leave the same residue behind.
I admitted defeat… except, that I still have some thoughts about this. Perhaps the trick is to make my detergent liquid–or buy a Bosch, which we did not do, by the way. Sadly, I will not buy a Bosch but I will continue to try to experiment with the detergent…partially out of stubborness, but also because the stuff I am now using isn’t perfect, either. I actually switched to store-bought dry detergent (previously I used a name-brand or store-brand gel detergent). The store-brand I now have is fairly inexpensive per wash. However, I have noticed that while it does not leave large white splotches like my home made cleaner did, it does leave a white, cloudy layer on certain items. Especially over time and on plastic.
So I am going to keep experimenting with making dishwashing detergent. I am not defeated. I am going to look for a liquid recipe. I even bought some citric acid because it was super cheap and is apparently the magic solution to crystal clear glasses. Meanwhile, the little pods I made are actually great for an all-natural scrubbing agent, kind of like a substitute for Comet. In fact, I just used it today to clean the shower. It worked beautifully. I also use some as an abrasive to get the tea and coffee stains out of our mugs–because no matter how good the dish washer or the detergent, those do not come off unless scrubbed!
If anyone has any suggestions or comments, I would be happy to hear them! And I will keep you posted on my future experimentation.