How to Make Dishwasher Detergent Tabs
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Buying dishwasher detergent makes me grouchy. A bottle of the natural stuff runs $6, and if you buy the tabs or pods, that $6 only gets you enough for 20 loads – that’s not even a month’s supply for my family!
I’ve tried several homemade recipes over the years (just stuff that I found on the web), but I’ve never been impressed with the results. I always ended up with a white residue on my glasses, and the detergent would harden into a brick after I made it (even if I stored it in an air-tight container). And the fact that the recipes always contained Borax was an issue for me, too. I use Borax for lots of things, but I’m just not keen on using it on our dishes. It is, after all, toxic when ingested.
Clearly, it was time to come up with my own solution.
So, I did a bunch of research on the active ingredients in dishwasher detergent, how they work together, how to address hard water; etc.; and then I experimented until I came up with a recipe that really works. It’s all natural, just like the stuff I was buying (honestly, probably more natural than what I was buying), and it’s in tab form, so it’s really easy to use.
Because I want this recipe to work as well for you as it has for me, I’ve even experimented with the size of the tabs. These should fit the detergent compartment on your dishwasher perfectly. I’ve tested other people’s tab recipes, and that was a problem that I ran into again and again.
Ready to give my dishwasher detergent tabs a try? Here’s a video detailing the steps.
And here’s that recipe all written out for you.
What You’ll Need:
1 cup washing soda
1 cup Kosher salt
1 cup baking soda
3/4 cup lemon juice
What You Do:
Measure all the dry ingredients into a bowl, and stir to combine. Then, add the lemon juice. The ingredients will foam for a minute.
Mix everything together.
Then, press the detergent into a mold to form your tabs. I tested a bunch of molds (including the ice cube trays that most recipes seem to call for), and I found that a silicon candy mold works best. It’s easy to fill; the tabs are easy to remove; and it’s easy to clean, too. This Peanut Butter-Cup Mold is perfect for the job. It results in tabs that fit in the detergent compartment beautifully. My recipe makes 50 tabs, so I use two of these molds (each makes 30).
If you decide to use something you already have, aim for tablespoon-size tabs.
Allow the tabs to harden completely. Then, pop them out of the molds, and store them in an air-tight container.
Simply drop one into the detergent compartment; shut the door; and proceed as usual.
Tips and Warnings:
- Always store cleaners out of the reach of children and pets. As an added safety measure, label your dishwasher detergent and list the ingredients on the container (I hope to have a printable for that soon)
- Add vinegar to your dishwasher’s rinse agent compartment for spot-free glasses
- Lots of homemade dishwasher detergent recipes call for Epsom salt. It contains lots of minerals (and is the reason so many homemade detergents leave a cloudy residue behind). Do not use it as a stand in for the Kosher salt called for in this recipe. If you don’t have Kosher salt, you can use table salt instead
- You should be able to find washing soda on the laundry aisle of most grocery and big-box stores. You can also buy it online
Cost Per Load: $.04
In Sweden we don’t have that kind of salt. What I came upp with was a slightly corser salt with no jod. Is jod an issue in this case?
That should work perfectly. Jod (called Iodine in the U.S.) is a mineral, so I think it’s best to use non-jod salt.
This is just what I was looking for! Did you figure out your cost per use? Thank you!
I’ve been meaning to crunch the numbers. I’ll try to do that today.
Shawn, I just did the math, and it comes in at $.04 per load. That’s a huge difference over the store-bought stuff!
That is awesome! I will be making some very soon:-)
Hi. Can I use doTerra Lemon essential oil instead of lemon juice?
The essential oils are much more concentrated, so unfortunately, I don’t think that would work. You might be able to replace the lemon juice with water + a much smaller amount of lemon essential oil (no more than 2% of the overall recipe), but that’s not something I’ve tested, so I can’t vouch for how well it would clean/work.
