10 Dishwasher Detergent Substitutes [Best Dish Soap Options]

My dishwasher is completely full and I just realized that I have no dishwasher detergent. I have absolutely no time to hand wash everything in the dishwasher so I need help! Has this ever happened to you?

This scenario has happened to me many, many times so I have lots of experience in dishwasher detergent substitutes.

There are plenty of ways to get your dishes clean without using the standard, store bought detergent. 

The best dishwasher detergent substitute is a mix of baking soda and white vinegar. The baking soda is a natural, abrasive cleaner and vinegar is an acidic germ fighter. Borax is another great dishwasher detergent substitute. You can even wash your dishes in the dishwasher with pure lemon juice! 

Best Dishwasher Detergent Substitutes

1. Vinegar

Can I use vinegar as a dishwasher detergent? I have definitely wondered this a time or two. The answer is yes!

Vinegar is often used as a cleaning product thanks to its highly acidic nature. It quickly kills germs, eats through stains and breaks up food stuck on dishes. Sounds like a great dishwasher detergent! 

Using vinegar as a dishwasher detergent is a little different than using a regular, store-bought dish detergent.

Skip the soap compartment completely and fill a bowl with about 1 ½ cups of distilled white vinegar. Place the bowl, right side up, on the top rack of your dishwasher. 

As your dishwasher cycles, the force from the water spray will disperse the vinegar throughout the machine.

The hot water will help activate the vinegar’s cleaning and deodorizing power as well. It’s pretty amazing! 

Vinegar

2. Baking Soda

Besides running out of dishwasher detergent more frequently than I’d like to admit, I also have just wondered if there is a cheap alternative to dishwasher tablets.

Baking Soda

I always like to save money! Baking soda is a great discount alternative to dishwasher tablets.

Baking soda is technically called sodium bicarbonate. Most of us use it for baking and cooking (even volcano making!) so there’s a good chance you have baking soda in your pantry already. It is definitely a convenient substitute for dishwasher detergent! 

Replace your powdered dishwasher detergent with the same amount of baking soda. About two to three tablespoons will work perfectly. 

It will clean your dishes well and help you save a little cash at the same time! This substitute is definitely a winner to me! 

3. Lemon Juice

Are you looking for a substitute for cascade dishwasher detergent? Maybe you want a natural alternative to dish soap which I can definitely relate to. Who knows what chemicals are in dishwasher detergent?!

Avoiding harsh chemicals is always a good idea, especially when you have young kids. That is why I wanted to try using natural lemon juice as a dishwasher detergent. It actually worked pretty good! 

Lemon Juice for dishwashing

Add ½ cup of fresh, strained lemon juice to a bowl and place the bowl on the top rack of your dishwasher.

Run the dishwasher as you normally would and the lemon juice will spray throughout the machine as it cycles. Your dishes will be nice and clean and also smell wonderful.

I recommend using lemon juice on lighter dishwasher loads. It will clean your dishes but doesn’t have the heavy cleaning power of some of these other substitutes. Pre-rinse those dishes well! 

4. Borax

Borax is a type of naturally occurring mineral salt that is a powerful stain remover. Borax can also kill germs and sanitize dishes naturally as well. The gritty texture will help break up any food stuck on your dishes, too. 

You can buy borax in the same aisle as dish detergent or you can order it online. The classic All Natural Borax Laundry Detergent is my favorite and has been around for decades. 

20 Mule Team Borax

Replace your dish detergent with the same quantity of powdered borax. About 2-3 tablespoons of borax should fit in your dishwasher’s soap dispenser. Your dishes will come out completely germ free and spotless. 

Keep in mind that borax is also very multi purpose. You can use it as a laundry detergent, to clean your bathrooms and even to help prevent pests in your home. I will tell you all about that another day… now, back to dish detergent! 

5. Washing Soda

Washing soda is also known as sodium carbonate. It is a great cleaner that will especially help if you have hard water. It is actually often used as a water softener for laundry and dishwashers alike!

Washing Soda

I like to use Natural Washing Soda since it has no additives or extra ingredients. This soda comes in a nice big bucket that makes it easy to scoop.

Fill your dish detergent dispenser in your dishwasher with washing soda. It should be able to hold about 2-3 tablespoons of washing soap. Run your machine like normal and you will successfully clean your dishes!

6. Baking Soda + Vinegar

I already talked about the cleaning power of both baking soda and vinegar. Why not combine the two?! 

Baking soda and vinegar are a classic, go-to cleaning solution. I used this mix all the time to clean my showers, tile floor and even to soak food caked in pans. It just makes sense to add it to the dishwasher! 

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Fill the soap dispenser in your dishwasher with baking soda. Put 1 ½ cups of white vinegar in a bowl on the top rack of the dishwasher. Start your machine and wait while the dishes clean!

When the baking soda and vinegar mix in your dishwasher they will fizz and foam, removing food quickly and efficiently. This is one of the best dishwasher detergent substitutes I have ever tried. 

