Switching to Eco-Friendly dish washer powder IS better for the environment and can help reduce the amount of plastic packaging. I've tried homemade dishwasher tabs and several store bought eco products and have found some great planet friendly options, including a rinse-aid substitute.
Most of us want something less harmful to the environment, with fewer chemicals, BUT we still need something that will actually work and get the dishes clean.
Pitfalls of the eco-friendly, zero waste options is that they don't always do a good clean, can leave residue, may damage the dishwasher AND aren't exactly zero waste.
I went on a mission to try out my options to see if homemade dishwasher powder is actually effective, AND what is really the best option in terms of reducing both waste and environmental impacts.
There is a bit of a debate as to whether dishwashers or hand washing is a better choice and it seems dishwashers can use less energy and water than their human equivalent. We have a super effective dishwasher that has great water and energy saving options so the dishwasher is my preferred choice.
Homemade Dishwasher Powder and Tablets
There are literally hundreds of different recipes for making your own dishwasher powder and tablets to replace the standard, run of the mill brands. Most use a combination of ingredients including; citric acid, epsom salts, castille soap (or dish detergent), salt, bicarb soda and essential oils.
This is an appealing option, because it can help you avoid the chemicals contained in most powders, plus avoid the packaging.
If you don't have access to these products at a zero waste store though, you will probably end up with the same, or more packaging regardless.
DIY Recipe 1
I tried this particular recipe because the video kept appearing in my Facebook feed on a regular basis. It did leave me scratching my head a little when it said to bake the bi-carb soda in the oven to ''activate it'' and transform it into washing soda, but figured it was worth a try.
In all honestly, this process is a bit of work and it feels like the baking stage is a little questionable. In around 45 minutes (plus 24 hours setting time) you can create enough for 30-50 dishwasher loads. Ingredients like citric acid and castile soap are generally available from bulk or wholefoods stores so I loved the idea of this being a potential zero waste, non-toxic option. I scaled the recipe to make a much smaller quantity and was glad I did this.
The results were average, the dishes were about 75% clean meaning I had to sort the clean and dirty ones before putting them away and then re-wash. In my opinion, the results vs the effort required made this something that I won't try again, but, you can try it out for yourself and see what you think, some people swear by it.
After a little more research on baking soda vs washing soda which you can read here I learnt there is a difference between the two and baking bi carb soda doesn't really create proper washing soda, so perhaps that is really what the recipe needed.
DIY Recipe 2
I also tried this recipe using baking soda, salt and dish soap , which was less effective than the method above. I know you shouldn't put dish detergent into the dishwasher due to the suds factor, but being such a small amount I gave it a go.
The benefit of this recipe is that if you suddenly run out of powder, you could substitute with this method to get you through an emergency....or there's the old fashioned hand washing method that would do a better job. I also tried it with castile soap instead of dish soap and results were the same. Overall, dishes were probably 60% clean after using.
DIY Recipe 3
I didn't try this recipe, but was a little amused by the use of a product I'd never heard of, which was sachets of lemonade powder that apparently has antibacterial properties. Now, I'm not saying it doesn't (i'm no expert) but I do have pretty big doubts and it just goes to show that the internet is full of weird and wonderful things.
Conclusion of DIY Dishwasher Recipes
I did try a few other similar recipes and wasn't really happy with the 60-75% clean dishes rate after using them. I'm a little disappointed as I really really wanted to find an effective one that I could share with you guys! These may still work for you, but I cant exactly recommend them.
On the plus side, these homemade versions did do a great job of refreshing and doing a basic cleanse of the dishwasher, so I feel these are actually a great alternative to using chemical dish washer cleaners....but not for cleaning the actual dishes.
If you do try some recipes, make small batches rather than waste a heap of ingredients. Unsuccessful dishwasher tabs can also be used as toilet fizzies so don't throw them out.
Other Eco-Friendly Dishwasher Powder Options
We have mostly been using the powder that came with our dishwasher when we bought it, which I'm really happy with as it's grey water safe and doesn't contain fillers and being South Australian made means this product doesn't have to travel far and helps local employment. A 2kg tub provides about 18 months of running the dishwasher 4-6 times each week.
You may have seen some eco supermarket options like Earth Choice, which I found to be effective in cleaning the dishes. This brand is plant based, grey water safe, cruelty free, packaged in recyclable plastic and Australian made and owned. I am not a fan of all of their products, and find some a bit ineffective or not as eco-friendly as they appear, but the dishwasher powder and tablets appear to be a great option and easy to get hold of.
If you can buy something local, the reduction in transport, storage and other activities helps reduce CO2 and road traffic.
Here's one I am keen to try and this is a particularly good option for Queenslanders as it's handmade in Noosa by a locally owned company Kin Kin. It's concentrated, grey water safe, natural based powder and refills are also available to reduce packaging.
If we can't eliminate some items in our life, making safer, more environmentally friendly choices in the products we buy can make a difference. Always beware and double check claims on packaging as some can be very vague, giving us the impression they're eco-friendly when they really aren't.
Don't forget to check out your local bulk shops to see what options they have available. Many stock eco-friendly cleaning options, including dishwasher liquids and powders AND allow you to use your own containers.
Rinse Aid Alternatives
I gave up using rinse-aid years ago and am always amused when I see an advert on tv for this product. Yes, it does help if you're having issues with residue on your dishes, but in all likelihood it leaves residue too. Vinegar is the BEST substitute for this problem AND it is perfectly safe to ingest. You can also run your dishwasher without rinse-aid at all, and I suggest trying both options to see what works for you.
Have you had better luck than me making home made dishwasher powders and tablets? or maybe you have sourced a great local option that is eco-friendly? I'd love to hear your experiences and thoughts on the topic.