I love your site and my house is (almost) chemical free. I also found natural, store bought dishwasher detergents too expensive so when I saw this recipe I went out to get everything to try it! I made the tabs using exactly the same ingredients and with vinegar in the rinse agent compartment but I’ve run two separate loads in my dishwasher and both of them had way, way too white residue on everything. I’m not ready to give up yet! Do you have any suggestions?
Rats! We’ll I’m glad you haven’t given up. Everyone’s water is different, so it may just take a bit of tweaking to land on what works best for you. Here’s what I would suggest: first, make sure your tabs are tablespoon-sized, it could just be a simple matter of too much of a good thing. If they are, you may want to try a load with half a tab to see how that turns out. And if that doesn’t solve the problem, it’s probably an indication that you have hard water. The lemon juice and kosher salt are in the recipe to help combat the problems associated with hard water (namely that soaps don’t wash off easily). I would play with either increasing the amount of lemon juice and salt in the recipe or reducing the amount of baking soda and washing soda. You just want to arrive at a formula that’s heavier on the water softeners and lighter on the cleaners. Hopefully that helps you get it sorted out.
Thank you for the great advice! I will update you when I have had the chance to try a few more things!
Did the suggested adjustments work for you? If so, which ones? I am having the same issues you described.
We have a water softner in our home. How would you change this recipe?
This should work fine for you without any modifications. We have soft water, and it works well for us. I tried to come up with something that would work well for people who had both soft and hard water.
Hi Erin! I really want to try your recipe! Even though we use Aldi brand tabs (which come out to 12 cents a load), I can still taste soap residue on our plastic cups. My question is this: how well does it work on cleaning cooking utensils that have had shortening or butter on them? That seems to be the problem I run into when selecting a dishwashing detergent, especially the more ‘natural’ ones. I am disabled, so the fewer things I have to hand wash, the better. Thanks!
Hi Kimberly, It should cut right through shortening and butter. Both washing soda and baking soda cut through grease. Hope you find it works well for you.
I made my dishwasher tabs yesterday . They are still not dry. I know I followed the recipe. How long does it usually take for the tabs to harden? I really am excited about your web site and all of your ideas. I have twins starting college in about a month (yikes) so I am up for any money saving venture . I have always been frugal but I need to turn it up a notch or two or ten. I live in a rural area with only one HIGH Priced grocery store .I usually shop at Aldi which is thirty miles away. You and your ideas have given me some news ways to s t r e a c h every dollar. THANK YOU!!!!!!.
The drying time will depend on the humidity (meaning it’ll take longer on a high-humidity day). Mine have always been dry the same day, but I usually wait until the next day to pop them out of the mold, just to make sure they’re extra hard. Not sure why they haven’t dried for you. I’d either give them some more time to dry on their own, or if you used an oven-safe container as your mold (like the silicon mold that I use), you could pop them in the oven for a few minutes on the lowest setting to speed the drying process up a bit. If you go that route, I’d just watch them closely because I don’t think it’ll take long to finish drying them out. Hope that helps, and so happy to hear you’re finding ideas you can use 🙂
Hi there, thanks so much for this straightforward recipe! I’m in Ireland and made this the other day. I couldn’t get Kosher salt so used fine Himalayan pink salt instead and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Do you think that’s ok? The tabs have been very slow to dry (day 3 and still not fully hard) but are getting there. It’s not mega warm in Ireland atm so that’s possibly a factor? Would love to know if you think my ingredient substitutions have affected the drying time? I’d also love to know if I could use normal fine table salt in my next batch to make it cheaper? Many thanks!!
Hi Breda, These dishwasher detergent tabs usually dry quickly for me, but if it’s rainy or humid, they could take longer. Three days seems like a long time to me, though. Regular table salt should also work just fine in these.
Outstanding, Erin! I’ve been hoping to find this kind of recipe–leave it to you! I’ll troll my surrounding stores for the mold or use my measuring spoons and give it a go! Thanks so much.
You’re very welcome, Denise 🙂
I made a batch of dishwasher tabs but had to wait to finish off the ones I already had. I’ve since run the dishwasher twice using my homemade tabs. Some of the silverware and dishware seem to have a film on them. I’m bummed about that. I wouldn’t call those pieces clean. I can’t tell if it’s grease or what. Have you heard of this problem? Any suggestions.
