For us, this has been the Year of the Dwindling Shopping List. Late last spring, the kids and I stopped using commercial shampoo and conditioner with rather lovely results, and that has provided much of the impetus for searching out other homemade alternatives to common products. Homemade deodorant was a dismal failure (painful rashes are deal-breakers), so it hasn't all been successes and fragrant roses around these parts, but we were easily able to replace toilet bowl cleaner, scouring powder, and glass cleaner with various solutions of vinegar and baking soda.
Long live vinegar and baking soda. By themselves, those two inexpensive, simple and safe items (which were already on our shopping list for food purposes) have eliminated five other products with complex lists of ingredients.
The items that cause me the most grief are the ones that are never questioned in their necessity. As with shampoo, there are countless other products that we all add to our shopping list without stopping to wonder whether or not there are alternatives. The latest item on the shopping list chopping block: dishwasher soap.
This one has long plagued me. I was thirty before I got my first (and thus far, only) dishwasher and there has been a learning curve. I realize most people have the ability to properly comprehend a dishwasher and it's accompanying decisions, but I've been a bit slow on the uptick. To wit, during The Great Drought a few years back, I was sure the dishwasher was using too much water and so I resorted to hand-washing dishes for a few days before someone set me straight and I subsequently did the research to find out that, in fact, the dishwasher is far more water-efficient than any hand-washing techniques will ever be.
I followed that particular conundrum with questions over which soap would be the safest for our septic field. See, out here in rural-ville, anything that goes down our drain ends up in the ground not far from our house. One must take a little ownership of one's own actions when one's own waste ends up in one's own yard, yes?
I tried a leading, high-cost, environmentally-named, low-impact dishwasher soap, but alas, found that I had spent a pretty penny on a product that did not actually get my dishes clean. 'Twas an expensive and grump-inducing lesson. Finally, I settled on a mass-market dishwasher soap that had a conscience-soothing greenwashing environmental word in it's name, and while it was affordable and phosphate-free and actually got the dishes clean, it still had a distinct, bleach-like odor, and I found that disconcerting at best.
Enter Crunchy Betty, a blog I stumbled upon while searching for bath product recipes. And took a gander at her free online recipe cards for everything from facial scrubs to - wait for it - homemade dishwasher detergent.
I heard angels singing. It hadn't even occurred to me that I could make my own dishwasher soap. And did you know you can do it with only three ingredients? One of which I keep on hand anyway (the castile soap, for bathing purposes) and the other two of which I had planned to buy for making my own laundry detergent (in another 10 years or so, when I somehow finish this 900-gallon sized laundry detergent that was gifted upon us a few millennia ago).
After a little more internet searching, I ran across a few fairly similar permutations of Crunchy Betty's recipe, and then, of course, I did a little experimenting on my own to see if I could simplify the recipe. I did simplify it, of course, by eliminating the fourth ingredient in her recipe (the essential oil), but found that the recipe does not work if the castile soap is skipped (as was done in many of the other recipes I ran across).
So the recipe ends up being a simple mixture of borax and washing soda, both easily found at any grocery store, and the castile soap that can be found at health food stores, most supermarkets, and very inexpensively at Trader Joe's. We have been washing our dishes with this concoction for about a month now, and I love it. Love/adore/covet it. The ingredients are safe for my yard, the only smell is the peppermint from the pure castile soap, the expense is virtually negligible in comparison to commercial dishwasher soap, and the dishes are clean. Super clean.
I have also learned a few useful tips in regards to the previously-flummoxing dishwasher machine. First, according to an appliance repair guy who blew my mind with this little tidbit, you need to make sure the water in the dishwasher is hot. Since dishwashers are so water-efficient, the water does not have time to heat up once the machine has been started, and so you often end up washing the dishes in barely warm water. To fix this, simply run the hot water tap in the kitchen sink until the water is hot, then turn off the tap and start the machine.
Also, the automatic heat-drying cycle on the machine is an energy-waster. Did you know you can turn off the heat-drying with the simple push of a button? Until I read the manual, um, seven years after I began using the machine, I had no idea. Now I turn off the heat drying and just leave the door open for a while after the machine is done and let the dishes air-dry.
Last, if your glasses tend to come out a bit cloudy (and if that actually bothers you), a bit of distilled white vinegar added to the rinse aid well (where it is dispensed slowly and is used for countless loads before being fully depleted), should solve this problem completely, without imparting any sort of vinegar smell.
I made a new batch of this soap today, and will be filing this recipe under Random Acts of Consumer Anarchy.
HOMEMADE PEPPERMINT DISHWASHER DETERGENT (adapted from Crunchy Betty, makes enough for about 40 loads)
Note: borax is a naturally occurring mineral, and is non-toxic when used in recommended amounts, but it is officially classified as a poison and is also used as a "safe" pesticide, and thus should be kept out of reach of children. Washing soda is also naturally occurring and is non-toxic.
- 2 cups borax
- 2 cups washing soda
- 1 cup finely grated castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Organic Bar Soap)
- Mix ingredients in a heavy storage container with a tight-fitting lid.
- Use scant 1/8-cup per load.