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DIY dishwasher detergent recipes put to the test

By Lindsay Maxfield  |  Posted Aug 16th, 2012 @ 12:45pm



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SALT LAKE CITY — Do you have too many pins on Pinterest and not enough time to try them all? Don't worry — the Page Two editors of will try them out and give you the low-down. This week on Pinterest: a few DIY dishwasher detergent recipes.

Before I dive into this week’s pins, some background information:

Like many Utahns, when the new law mandated that only dishwasher detergents free of phosphates be allowed in the state, that’s when the trouble began. All my dishes not only came out of the dishwasher with food stuck to them, but they were covered in a thick, crusty film that seemed permanently etched into each dish. At the time I had a newborn baby, so my disgust and horror were compounded every time one of his bottles came out covered in that disgusting white, chalky paste — which was every single time.

I’ve tried just about every product on the (local) market trying to get my dishes clean again, with only one success: I used Lemi Shine in the detergent compartment and vinegar as a rinse aid, then turned the dishwasher on to let the water flow. Once the washer arms began to spin, I opened the door and poured a bit of detergent (about 2 tablespoons) into the bottom of the dishwasher, then closed the door and let it run a full cycle. This method works, but it’s not exactly cheap. One small bottle of Lemi Shine runs around $4.50, and since I run the dishwasher about once a day, it’s not a method I can happily afford.

So, I took matters into my own hands and searched for DIY recipes, tips and tricks. But first, my dish washing friends, I have a new tip:

How to remove detergent residue

Thanks to phosphate-free dishwasher detergent, even additional runs through the dishwasher only multiplied the residue problem, leaving me to wash everything by hand — but even that didn’t eliminate the gritty gunk.

Have more tips or DIY methods? Tell us in the comments section.

To remove the film once and for all, I first tried soaking the dishes in vinegar before giving them a scrub with steel wool. It did a great job of cutting through the bulk of the mess, but I was still left with the slightest grainy film on my glasses and silverware. That’s when I busted out the rubbing alcohol, soaked a rag, and polished each piece by hand before washing them again with regular dish soap. It was a long, arduous process, but I was able to rescue dishes I would have otherwise thrown away in despair.

And now, on to the Pinterest DIY methods:

Vinegar as dishwasher rinse aid

This cleaning gem comes from the list of “101 more uses for vinegar,” and the tip is simple and extremely cost-effective: Use vinegar instead of commercial rinse aids in your dishwasher. I had already been doing this with my Lemi Shine method, and it works great. I still have a few water spots on my glasses, but no more than with a commercial product. Really, though, for me it’s all about cost. The folks at have broken it down: To fill the dishwasher’s entire rinse compartment with Finish brand Jet-Dry rinse agent, it costs around $3.99. Vinegar, on the other hand, costs about half a cent for an entire fill. Enough said. Final grade: A-

Detergent recipe No. 1: Borax and washing soda

For my first foray into homemade dishwasher detergent, I chose the simplest method I could find. This recipe is floating around on several blogs, but I followed the post from It calls for equal parts borax and washing soda and a vinegar rinse aid. Not to be confused with baking soda, I purchased the washing soda also by Arm & Hammer that I found in the detergent aisle. The method was simple, but the results were mixed, and here’s why: The first time I tried this our water softener was on the fritz, and the results were not great. It did a slightly better job than commercially-available products, but a cakey film was still left behind. The second time I tried it, after the water softener was running like a champ again, the method worked like a charm. So, the bottom line is, your dishes will never come clean if you have hard water problems. Invest in a decent water softener before you rage on your ineffective dishwasher. Final grade: A-


Detergent recipe No. 2: Borax, washing soda, kosher salt and Lemi Shine

I chose a more complex recipe for my second attempt, which came highly recommended by my sister-in-law, Stephanie. This recipe from calls for borax, washing soda, kosher salt and citric acid. I couldn’t find citric acid, so I again turned to Stephanie for advice. She swapped it out for Lemi Shine, and because it causes the detergent to clump she adds it to the dishwasher separately before running it. So that’s what I did (along with my trusty vinegar rinse agent), and it made all the difference. I still have the problem of occasional stuck-on food, but overall it's very effective. Most importantly, if you have problems with hard water, this is your best bet. Final grade: A-

Watch Lindsay test out the latest Pinterest finds on KSL-TV every Thursday at noon.

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