Bummer. It sounds like you must have harder water than I do. The film is soap that hasn’t washed off completely. I would try adding vinegar to the rinse agent compartment to see if that helps.
It works better with vinegar. Thanks for the suggestion. I may get 1 or 2 spoons with a little bit of film, sometimes. (I only run the dishwasher 2 times a week, so I wanted to run it a few times before I responded.) I still had some store bought rinse in the machine so I only have it 1/2 filled with vinegar.
Good. I’m happy to hear that worked for you 🙂
She may have soap build up in her machine from her store bought tabs. It is dissolving and clouding on her silverware. Whenever my glasses start looking cloudy, I run a cycle with an empty machine. I pour one cup white vinegar into bottom and run a complete normal cycle. The vinegar dissolves the build up and gets your machine clean. This is also how I clean my clothes washer and my coffeemaker.
Hey there! I am dying to make homemade dishwasher tabs but a friend of mine said that she’s made some before (not sure of the recipe) and it messed up her dishwasher. Have you noticed any build up in your machine?
Thanks in advance for your help!,
Nope. I haven’t noticed any build up at all. In fact, if anything, the ingredients in this recipe will clean your machine. The only tricky thing about dishwasher detergent (and this is true even of store-bought) is that everyone’s water is so different. You may have hard water, while someone else has soft. I’ve tried a lot of homemade dishwasher detergents over the years, and the biggest problem I ran into was that they weren’t washing off completely. So, when I developed this recipe, I worked to find a solution to that problem, and I tried to create something that would work in different types of water. If you make a batch, and you find it isn’t washing off as well as it should (a sign that you have hard water), you can adjust the recipe by doubling the salt and/or adding vinegar to your rinse agent compartment. That should take care of the problem. But, to get back to your question, I’ve been using this recipe for close to a year now, and I haven’t had any problems with my dishwasher. The ingredients used in this recipe are basically the same ingredients used in the all-natural dishwasher detergents that are on the market. Let me know what you think, if you try it.
I always heard that oshoud not use lemon juice on stainless steel as it will stain or corrode the finish.
have you seen a problem with this?
Hi Andrea, I’ve been using these dishwasher tabs for quite a while now (well over a year), in my stainless steel-lined dishwasher, and I haven’t had a bit of problem. Citric acid is an active ingredient in store-bought dish detergents, too, so it’s widely used. Hope this helps.
Would there be a problem with just mixing the dry ingredients together and storing in a container as a powder; then just adding slightly less than 1/4 T. of lemon juice when adding the balance of the tablespoon to the dishwasher compartment? Also would white vinegar work as well? Thanks!
You can definitely make a powdered version of this, there is one down fall though: it’ll get brick hard when you store it. If you don’t mind chipping it out when you go to use it, it’ll work just fine. And I would think vinegar would work, too. It would definitely be worth making an experimental batch to see what you think.
I just love this great tip/help. Just signed up to your Site. Can’t wait to learn so much more…I live in Colombia, South America. I can’t just run out to places and find things as easy as the USA. What exactly is washing soda and if I cannot find that here, what else could I use?
Washing soda, is also called sodium carbonate. If you can’t find it, you can actually make it yourself from baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Here are instructions: http://candleandsoap.about.com/od/tipstricks/ht/How-To-Convert-Baking-Soda-To-Washing-Soda.htm
You’d probably still get good results, if you substituted with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Washing soda just happens to be a bit better at removing stuck on food and at combating hard water.
Hope that helps 🙂
hello , do you have printable instructions for this ??
I don’t at this point. It’s something I plan to look at this fall. In the meantime, if you drop the url into printfriendly.com, it’ll strip all the ads and stuff out for you. Hope this helps.
thanks I will give it a try
Have you ever noticed the salt scratching your glass??
