Alternatives to Dishwashing Liquid: Bar Soap, Baking Soda, & Homemade Dish Soap Recipes

I just spent a year of trying various eco-friendly dish soaps to wondering if eco-friendly soaps were any better for the environment than conventional soaps.  After all this research and number crunching, I still haven’t figured out a way to please my pocketbook and the planet.  With even the SDA claiming that there is no environmental advantage to using “eco-friendly” soaps, perhaps the best solution is to stick with a concentrated conventional liquid that will keep some plastic bottles out of the recycling bin.

But what if you want to use something more natural, less toxic, unscented, or just . . . less mainstream?  Here are a few more alternatives to liquid dish soap:

Use bar soap.  Life Less Plastic has a post about using Dr. Bronner’s bar soap instead of dish soap, thus avoiding plastic packaging.

What about Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap?  I didn’t try it because it seemed to cost more than any other “eco-friendly” soap out there, even in large quantities.  A gallon of it costs $39.99 on Amazon.com.  That’s $.31 an ounce!  So 25 ounces of it would cost $7.81-almost twice as much as other eco-friendly soaps.  If it’s truly super-concentrated, perhaps it ends up being cheaper than other soaps on the market, but I have my doubts.  After all, every brand I tried claimed to be super-concentrated.

Use baking soda and vinegar.  My husband was aghast at my admission that I washed an entire sink full of dishes with baking soda.  He said it just can’t be done.  (Note: my husband is not a scientist, but he did take organic chemistry once.)  Based on my reading, when baking soda mingles with grease, it has a saponifying effect–that is, it turns to soap and dissolves the grease.   

It seemed to work.  I put some baking soda in a bowl, added a bit of water to form a paste, and scrubbed my dishes with the paste.  Then I rinsed all the dishes and put them in the rack to dry.  They dried with a powdery glaze on them, so I then tossed them all in another basin of water with a little bit of soap. 

  • Pros: The dishes came out cleaner and shinier than ever, so the baking soda/tiny bit of dish soap combo worked even better than plain dish soap. 
  • Cons: I used about twice as much water and spent about twice as much time washing my dishes.  I may continue experimenting with this method.  Supposedly if I combine the baking soda scrub with a vinegar rinse, my dishes will come out nice and clean.

Make your own dish soap.  In the comments section of our Eileen’s Pet Peeves post, Eileen posted a recipe for dish soap she found from the book Homemade, published by Reader’s Digest.

Homemade Dish Soap Recipe           

1/4 cup soap flakes
1 1/2 cups hot water
1/4 cup glycerin
1/2 teaspoon lemon oil

Make the soap flakes by grating a bar of ivory with a cheese grater. Pour soap flakes into hot water. Stir until dissolved. let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in glycerin and lemon oil. A loose gel will form as it cools. Use a fork to break up any congealed parts and put it in a squirt bottle.

Eileen goes on to explain that you used to be able to find soap flakes in the store, but now they’re hard to find, so you have to make your own with a natural bar of soap.

And here’s a whole slew of green cleaner recipes, including dish soap, on Oregonmetro.gov.

Have you found a way to avoid dish soap entirely, allowing you to stop contributing to the production and disposal of all those plastic bottles?  Let us know!

Also, don’t forget to enter our wooden toy giveaway.  Just a few days left!

Comments

  1. I tried using Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap as dish detergent, and it didn’t work well at all.

  2. I’m not sure how well it would work for washing dishes, but we use Dr. Bronners in the showers & for the baby in a foaming pump dispenser, I literally add a few tablespoons per 16 oz of water, so it lasts forever. I’m going to try it with the dishes now & see how it works….

  3. I am almost down to my last bit of dawn (from a large bottle bought 3 years ago at Costco) and I’m getting ready to make the homemade dish soap. I’m going to try it two ways – one with a bar of Ivory and then with a bar of the Dr. Bronner’s. I’ll let you know how it works. Here’s a downer though – many of the ingredients we consider natural are on the “bad” list at the skin-deep website. Like glycerin! How irritating. I’m using it anyway. I love the baking soda/vinegar idea – so simple and cheap! Since I have a dishwasher, I use the dish soap mainly for pots and pans, but it still seems like there is plenty that needs to be hand-washed every day!

  4. Cathy, thanks for justifying my non-purchase of Dr. B’s! Rebecca, please let us know what you think of washing dishes with it.

    Eileen, what is wrong with glycerin?! I can’t believe it took you three years to get through one bottle of Dawn, considering how many bottles of “eco-friendly” stuff I’ve gone through in just one year (seven, for those keeping track). Luckily I did find a way to cut down on my dish soap, which I will reveal in next Wednesday’s post. (My FINAL dish soap post, I swear!)

  5. Rebecca, it was the costco size bottle and I used it to re-fill a smaller bottle. It must have been over a gallon. And I have a dishwasher so I only use it for washing pots and pans (except for the 9 months last winter when the dishwasher wasn’t working and I decided to see how it went not fixing it.)

  6. I backpack, and when I’m out I use ashes, or fine silt/sand to clean my pot and utensil. (Ashes are preferable, because they are only mildly abrasive (I always step away from the stream to wash and rinse the dishes. Afterwards I discard the water and cleaning agent into the woods so the earth will filter it before it reenters the water system.) Sometimes if ashes, silt/ fine sand, isn’t available I use leaves. OK, maybe not an option for everyday household dish washing, but I’ve been wondering about utilizing diatomaceous earth for dish washing. I lived overseas for a couple years. The family I lived with used a sort of clay to clean their dishes…got me thinking…

  7. Hello. I’ve been using baking soda and vinegar to wash my dishes for the last couple months. I fill the sink with water, pour in some baking soda (I don’t measure, but maybe 3 Tablespoons or so), and pour in some vinegar (about 1/4 cup?). The dishes come out sparkling clean!

