Emergency Dishwasher Detergent Alternatives

Running out of dishwasher detergent can be a hassle, especially when you have a sink full of dirty dishes waiting to be cleaned. Fortunately, there are several common household items that can be used in an emergency to get your dishes sparkling clean again. With a little creativity and some simple ingredients from your pantry or closet, you can whip up DIY dishwasher detergent alternatives.

Why You May Need an Emergency Dishwasher Detergent Alternative

There are a few common reasons you might unexpectedly find yourself without dishwasher detergent:

  • You ran out and forgot to add it to your grocery list. We’ve all been there – busy schedules sometimes mean essentials like dish detergent get overlooked.
  • You ran out earlier than expected. Whether you accidentally used too much last time or someone in the household has been overzealous loading the dishwasher, you may run out quicker than anticipated.
  • You’re traveling or staying somewhere without detergent stocked. Hotels, rental properties, and even family/friends’ homes are not guaranteed to have dishwasher detergent ready and waiting.
  • The store is out of your usual brand/type of detergent. Supply chain issues, busy shopping times, or other factors can occasionally make your specific detergent temporarily unavailable for purchase.
  • You’re looking for a non-toxic or DIY alternative. Some people prefer to use all-natural, chemical-free options for their dish cleaning.

Whatever the reason, it’s good to know your options for improvising when you’re in a pinch! Homemade emergency dishwasher detergent can work quite well.

Benefits of DIY Emergency Dishwasher Detergents

Beyond just getting you through a detergent shortage, there are some advantages to whipping up an improvised dishwasher formula:

  • Cost savings: Homemade detergent is often significantly cheaper than commercial brands. Using ingredients already on hand helps stretch your grocery budget.
  • Control over ingredients: You can customize your detergent alternative to avoid any harsh chemicals or additives you want to steer clear of.
  • Eco-friendly options: Many homemade recipes utilize natural, biodegradable ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice.
  • Fun experiments: Testing out different emergency detergent concoctions with ingredients already in your kitchen can be an enjoyable activity, especially for kids.

As long as you select the right ingredients and mixes, DIY dishwasher detergents can dissolve grease, lift stains, sanitize dishes, and leave them squeaky clean and spot-free.

Top 5 Emergency Dishwasher Detergent Alternatives

If you don’t have traditional dishwasher detergent pods or powder available, don’t worry! Here are 5 of the best homemade alternatives to get your dishes sparkling:

1. Baking Soda and Vinegar

Baking soda is a natural degreaser and mild abrasive, while vinegar cuts through grease and acts as a natural antibacterial. Together, they make an effective DIY dishwasher detergent alternative:

  • Add 1 cup baking soda to the detergent compartment
  • Pour 2 cups white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe bowl or cup on the bottom rack facing up during the wash cycle

The baking soda will help scrub dishes clean while the vinegar disinfects and deodorizes. They work with your dishwasher’s mechanics to get dishes spotless without residue.

2. Borax and Dish Soap

The combination of borax (a natural mineral and cleaning booster) plus dish soap makes for a simple, non-toxic emergency dish detergent:

  • 1 tablespoon borax
  • 2 tablespoons your regular dish soap

Add both to the dishwasher detergent compartment and run a normal cycle. The borax helps remove stains while the soap suds up to cut grease and sanitize.

3. Washing Soda, Salt, and Vinegar

Washing soda helps remove stuck-on food, salt acts as an extra abrasive, and vinegar disinfects for a powerful emergency dishwasher formula:

  • 2 tablespoons washing soda
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar

Place the washing soda and salt in the detergent compartment. Put the vinegar in a small dishwasher-safe bowl on the bottom rack.

4. Lemon Juice and Salt

When life gives you lemons, make an emergency dishwasher detergent! The acidity in lemon juice cuts through grease and grime, while salt scrubs dishes spotless.

  • Juice from 2 fresh lemons
  • 1/4 cup salt

Add the lemon juice to the detergent compartment and the salt to the bottom of the dishwasher.

5. Castile Soap

On its own, Castile soap derived from vegetable oils makes an effective emergency dishwasher detergent alternative.

  • 3-4 tablespoons Castile liquid soap

Add it to the detergent compartment and run your normal cycle for a natural, non-toxic clean.