Nope. I think it’s inevitable that glasses are going to become etched over time, but I haven’t noticed it happening any faster with our homemade detergent. Salt is actually an ingredient in store-bought detergents, too.
I’m getting spoiled from all the wonderful printables I find. Is your dishwasher tabs recipe available to print? Thank you!
Glad to hear it 🙂 I don’t have a printable to go along with the dishwasher tabs yet, but I plan to make labels for all of my cleaner recipes this year. Keep an eye out for them!
Oh, and I should mention all of the posts on MFH are print-friendly. When you hit the print icon on your browser, it’ll automatically strip out all the ads and stuff, so you just get get the info you’re after.
I want to make them but I was wondering What amount do you put into each mold ? And it’s possible to make half the recipe to give it a try ?
The mold I use makes tablespoon-size tabs. You could definitely make a smaller batch the first time. It won’t hurt a thing.
thank you I will give it a try this week-end.
I made them and they worked fine but now my dishwasher has a kind of funky dirty washing smell?
Hi Cheryl, I’ve never had any smell from these. Maybe it just combined unfavorably with the residues of your previous dishwasher detergent? I don’t know, just speculating. I’d recommend placing a cup of vinegar on the top rack of your dishwasher and running it through a load empty. This will clean your dishwasher.
I suppose it’s also possible that the fragrance of your store-bought detergent was just covering up whatever smell was there after a wash load. These don’t really have any fragrance to them.
Thankyou, I did run empty with bicarb and vinegar, pulled it apart to check for clogs ,everything seems fine . its an odd smell but everything is clean and the dishes do not smell just the dishwasher. The grinder was recently replaced so maybe something is wrong there. Thanks for your reply and great tips.
Hi I just added everything together. 1cup kosher salt, 1 cup baking Sosa and 3/4 cup lemon juice. It is really soupy looking is that normal?
Hi Anna. Once you get everything mixed together, it should have the consistency of wet sand. You didn’t mention adding a cup of washing soda. If you left that out, it would definitely be soupy.
Can this recipe be made more as regular powder as opposed to tablets? For example, after mixing could I just put it into a container and then scoop some each time I run the dishwasher instead of putting it into molds?
Yep you could do that. A Tablespoon of the detergent would be the equivalent of one of the tabs. If after using it a few times, you find that your dishes aren’t getting quite as clean as you’d like, you could try adding a bit of citric acid (in powder form). It would take the place of the lemon juice that’s called for in the tab recipe. I would definitely leave the lemon juice out, so you aren’t adding any wet ingredients. That’ll ensure you end up with an easy-to-scoop powder. Give it a try, and see what you think. I’ve had great results with this recipe. We’re still using it after several years.
I too am having trouble with drying. I only bought 1 silicone candy mold so I had some left over. The lemon juice just sit there on top. I even spilled some off of the mold hoping it would dry quicker. The leftover in the bowl is the same way. The lemon juice is just sitting at the top. I followed the recipe exact. Any suggestions?
If it’s a rainy or humid day when you make them, that’ll slow down drying time. But I’ve never had a batch that didn’t dry. Are they dry now?
I’m worried this size tab (mainly the depth) won’t fit in my dispenser. Has anyone had trouble with that? Maybe you could reply with a picture of one of the tabs along with something to give an idea of size and depth?
If you use the same mold I did, they’ll be comparable in size to store-bought tabs. Each tab holds a tablespoon of detergent. To help you visualize, they’re the size of a small Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
I’m finding the washing soda is making my eyes stream & my mouth burn! I guess that’s the borax in there which is quite powerful stuff – I have multiple chem sensitivities so I’m super reactive. Would citric acid be a good substitute do you think?
Hi Jo, Washing soda doesn’t contain borax, so it must be the washing soda itself that you’re sensitive to. I’m not sure citric acid would be a good substitute. It’s a common ingredient in detergents because it works as a water softener, but from my research it usually only makes up no more than 6% of the detergent. If you were to use it in place of the washing soda, the percentage would be much higher, and you’d be missing out on the cleaning abilities of the washing soda. It’s not something I’ve tried, but that’s my best guess as to how it would go. Hope that helps.
