A Zero Waste Project: A DIY dish soap

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Making your own dish soap can be a great way to reduce extra plastic bottles and spending. Photo by Burst from Pexels.

As I made up my grocery list this week, dish soap was at the top. But why, I asked myself, buy a normal plastic bottle of dish soap, when that will just run out in a month, sending me back to the store for another plastic bottle of dish soap? I figured this was a ready-made opportunity to try out the first in a line of homemade, zero waste, cleaning supply swaps.

I fired up a Google search for zero waste dish soap, and to my disappointment, Google just tried to sell me a bunch of existing zero waste products. Of course, these all sounded like great options — dishwashing blocks, and soaps in compostable packaging — but I didn’t want to order something online, and I didn’t want anything with packaging I’d have to replace each month. After Google, I turned to my go-to zero waste vision board, Pinterest, where I found a pin I’d saved a while ago with a DIY dish soap from zero waste blog Greenify Me. 

Why make this swap? 

For this DIY, you need the following materials pictured above from left to right: water, baking soda, an empty container, and castile soap. Photo courtesy of Alex Houdeshell.

This falls into the same category as any zero waste swap that reduces plastic packaging. Less plastic packaging not only means less plastic for your trash or recycling, but also less plastic floating around the world for the next thousand years, and less energy and resources to produce that plastic.  

Plus, according to Greenify Me and the Environmental Working Group, dish soaps like Dawn or Xtra have chemicals potentially harmful to people and the environment. 

What I did 

The recipe I used only has three ingredients: castile soap, baking soda, and water. Castile soap is made of vegetable oil and supposedly has all kinds of uses (you may have heard of Dr. Bronner’s 18 in 1 castile soap). I couldn’t find castile soap in Walmart, most likely because I wasn’t looking in the right place, but I did find it in CVS right in Storrs Center.  

The author of the Greenify Me blog had all kinds of nice accessories, like a mason jar with a dispenser lid, but since I was just trying this out, I used the empty bottle from my old dish soap instead.  

I added 1/3 cup of castile soap and 1 tablespoon baking soda, then filled the rest of the container with water, gave it a little shake and tested it out. 

How it worked 

Pictured above is the final DIY soap inside an a reused dish soap bottle. Photo courtesy of Alex Houdeshell.

To be honest, this wasn’t an immediate success. I might need to experiment a little with my proportions because my dish soap was really watery. I went through a lot of my soap in a short amount of time and had to keep adding more as I went along. I think maybe it just needs a higher proportion of castile soap to water, so I’ll test it out and keep trying, but I’m not sure if this is a long-term solution. If this fails, I might try out one of the dishwashing blocks. 

In terms of how much waste I actually saved, it’s true I still have the packaging from the castile soap and the baking soda. The difference between these and the plastic bottle from the original dish soap is that the castile soap and baking soda are used in such small quantities that their packaging will last a lot longer than that of a single bottle of dish soap. 

It’s also worth noting there are other small dish-related swaps you can make to go more zero-waste. Like instead of using sponges you have to throw out and replace every so often, you can get a wooden dish brush, or just use a washcloth. 

As I said at the beginning of the article, there are lots of ways to make cleaning supplies more zero waste (and also decrease the number of potentially toxic chemicals you expose yourself to), so undoubtedly we’ll have more articles on zero waste cleaning supplies sometime soon. 

Coming up next: Food storage strategies 

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