I have never purchased dishwasher tabs! Instead I make my own DIY dishwasher tabs (borax free). It takes me about 15 minutes from start to finish to make a months’ worth of dishwasher tabs. That is 15 minutes of my time in exchange for not having to:
- trust something I can’t even pronounce the ingredients of but may ingest in residual amounts, and
- pay the absurd amount they charge for dishwasher tabs (up to $0.45/wash in Denmark where I live),
- accept all the extra waste they produce with their individual wrapping (which, thankfully, not all of them are anymore).
Not convinced? Let’s take a more in-depth look at commercial detergent vs. DIY dishwasher tabs.
What is in dishwasher detergent?
The main ingredient of dishwasher tabs are alkaline builders. These make up the majority of the volume of commercial dishwasher tabs.
Oftentimes, these alkaline builders are phosphates which are a major pollutant in rivers and lakes. They kill fish and cause algae blooms. Some places have already banned phosphates for exactly that reason.
Other ingredients can be surfactants to lower the surface tension of water, chlorine and oxygen bleaches to remove stains and sanitize the dishes, corrosion inhibitors to protect metal pots and pans and the dishwasher from corroding, additional alkaline salts, perfumes, colorants and processing aids (source).
How much of this did you understand? I must admit, I got fairly little of it when I first read about dishwasher tabs. Scary, right? We don’t even understand what is in the products we use daily.
If you don’t feel like doing the research, there are some resources out there that you can trust. Always look for independent third party labs that publish their testing procedure along with the results. I personally, like the EWG Database for products sold in the USA.
When it comes to dishwasher tabs, the EGW tested 125 dishwasher detergents from 43 brands regarding the amount of hazard they pose to health or the environment. Only 18 of these scored an A and 24 products scored an F (source).
If you do end up buying dishwasher tabs, please consult the above or a similar list first and choose something that is unlikely to harm you or your family!
What does it cost?
Out of curiosity I calculated the price per wash with my homemade dishwasher tabs to find out if they were really cheaper.
Because I live in Denmark I used Danish prices as my guideline. In Denmark the cheapest dishwasher tab costs around 0.75 dkk ($0.12) per wash. These tabs come in individual packaging and contain phosphate which is bad for the environment.
If you want to get an ecofriendly type of dishwasher tab the price rises to around 2 dkk ($ 0.32) per wash. This brand does not contain phosphate and is more comparable to what I make at home.
My DIY dishwasher tabs in comparison cost approx. 0.66 dkk ($0.11) per wash, depending on the size of ice cube tray you use. That is less than half of the price of a store-bought product of comparable quality.
What is in DIY dishwasher tabs?
When I first made homemade dishwasher tabs, I actually had all the ingredients already at home. I did tweak the recipe a couple of times, so ended up having to look for washing soda, but many people even have that already at home.
These are the ingredients in my homemade dishwasher tabs:
Sodium carbonate, washing soda or soda ash, is a common household item in the US. It shouldn’t be confused with baking soda, although the two are very similar.
Washing soda is an effective water-soluble natural cleaner. It softens water and helps remove greasy build-up from dishes. It is also good for removing stains from tea, coffee or other food.
If you live in Europe you may have a hard time finding this. You can actually make it at home using baking soda.
All you need to do is heat your oven to 200°C/400 °F. Pour a layer of baking soda into a baking dish and bake for 1 hour. Stir the powder ever so often so that it is evenly heated. You will know it is done when the powder turns more grainy and less powdery. Once cooled, store it airtight, because moisture will make it revert.
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), is a popular allrounder used in both cooking and cleaning. Almost everybody has a jar or box of it at home.
Much like washing soda, it softens water and also acts as a mild disinfectant. Furthermore, it removes odors and can help remove stains on dishes.
Coarse salt may at first seem like an odd thing to put in your dishwasher, however, it is a great addition to your DIY dishwasher tabs.
The salt softens the water and reduces build up in your dishwasher cause by hard water. It also reduces the amounts of spots caused by hard water you will see on your dishes.
Just make sure you get a coarse salt that is preferably 100% sodium chloride.
Citric acid removes the fogginess and the dirty look that hard water gives dishes. It also helps maintain your dishwasher by reducing build-up.
I use foodgrade citric acid, that I also use for increasing the acidity of preserves. If you live in an area where the water is soft, you can leave this out.
Lemon is anti-bacterial and also helps remove odors from your dishwasher. It works like the citric acid but with the added benefit of smelling delicious.
I use bottled lemon juice but fresh will smell even nicer
If you’ve ever noticed a white film on your glasses, that is calcium carbonate and an effect of hard water. Adding vinegar to your diy dishwasher tabs, not only, binds them together, but also removes said white film.
Not working right?
These tabs work great for me, but I live in a place that has very hard water. I also rinse all my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, because my dishwasher is fairly old. If your glasses still come out with some white stains, pour a little vinegar into the rinse compartment of your dishwasher, that helps combat hard water stains.
Alternatively, you may be using too much of the dishwasher tabs, which is why you are experiencing residue. Obviously, ice cube trays can have quite different sizes, so I would suggest trying to put half of a tab into the compartment to see if it works better.
Remember, everyone’s dishwasher is different and so is the water, you may need to tweak the combination of ingredients to suit your particular setup.
DIY Dishwasher Tabs
DIY Dishwasher Tabs without Borax and made with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.
- 1/2 cup washing soda (100 g)*
- 1/3 cup baking soda (80 g)
- 3 tbsp coarse salt (60 g)
- 3 tbsp citric acid (45 g)**
- 3 tbsp lemon juice (45 ml)
- 5 tbsp vinegar (75 ml)
I wear gloves when making dishwasher tabs because the ingredients can irritate your skin if you have sensitive skin.
Mix the dry ingredients (washing soda, baking soda, salt and citric acid) together in a bowl.
Now comes the important part: add the wet ingredients spoon by spoon, not all at once! Starting with the lemon juice add one tablespoon at a time, stirring to combine. The mixture will fizz when the liquid touches it.
Add the vinegar one spoon at a time. Stop adding vinegar as soon as the mixture starts clumping up.
Select an ice cube tray with cubes that will fit into your dishwasher tab compartment. Using your hands or a spoon, place the mixture into an ice cube tray and pack it down firmly. (you may need two ice cube trays)
Leave the trays to dry for a couple of hours or overnight. Once dry, remove the tabs from the tray and store in an airtight container. Use as you would regular dishwasher tabs.
*See the above notes on ingredients for instructions on how to make it yourself.
**Omit the citric acid if you live in an area with soft water.
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