Was really excited for this recipe and finally made it. Sadly, it failed. The tablet just expanded a bit and stayed in the little compartment. Dishes remain dirty. Very disappointed. Now I have another tray and a half of tablets that don’t work.
Hi Angelina, It sounds like the detergent compartment didn’t open during the wash cycle. Did you use the same mold I use? If you used something different, it’s possible the tabs are bigger than mine. If you did use the same one, it may just be that that particular tab ended up a bit bigger (or that you need to make smaller tabs to fit your particular dishwasher). I’d recommend giving it another go. Sometimes it just takes a bit of trial and error when you’re trying something new.
I haven’t tried this recipe yet, but I haven’t used the dispenser in my dishwasher in years. I just put the tabs (powder before that) in the bottom of the dishwasher.
Tried these today and they mixed up perfectly and worked great! I was a little nervous filling the molds because I have had problems using washing soda in the past – it gets hard faster than I have anticipated! The amount of lemon juice was exactly right – not soupy, just moist. They hardened within 15 minutes or so and I had plenty of time to press the mixture in the molds (I purchased the ones you recommended). Thanks for sharing the recipe!
Yay! I’m so glad they worked well for you. Thanks for taking the time to post. I love to hear how things turn out for everyone 🙂
Just tried this and it worked really well! We have hard water so I might add a bit more salt next time around. I used plastic egg cartons to make my mould since I didn’t have silicone mats. Just filled them 1/3 of the way and pressed-they popped out with the help of a spatula. Thank you for the recipe…now on to homemade laundry soap!
That’s great! And yes, definitely customize it to your needs. Everyone’s water is just a bit different.
the tabs from the Dollar tree work perfect. no spotting ,etc. they are only 10 cents per load. I have been using them for over 3 years with excellent results.
can i use a real lemon juice?
Thanks. The recipe I used before left a cloudy film.
Arm & hammer detergent booster is the same chemical as borax, sodium tetraborate, so saying it’s safer than borax is incorrect. Both brands are safe to wash your dishes in
Arm and Hammer Detergent Booster (washing soda) is actually sodium carbonate, so it’s not the same thing as borax. Washing soda is more closely related to baking soda. You get washing soda when you heat baking soda long enough.
Do you have any more recipes uses for washing soda? Now I got a bunch. lol btw – the tablets came out perfectly! Washes OK. Not like sparkle clean glass though.
Yep. I also use it in my laundry detergent tabs: http://www.myfrugalhome.com/homemade-laundry-detergent-tabs/ and my shower diffusers: http://www.myfrugalhome.com/how-to-make-shower-diffuser-melts/
I made these two days ago and they crumble when I try to take them out of the silicone mold. All I did different was used course Kosher salt, so I’m speculating that caused the failure to dry. Any comment?
(I’ve put about a tablespoon of the crumbled result in the soap dispenser and it appears to work well)
Hi Doug, I use kosher salt in mine too, so it wouldn’t be that. I have two thoughts: first, you mention that they didn’t dry. It could just be that you unmolded them too soon. I’ve found that the drying time varies based on the humidity on the day that I make them. Second, it may be that you need to pack your tabs tighter in the molds. I always press down on the tabs, so that they’re tightly compressed.
Made these dishwasher tabs and we were all really chuffed at how well they worked! Everything went exactly as you said.
As we are in Australia I wasn’t sure about the ‘Kosher’ salt so used common salt – would this be correct?
THANK YOU so much.
Glad to hear they worked well for you. And yep, table salt should work just fine, if you aren’t able to get kosher salt.
thanks so much for sharing this recipe, i have just made them and i am blown away by the magic of these babies. I am going to be sharing your recipe with everyone.