    I have a problem with the dishwasher though. No matter what I do, white powdery film builds up on my dishes. I’ve used Glass Magic, and it works wonderfully, but I worry about the environmental impact and the toxicity of it. But I absolutely can not find anything else that removes the film.

  8. Don’t give up on Dr. Bronner’s yet!!!
    I don’t recommend the bar or liquid, though.
    The product that works very well for washing dishes AND laundry is Dr. B’s Sal Suds. Online you can purchase a gallon for under 30$. You can likely find it in your health food store or have your local vitamin shoppe order site-to-store for free.
    Here’s the scoop.
    I use 1 oz for laundry in my front loading washing machine and have fresh, clean clothes every load. I dilute 1/2 sal suds and 1/2 water for my hand dishwashing. It is fantastic. It is expensive inititally but extremely concentrated and goes a lot further than any other product I’ve used. The biggest perk is that it is completely biodegradable/no petrol and the ingredients are ALL listed on the package. It smells like pine, but not overwhelmingly and it goes away when dry. That’s all I have to say about that!!

  9. I’ve been using bar soap to was dishes for a few years. It works fine, but I have a part-time housekeeper who wants commercial dish soap that comes in (ugh) plastic bottles, which is why I’m researching this. Thanks for your tips.

  10. I am looking for…..THE liquid formula. How do they make the base, the liquid
    SOAP, not the bars or flakes or Dr. whats his names soap? I want to make
    my own. I am sorry if I sound ungrateful but all the recipes say to start
    with soap. I want to MAKE my OWN soap. I would appreciate it if anyone
    knows of a recipe they would like to share. Thank you very much. *-* K

  11. The best dishwashing liquid is water. Soap is only for cutting fats and oils. Stop eating fats and oils, and you don’t need any soap for dishes. And you’ll live longer. I haven’t used any soap for dishwashing in years, and all my dishes are squeaky clean.
    Also, when you eat almost no oil, you need less soap in the shower and laundry!
    You can clean a really greasy skillet by boiling a little water in it, then pour that over your dog food, then wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. No soap needed!
    Soaping dishes is just a tradition that started way back when people cooked everything in hog lard. Now people are just ad-brainwashed and think nothing can be “clean” without soap.

  12. How to actually make liquid soap.

    There are lots of good recipes online. I would recommend making a cold process solid soap first. Then google making liquid soap in a crock pot or making liquid soap in the oven. Be sure to take safety SERIOUSLY and don’t do it with children under foot. Note- ALL soaps are made with icky chemicals! That said, I use natural home made soaps exclusively now because I know these chemicals and can find out where they come from. The Monsanto originated detergents are not for me or my family. (Having grown up in the shadow of a Monsanto plant in the 60’s when they were thinking up all these marvels). I have seen the devastation of an entire community due to Chemical production in their back yard.

    Better the simple 4 or 5 ingredient home made soap in my book.

    Additional Note: I am not a soap maker but I know an excellent one whose soap I use all the time. Read carefully and never use a liquid soap recipe where there isn’t ph adjustment at the end with borax or boric acid.
    Lawana

  13. We use a combination of melted Dr.B’s citrus bar in a gallon of water and baking soda for our dishes and they turn out great. I melt the bars and make my own liquid for everything because it is soooo much cheaper than buying the liquid. One bar last us about 6-9 months.

  14. http://www.chickensintheroad.com has WONDERFUL tutorials on soapmaking, cheesemaking etc…she’s a hoot too.

    Just passing through but thought I’d let ya know :)

  15. LOOKING FOR A DISH-SOAP IN A BAR RECIPE, I ONLY FIND LIQUIDS OR ALTERNATIVE. OR POINT THE RIGHT DIRECTION.
    THANKS!

  16. Shannon says:

    Just before reading this article, I read another blog where the writer used baking soda as well. When she originally tried it she said it also left a powdery residue on her dishes so she tried it with a little bit less soda paste and it turned out wonderfully. A little bit goes a long way.

  17. I wash my dishes with plain old Ivory bar in a bowl with just a tsp of baking soda! Been doing this for years and never had any issues with residue! It’s cheap,effective,readily available and safer than a lot of products out there!

  18. i got tired of having to repeat washing of greasy plastic containers with even much-vaunted dawn, before all the grease would be gone and one day tried the bar of hand soap i kept on the kitchen sink…

    and wonder to behold, it works better than any dish detergent… so i keep a bar on top of one of those nifty little plastic scrubbing pads [the kind with foam pad inside a scrubbing outer ‘wrap’ and when i have anything greasy, i just swipe my dish brush over the soap bar and it cuts through grease the first time around… or, for things that call for the pad, it’s already got soap on it, so away we go…

    i’ll never buy liquid detergent again…

  19. Have any dish soap makers tried adding cornstarch to recipes? I use cornstarch and water to clean all mirrors and windows in my house, and they are left crystal clean and streak free. I’m wondering if it would boost the cleanING agents in homemade dish and dishwasher soaps.

  20. Rita, cornstarch is great at absorbing grease and is non-abrasive, which is why it works well for cleaning mirrors and windows. I’m not sure about adding it to dish soap, however. You might just end up with Bubble Dough!

    If you decide to try it out, let us know what happens.

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