Sustainability made simple

Homemade Dish Soap: DIY Dish Soap and Dishwasher Detergent

homemade dish soap – homemade dishwasher detergent
Photos: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Congerdesign (L), © geografika - (M), CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Euyawa (R)

Making homemade dish soap avoids plastic waste and helps the environment. We’ll show you how to create your own DIY dish soap and homemade dishwasher detergent— and give you some tips for how to wash your dishes more sustainably. 

In the drugstore and the supermarket, you will find a vast selection of dishwashing soap and detergent. It comes in countless colors and scents, in extra-strong, hand-moisturizing, etc etc. What they all have in common is that they come in plastic bottles and contain suspicious ingredients.

Because of this, they contribute to the abuse of the environment, our skin and in the long run, our health. Why not cross them off your shopping list and start making your own homemade dish soap and dishwasher detergent?

Homemade Dish Soap: Melt & Pour Citrus DIY Dish Soap Recipe

diy dish soap
Using plant-based melt & pour soap base allows you to make homemade dish soap without having to handle lye. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Euyawa)

Ever wondered what exactly soap is? Soap is the result of a chemical process called saponification, which occurs between lye (potassium hydroxide) and oil. Lye is an extremely caustic alkaline chemical that is either manufactured with salt, water and electricity, or extracted from wood ash by soaking it in water.

Many people feel discouraged from making homemade dish soap because improper handling of lye can cause serious chemical burns, and its physical similarity to water when dissolved is especially discomforting to parents.

That’s why in our DIY dish soap recipe, we’ll use a melt-and-pour soap base, so you can completely avoid having to work with lye. 

Note: Don’t be deceived. Despite the creative labeling efforts of many companies to fool consumers into thinking otherwise, anything called soap is made with lye (yes, even glycerin soap). There is no substitute for lye in soap-making, because saponification simply cannot occur with it.

For 4 bars of homemade dish soap, you will need:

  • 1/2 pound of melt-and-pour soap base (like this one on Amazon**)
  • Zest of two oranges
  • About 50 drops of lemon essential oil
  • a reusable soap mold (like this one on Amazon**)


  1. Chop up the block of soap base into smaller pieces and place in a heat-safe glass bowl.
  2. Melt the soap base in a double boiler, by placing your heat-safe bowl over a pot of boiling water until it is completely liquid. 
  3. Add the orange zest and lemon essential oil. Stir well. 
  4. Pour the soap into your soap mold. Gently tap the mold to get rid of any trapped air bubbles. 
  5. Allow the soap to cool at room temperature until hardened (the amount of time this will take will depend on which soap base you buy: look for directions on the packaging). DO NOT move the soap until it is completely hardened. 
  6. Enjoy your homemade dish soap!

Tip: If you’ve got leftover essential oil, try using it to make homemade lip balm.

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent: DIY Recipe

homemade dishwasher detergent
Use washing soda to make homemade dishwasher detergent. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Congerdesign)

To make homemade dishwasher detergent, you will need washing soda, which is not always easy to find in the supermarket. If you are having trouble getting a hold of some, it is easy to make your own. 

To make your own washing soda:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F
  2. Find a baking sheet with a lip around it and pour in about 2 cups of baking soda. Spread out evenly.
  3. Bake for one hour, stirring at least once. 
  4. Check the texture of the powder. When all of your baking soda has become grainy and lost its fluffiness, it is finished. The exact amount of time will depend on your oven. 

Note: If you don’t have an oven, you can buy washing soda online (for example, on Amazon**).

Now you’re all ready to make your homemade dishwasher detergent. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 cups of washing soda (NOT baking soda)
  • About 20 drops of any essential oil of your choice


Combine ingredients and stir until there are no longer any clumps. Pour into an airtight container. Done! Use about two tablespoons per load of dirty dishes. 

Warning: Before using your homemade dishwasher detergent for the first time, be sure to clean out any mineral deposits or other residue from inside your dishwasher. If you don’t, your detergent is likely to loosen them, and they will get redeposited onto your dishes. 

Washing the dishes by hand or in the dishwasher – which is better for the environment?

Dishwashers are often advertised as being good for the environment, because they supposedly use less water and less energy than it would take to wash the same amount of dishes by hand. But the reality is, it’s not that simple. 

The production of the dishwasher itself uses such an immense amount of energy that the amount it may or may not save through efficiency does little to make up for the damage already caused to the environment.

Furthermore, to calculate exactly how sustainable a dishwasher is, you would have to know exactly how long the dishwasher will remain functional. If the machine breaks, either even more energy will be used to recycle it, or it will sit in a landfill. The efficiency also depends on how many dishes you wash on a regular basis: this will be quite different depending on whether your household includes a family of five, or just you. 

Pay attention to the things that you have control over. When buying a dishwasher, look for the energy efficiency rating. To increase the life of your dishwasher, be sure to clean it regularly. Also, always make sure the dishwasher is full before you use it: this way, you are getting the most results for the smallest amount of energy. 

Because there are so many factors, it is not possible to say which method is better in general. The good news: if you are well-informed, you can weigh the factors and decide whether hand-washing or the dishwasher makes more sense for you. 

Either way, by using your own DIY dish soap or homemade dishwasher detergent, you can help protect the environment – and your skin – from harmful chemicals.

Tips for Sustainable Dishwashing by Hand

washing dishes by hand
Hand-washing your dishes can be environmentally friendly too. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – ekk814)

If you’ve decided to go for hand-washing, here are some tips for how to do it in the most sustainable way:

  • Get rid of food remains before they have a chance to dry and get stuck to your dishes.
  • Use lukewarm water instead of hot: it saves energy and is easier on your hands.
  • Soak the dishes in lukewarm water before you start scrubbing them.
  • Use just enough soap (ideally your own homemade dish soap): no more, no less. 
  • To help conserve water, instead of rinsing clean dishes under running water, use a large bowl filled with clean water. A few drops of vinegar in the water will have the same effect as a rinse aid in the dishwasher.

Use the proper tools:

  • Instead of a classic sponge, use a cotton cloth or a luffa sponge (like this one on Amazon**. Normal sponges are made of polyurethane and can lose microparticles that pollute the water. 

This article has been translated from German to English by Christie Sacco. You can read the original version here: Spülmittel selber machen: Rezept zum Handspülen und für Geschirrspüler

** Links to retailers marked with ** or underlined orange are partially partner links: If you buy here, you actively support, because we will receive a small part of the sales proceeds. More info.

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