Automatic Dishwasher Detergent

For years, we used Finish (with powerball and Jet Dry!) as our automatic dishwasher detergent. Every few months I bought the XL container from BJ's. Then I looked it up; the EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning gave it a rating of C for "some concern" across multiple levels, but what really irked me was the warning that it may cause nervous and digestive system effects. What a counter-intuitive effect from clean dishes! I set out to make my own.

I made several concoctions. Some left my dishes looking like I'd sprayed them with concrete dust, forcing me to wash them all by hand. Boo. Others worked fairly well until I found glasses with big globs of goo stuck in them, and had to hand wash those, too. I broke down and bought a package of 7th Generation to get me through a few weeks, and to take a break from trying to make something that worked. And then, I mixed up this recipe, which works really well:

In a glass jar with a lid mix:
1/4 cup citric acid
1 cup sodium carbonate (washing soda) 
1/4 cup salt 
Use 1 tablespoon per load and add white vinegar as a rinse aid (pour it right into the dishwasher compartment).

What did this cost me, and did I save any money? Here's the breakdown:

citric acid = 5 lbs for $18.08 ($0.22/oz), or $0.44 per batch
sodium carbonate = 7 lbs for $9.07 ($0.08/oz), or $0.64 per batch
salt = 26 oz. for $2 ($0.08/oz), or $0.16 per batch
TOTAL per batch: $1.24 yields 12 oz/24 loads, or $0.05/load
TOTAL per year (assuming 365 loads): $18.25*
*= I did not calculate the cost of the white vinegar because I don't know how much a dishwasher actually dispenses. It is generally pennies per ounce.

Finish powerball with Jet Dry = 80 loads for $14.99, or $0.19/load, or $69.35/year (365 loads)

7th Generation = 20 loads for $12.27, or $0.61/load, or $222.65/year (365 loads)

Overall, I saved the following making my own: Finish: $51.10/year, and 7th Gen: $204.40/year. 

Hooray for homemade dishwasher detergent!

Update: Reality check
OK, I've been using my homemade dishwasher detergent for two full weeks now. And the verdict is in: my dishes have accumulated a soap scum buildup and a layer of film that is not washing off in the dishwasher. I find myself hand-washing a bunch of dishes in the morning when I unload the dishwasher and this is just not fun, nor is it an efficient use of my time. It's also a waste of energy and resources (having already run the dishwasher).

Over the next few weeks, I will try different auto eco-dishwasher detergents, and also try and tweak my own recipe. I'll keep you posted on my findings, loyal readers.


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