I made these a few weeks ago according to the recipe. They dried over night and came out of the ice trays nicely. However, l am bummed because after using them in our diswasher a few times…my dishes still have a chalk-like film left on them. I tried adding vinegar to the rinse aid as well, but still there was a chalky film left behind on my dishes. I have hard water. I didn’t have this problem when I used Cascade pods. I am still in serarch of a DIY dishwasher tabs recipe that will work well for my washing machine and hard water.
Sometime this year I plan to experiment with adding citric acid to the recipe. I suspect that will make them work better for hard water. I’ll let you know what I figure out.
Hi. I just used my tabs today for the first time. Mine are made in a smaller mold but I tried it and they are clean I suppose but when I opened the door the dishwasher had a horrible nasty odor so I just popped two in and ran it again. I was looking at comments and no one mentioned smell. How is the dishwasher suppose to smell?
You might want to check the drain in your dishwasher to see if it needs to be cleaned out. Since these dishwasher tabs don’t really have a scent to them, one thought I have is that the strong fragrance added to commercial detergents might have been masking the odor of food that’s stuck in the drain.
I have made these tabs as per the recipe but find it will not remove tea stains from cups, any suggestions, if it did then I would have my wife convinced 100% that they do work. I have some powdered mix from when breaking tabs from the moulds which I use to clean the cups, works a treat but not in the dishwasher. Am
Any thoughts please
You might try giving the cups a quick pre-scrub with a brush and some water before they go into the dishwasher. That’s not a perfect solution, but that should have them coming out stain free. I plan to play with this recipe again later this year, so I’ll include some tea stain tests, and update everyone on what I figure out. Hope that helps in the meantime.
Baking soda works great for getting tea stains out of mugs. Just sprinkle some in with some water, give it a little scrub with a sponge (I even just use my hand) and the stains will come out.
I am excited to try and make this tomorrow. I am planning on making just a powder detergent. Do you think I could remove the liquid lemon from the recipe and replace with Lemi shine? I am trying to use ingredients I already have at home. If yes how much do you recommend
You should be fine to leave the lemon out all together, since you want a powdered detergent. You mentioned using Lemi Shine — I’m not sure what to suggest there, since I haven’t tried it. Looks like they have several differerent products. I’d just be careful not to add anything that’s going to create suds.
I LOVE this! Thank you. I don’t have to order any ingredients online & can find them all locally, and it seems easy enough. Thank YOU for your research, development & sharing of this recipe. I can’t wait to make my first batch.
Would you be able to parchment paper a pan, cut/ score threw the soap, let dry, turn out, remove paper, recut?
No, unfortunately it wouldn’t work. The mixture is too wet when you first make it and too powdery once it dries.
This works so amazing, thank you so much!! Just what I was looking for.
Awesome. I’m glad to hear it worked well for you 🙂
If I wanted to make a dry powder to scoop out by the tablespoon how much citric acid would I use to replace the lemon juice?
One tablespoon of citric acid is the equivalent of 3/4 cup lemon juice, so that’s what I would try. I haven’t tested the recipe with citric acid yet, but it’s on my to-do list this year.
Thanks! I have too much citric acid from a failed attempt at bath bombs.
Is it safe to clean non-stick pots and pan?
It sure is 🙂
What is the shelf life of the tablets?
I usually make a year’s worth at a time, so I know they’ll keep for at least that long.
I stumbled across this DIY while looking for shower steamer recipes. I haven’t tried the shower steamer yet, but made a batch of dishwasher tabs last night, since we were almost out and I hadn’t yet purchased any from my favorite warehouse club. We ran the first load this afternoon and everything came out clean with no residue. My husband was very skeptical, so he added a half tab to the pre-wash compartment.
Your directions were easy to follow and the tabs turned out great. Thank you for sharing!
I’m going to try the laundry tabs next. My daughter has very sensitive skin so I’ve been buying free & clear laundry pods for her. I believe your DIY will be a less expensive alternative. Have you received any feedback from people with sensitive skin?
Tried making your pods today! So easy! Thank you for research!
I started to make a second batch and didn’t have the lemon juice. But I do have lime juice. Is that interchangeable? Thanks!!
Yes, lime juice will work just as well.