Be sure to scrape excess food off dishes before washing with any DIY detergent. You may need to do some extra scrubbing on very dirty dishes. But these homemade alternatives using common pantry staples can get your dishes sparkling clean when you’re in a pinch!

What to Avoid Using in Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

When experimenting with homemade emergency dishwasher detergent alternatives, there are a few ingredients you’ll want to steer clear of:

  • Hand dish soap – Formulated differently than machine dishwasher soap, hand soap can cause oversudsing issues. Stick to small amounts of gentle dish soap or detergents made for dishwashers.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Can lead to damage of rubber hoses and seals inside your dishwasher. Avoid this ingredient.
  • Essential oils – May smell nice but can leave lingering smells on clean dishes. Also potentially hazardous for dishwasher parts.
  • Harsh acids – Ingredients like orange, lemon, or other citrus juices are ok, but avoid corrosive acids that could damage your machine.
  • Abrasive scrubs – Coarse ingredients like borax, salt, and baking soda provide gentle scouring action but avoid anything too gritty or abrasive.
  • Bleach – Far too harsh for the interior of dishwashers, even small amounts of bleach can corrode seals and degrade plastic dishwasher parts. Never a good option.

Stick to mild, biodegradable ingredients like Castile soap, washing soda, vinegar, lemon juice and you’ll be able to get sparkling clean dishes without risking dishwasher damage.

6 Tips for Successfully Using DIY Dishwasher Detergent

Follow these tips when using homemade emergency dishwasher detergent alternatives:

1. Scrape and rinse dishes first – Getting rid of excess debris will allow your DIY detergent to work best.

2. Allow time for dissolving – Borax, washing soda, and baking soda dissolve slowly so run hot water in the compartment first when possible.

3. Use cool dry cycles – Heated dry cycles can bake some DIY ingredients onto dishes. Opt for energy-saving air dry options.

4. Add vinegar to rinse aid compartment – For extra shine and detergent residue removal. White vinegar helps maximize the dish cleaning.

5. Don’t overfill – A little goes a long way with homemade detergent. Don’t use more than recommended to avoid sudsy overflow.

6. Check beforehand for dishwasher-safe – Make sure any homemade cleaning ingredients you use are verified dishwasher safe to avoid damage.

With the right homemade emergency dishwasher detergent and a little extra care, you can keep your dishes sparkling clean and residue-free even when you run out of regular dishwasher soap.

FAQs About Emergency DIY Dishwasher Detergents

Still have some questions about making your own emergency dishwasher detergent? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Should I use homemade detergent for every wash?

Homemade detergent works well in a pinch but may not be quite as powerful on very greasy, baked-on messes as commercial detergents designed specifically for dishwashers. Using it occasionally is fine but you may want to use store-bought detergent for most regular washes.

How much homemade detergent should I use per wash?

As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want 2 to 4 tablespoons of your homemade detergent alternative per load depending on how dirty your dishes are. Pay attention to how clean your dishes turn out and adjust the amount as needed.

Where should I put the homemade detergent in the dishwasher?

Always place homemade powdered detergent or other cleaning ingredients like salt, borax or baking soda into the main detergent compartment inside your dishwasher unless otherwise specified in your particular recipe.

What can I do if I have white spots on my dishes?

If homemade detergent leaves any white residue or spots, try adding vinegar to the rinse cycle to help dissolve them away. Washing on a hotter setting or more thoroughly rinsing dishes before washing may also help minimize spots.

Which homemade ingredients clean the best?

Washing soda, borax, and baking soda tend to have the best grease-cutting and stain-lifting abilities. For disinfecting, nothing beats vinegar. Combining an abrasive ingredient with something acidic generally makes the best DIY recipe.

Don’t let running out of dishwasher detergent mean a sink full of dirty dishes. With a little creativity and the right ingredients, you can make your own emergency dishwasher detergent that rivals store-bought brands and gets your plates and silverware sparkling again. What homemade recipe will you be trying?


Having an effective emergency dishwasher detergent alternative makes running out of traditional dish soap much less of a hassle. With common household ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and Castile soap, you can quickly mix up DIY detergent formulas that dissolve grease, banish bacteria, and leave dishes clean.

Follow tips like scraping dishes first, allowing time for dissolving, and using cool dry cycles, and homemade detergents can work wonders without damaging your dishwasher. So next time you find yourself without your usual brand of dish detergent pods, don’t panic. A little kitchen chemistry and you’ll come out with sparkling dishes!