A Zero Waste Project: DIY dishwasher powder

The DIY dishwasher powder made with three easy ingredients that is more environmentally friendly than traditional dishwasher pods. Photo courtesy of author.

As my apartment started running low on dishwasher pods, I figured this would be the perfect time to try out a relatively easy DIY swap. Making the DIY dishwasher powder turned out to be a breeze. What wasn’t so easy? Finding the ingredients. 

However, ingredients aside, this is a relatively easy zero waste swap to make, for a relatively good pay off. If you sourced your supplies better than I did, it would definitely be more environmentally friendly than your traditional dishwasher pods.  

Why make this swap? 

All in all, detergent pods (for laundry or dishes) aren’t the worst thing for the planet. According to the independent news outlet Grist, they actually have potential to be super environmentally friendly. Traditional liquid detergent bottles are risky to recycle — unless you clean any remaining formula from the inside of the container, you risk contaminating the entire batch of recycling and making it impossible to process. This isn’t a risk with pods. Plus, the lining of the pod is made from polyvinyl alcohol, which dissolves in water and is completely harmless.  

However, because dishwasher pods are often sold in plastic containers or bags, they’re not zero-waste approved. While some zero waste outlets do sell plastic-free dishwasher tablets or pods, I decided to save some money, and make a product myself.  

What I did 

The supplies for DIY dish powder: soda crystals, salt, and citric acid. Photo courtesy of author.

On Pinterest, I found a link to the blog Eco Boost, where U.K. zero waste blogger Kate Arnell published her self-developed recipe for a zero waste, DIY dish detergent powder. The ingredients were relatively simple: soda crystals (also called washing powder), salt and citric acid. 

Soda crystals can be made by heating baking soda up in the oven, so I already had that ingredient. I bought some extra salt from Walmart with no problem. The citric acid, however, gave me some issues. Citric acid isn’t that uncommon an ingredient — it’s used for baking and canning goods. However, I looked up and down the baking aisles of three different grocery stores (the Price Chopper in Storrs Center, the Walmart in Windham and the Big Y in Tolland) all with no luck, even when asking an employee. Eventually, I tried to order citric acid through pick-up from other Walmarts nearby, and learned that the Walmart in Brooklyn, Conn. was stocked. Even then I needed the help of an employee to find it in the canned goods aisle. 

In terms of how zero waste these ingredients are — the baking soda and salt both came in cardboard containers. The citric acid came in a plastic bottle. The yield I’ll get from the recipe will probably still make this a more eco-friendly option than buying pods, but in order for this to be fully zero-waste, I would probably have to order citric acid online so I could get it in more environmentally friendly packaging.  

The results of the DIY detergent on two glasses. Photo courtesy of author.

Once I had all my ingredients, I halved the recipe from Eco Boost. First I had to turn 2 cups of baking soda into soda crystals by heating it on a cooking tray in the oven for an hour at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I poured that product into an empty salsa jar, then added 1/2 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of citric acid, and shook it all together. 

To test it out, I added a spoonful of the mixture into the detergent dispenser. I also added a tiny bit of white vinegar to the rinse aid dispenser (a part of the dishwasher I only just discovered), as recommended by Eco Boost.  

Overall, the results were good. All of my dishes looked clean except one glass that had some residue. I’ll probably give it a few more cycles before I’m sold, but overall this was a pretty easy swap. 

What this means for you 

If you are so fortunate to have a dishwasher (and a kitchen, for that matter), I would say this is a pretty good option to know. This was a relatively cheap and easy swap, but I wouldn’t say this is one of the most important swaps to make. Dishwasher detergent, in any form, is almost always going to be some kind of product that we have to buy regularly. I would argue the more important swaps to make are those that remove single-use items from your grocery list forever — like using cloth napkins rather than paper, or using a safety razor. At the end of the day, this is a great swap, just maybe don’t put it at the top of your zero-waste swap list. 

Coming up next: menstrual cup 

Leave a Reply