7. Powdered Citric Acid

Citric acid is a natural cleaner. It is a weaker acid that is found inside citrus fruits. It looks like small, clear crystals that are extremely tart. While citric acid can be used to preserve foods or add a sour flavor to foods, I like to use it as a cleaner. 

Milliard citric acid is my go to brand. It is 100% natural, non GMO and has nothing added to the white powder. 

Add one tablespoon of citric acid to your dishwasher’s soap compartment and close it up. Put a bowl with one cup of vinegar on the top rack. Run your dishwashers clean cycle and wait for the magic to happen!

Not only will your dishes be clean, but this mix will also help clean your dishwasher itself. It will clean away any scale or minor clogs in your dishwasher and make it run like new.

I use citric acid and vinegar about once a month to clean out my dishwasher and I have often used it just to clean my dishes! 

8. Dish Soap

I always thought liquid dishwasher detergent and dish soap were the same thing. Turns out, they are completely different.

Dishwasher detergents are actually designed to have less bubbles and foam. They also only dissolve in warm water and often contain bleaching agents which will remove stains from dishes. 

Even though dish soap and dishwasher liquid are different, you can use dish soap in a pinch. Just be sure to only use a little or you will have a whole lot of bubbles (I know this from experience!).

Add about three drops of dish detergent to the soap compartment in your dishwasher. Fill the compartment the rest of the way with baking soda. Use your dishwasher as you normally would!

This may be my favorite substitute because it combines the natural cleaning power of baking soda with the powerful degreasers in dish soap.

Dawn dish soap is definitely my favorite and really cleans dishes well both in the dishwasher and when using it by hand.

9. Hot Water

When in doubt, skip the detergents and soaps and use really hot water to clean your dishes. Most dishwashers have a temperature control and you can turn the hot water levels up. Hot water will dissolve the food on your dishes and melt away any left behind grease or fats. 

Be sure to pre-rinse your dishes in hot water before adding them to your dishwasher. This substitute works best with lightly soiled plates. 

It also works best when you set your machine to a higher, longer setting. The stronger the hot water sprays inside your machine, the better! 

10. Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Making your own dishwasher detergent will ensure that your dishes are cleaned with natural, less toxic ingredients. You will know every single ingredient that touches the plates you and your family eat on! This was the main reason why I started making my own detergent. 

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Homemade dishwasher detergent is also pretty cheap when compared to commercial brands. Saving money, keeping my family healthy and also cleaning dishes? Sounds like a miracle mix! 

What is Dishwasher Detergent?

Dishwasher detergent is a special type of powder, liquid or tablet that has been formulated to help clean dishes.

The detergent often has a degreasing agent that will help loosen caked on foods. Some detergents have stain removing chemicals that will really help get your dishes clean. 

Dishwasher detergent comes in all different strengths and forms. Some are super concentrated while others are more mild.

Some people prefer powdered detergent and others like liquid. I am definitely a liquid detergent kind of girl!

Regardless of the type of dishwasher detergent you prefer, almost all detergents are made with oxygen based cleaning agents, alkaline salts, anti corrosion agents and other enzymes. Some contain anti-caking agents, starches and even perfumes. It’s a lot of chemicals! 

Many people want to stay away from these harsh chemicals, especially when you have a young family to care for.

I was sure to include some all natural substitutes for dishwasher detergent on my list for just this reason! 

Tips and Tricks

When you switch to alternative dishwasher detergents, there are a few things you should keep in mind. These tips and tricks will ensure that the more natural detergents will work well and get your dishes clean. 

  • Always pre rinse your dishes. Thick, caked on food will be hard to remove regardless of the detergent you use. Pre rinsed dishes will come out of your machine much cleaner. 
  • Never overflow your soap dispenser. Too much soap or detergent alternative is never a good thing! You want the soap dispenser to be able to close easily to work effectively. 
  • When using a liquid alternative like vinegar or lemon juice that requires a bowl on the top rack, be sure the bowl is dishwasher safe
  • Make sure the bowl of detergent alternative is secure on the top rack. It should be sturdy and not spill!

Hopefully these tricks help you get perfectly clean dishes in a whole new way! 

Final Considerations

There are so many reasons why you should try using an alternative dishwasher detergent.

There are many natural ways to wash dishes, economical ways to wash dishes and more convenient methods, too. 

Give a few of these dishwasher detergent substitutes a try and let me know which works best for you! 

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Yield: 16 Loads
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

I started making my own dishwasher detergent a long time ago. It costs less than buying dishwasher detergent tablets and it has far fewer chemicals than the standard detergent. It also cleans my dishes really well!

Here is my homemade dishwasher detergent recipe that I have perfected over the last few years.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • ½ cup citric acid
  • ½ cup salt
  • 20 drops lemon essential oil

Instructions

  1. Add all of the ingredients to a blender or food processor.
  2. Pulse everything together well, breaking up the citric acid and salt into fine pieces.
  3. Store in an airtight container. It will keep for about a year. 
  4. Use three tablespoons of mix per large load of dishes. Run your dishwasher as you usually would!

Notes

Tip- if the powdered mix begins to clump or get hard, simply place it back in the blender to break it up again. Sometimes humidity can cause it to stick together. 

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