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Homemade Dishwasher Detergent with Orange and Lemon Oils

Homemade dishwasher detergent - Dr. Axe

The expectation that a dishwashing detergent should clean the dishes is normal, but it seems that it may go beyond that — and not in a good way. Knowing how the job is getting done is important, which means you may need to take a little time to understand just how products work and if they are safe. (And also why a homemade dishwasher detergent is the best option of all.)

Research shows that many conventional dishwashing detergents contain some ingredients that are not only unsafe for you and your family, but are unsafe for the environment. Sometimes, what we don’t see is worse than we think, such as remembering that what goes down your drain may end up in water areas and reservoirs that affects the life within that bed of water. And, it may come back to the faucet!

However, there are questions as to whether so-called eco-cleaners actually get your dishes clean. Additionally, it seems that some green products may leave some ingredients out of their labeling, making it a bit deceptive to the consumer. But before we disregard the greener approach, let’s talk about the problems with conventional dishwasher detergents. (1)

9 Problems with Conventional Dishwasher Detergents

The concerns with conventional dishwasher detergents include some of the so-called green ones. Below, I have listed a few of the ingredients that have lead to the biggest concerns, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

1. Phosphates

You may have heard of phosphates. They are known for doing a great job of providing a spot-free glass right out of the dishwasher, but that comes at a price because phosphates can promote too much algae growth. When this happens, beneficial plants and fish get deprived of much-needed oxygen; therefore, they cannot thrive in their natural environment.

The Cleaning Institute reports that while scientific studies indicate that a bigger difference would be made with a decrease in all phosphate-containing products such as fertilizers and construction run-off in addition to dishwasher detergents, but any reduction still contributes to a positive outcome over time. (2) (3)

2. Preservatives

There is a high concern that preservatives and synthetic fragrances may contribute to cancer development. Additionally, it may cause general systemic/organ issues, acute or chronic aquatic toxicity, respiratory effects and skin irritation/allergies/damage.

3. Diethanolamine

Diethanolamine is known to cause cancer, moderate allergic reactions and kidney damage. (4)

4. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde causes some big concerns regarding cancer, organ defects, respiratory problems, skin irritation, allergies and and acute aquatic toxicity.

5. Methanol

There is moderate  concern that methanol can cause damage to your eyesight as well as skin irritation, allergies and respiratory problems.

6. Sodium Bisulfite 

This ingredient could cause some respiratory problems, skin irritation and allergies.

7. Sulfuric Acid

Sulfuric acid may cause cancer, respiratory effects and skin irritation.

8. Benzene

Benzene causes many big concerns, including cancer, developmental problems, endocrine disruption and reproductive problems as well as DNA problems. Allergic reactions and damage to visions could result as well.

9. Sodium Hypochlorite

This ingredient could cause acute aquatic toxicity, respiratory effects, organ effects, problems with endocrine system, the nervous system, kidney and urinary effects, cancer and problems with the digestive system. (5)

Dishwashing Products to Avoid

The EWG has listed a few dishwashing products to avoid. All of these products received an “F” grade in EWG’s rankings. The reasons are due to possible problems relating to asthma, skin allergies, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer and environmental concerns. Here are a few that EWG listed on their website: (6)

  • Clorox Commercial Solutions SOS Pot Pan Detergent
  • Palmolive Eco + Gel Dishwasher Detergent, Lemon Splash
  • Cascade Dishwasher Detergent Gel
  • Dawn Ultra Concentrated Liquid Dishwashing Detergent Hawaiian Pineapple
  • EASY-OFF Professional Liquid Dish Detergent Concentrate
  • Cascade Powder Dishwasher Detergent 

Dishwashing Detergents with a Good Rating

According to EWG, there are some dishwashing detergents out there that have a good rating. Here is the list they provided on their website:

  • Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Powder, Free & Clear
  • Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Detergent Concentrated Pacs, Free & Clear
  • Green Shield Organic Squeeze Automatic Dishwasher Liquid Detergent, Lemongrass
  • The Honest Co. Honest Auto Dishwasher Gel, Free & Clear
  • Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Lavender Automatic Dish Packs
  • Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Automatic Dishwasher Detergent, Citrus
  • GrabGreen Automatic Dishwashing Detergent, Fragrance Free
  • Ecover Automatic Dishwasher Powder
  • Ecover ZERO Automatic Dishwasher Powder
  • The Honest Co. honest dishwasher pods
  • Attitude Automatic Dishwasher Detergent, liquid detergent
  • Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Basil Automatic Dish Packs
  • Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Geranium Automatic Dish Packs
  • Whole Foods Market green MISSION Organic Dishwasher Gel, Sweet Orange

How to Make Your Own Dishwasher Detergent

Now that you have the scoop on the good and not so good ingredients out there, why not make a DIY dishwashing detergent right at home? Not only will you save a ton of money, you can be positive that the ingredients are safe for you, your family and the environment without question.

In a medium bowl, add the washing soda and purified water. Washing soda is a chemical compound that is safe to use for removing dirt and grease. It can even treat hard water. More specifically, it is the salt of carbonic acid. Because washing soda is often made from the ashes of burned plants, you may see it named as soda ash. (7)

Purified water is important to help avoid chemical contamination. Blend these ingredients.

Next, add the vinegar, citric acid and kosher salt for this homemade dishwasher detergent. White vinegar helps disinfect safely but also helps keep your dishes spot free. The vinegar contains acetic acid, which helps take the grease off while acting as a rinsing agent. Citric acid helps add some shine to your dishes while removing the minerals that may be caused by hard water found in your area. Kosher salt is an amazing ingredient because it is a mild preservative and can get some of those tough to clean stains off of your dishes by acting as a gentle scouring agent.

It’s now time to add the essential oils. Wild orange oil is perfect because it fights off grease and bacteria while enhancing your kitchen with a delightful scent. Lemon essential oil is a powerhouse of freshness, and it’s a great in a homemade dishwasher detergent because it, too, is antibacterial and antifungal.


  1. To use, add your homemade dishwasher detergent to the dispenser. About 1½–2 tablespoons of detergent per load should do the trick.
  2. I suggest storing your homemade dishwasher detergent in the refrigerator to prevent fermentation and mold since it is chemical and preservative-free.
  3. A quick rinse before loading the dishwasher can provide a boost to a good set up of clean dishes.


Though this homemade dishwasher detergent is safe, it’s best to keep it out of reach from children and pets. If you notice any irritation, please discontinue use. For best results, make sure to clean your dishwasher periodically. You can run the dishwasher using a cup or two of vinegar and baking soda to help provide a thorough cleansing.

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Homemade Dishwasher Detergent with Orange and Lemon Oils

Total Time: About 10 minutes
Serves: About 30 ounces


  • 2 ounces washing soda
  • 3¼ cups purified water
  • 4 ounces white vinegar
  • 1 ounce citric acid powder
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 20 drops wild orange essential oil
  • 20 drops lemon essential oil


  1. Combine all ingredients until well blended.
  2. Use about 1½–2 tablespoons of detergent per load.

Josh Axe

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  1. Joy on

    Everytime I’ve made this or any recipe for dishwashing with castilesoap my dishes are always covered in a film I’ve also used the recipes that have vinegar included
    Have any suggestions on a remedy?

  2. Tamara Brooks on

    This homemade dishwasher soap looks interesting. Two quick questions: 1) i use Young Living oils which tend to be a fair bit stronger than a lot of other brands. Do these amounts still sound appropriate?
    2) Is there any reason I could or could not also ad a touch of thyme, lemongrass, cinnamon or oregano? We live on a farm and a little extra cleaning power bacterial wise would be beneficial. My son also does not do that well with orange.


    • Cristina on

      Is suggest melaleuca as it is tough but gentle. Play around with drops, but Dr axe has talked about quality oils of DoTERRA, and Young living is very similar, so I think 20 drops of either is good. He always boasts to only use quality essential oils :)

    • mary butler on

      i would like to hear if you got any reply on your ask if the homemade dish washer detergent was safe for septic tanks.
      waiting to hear from you
      mary butler

  3. Carol chevalier on

    I have been researching breast cancer for my friend and found lots of thing that are really helping her.
    Than I found you and Jordan on u tube and i was very inpressed.
    I got your book essential oil ancient medcine and your web site. I am finding lots of information that is not only helping my friend but myself and my husband as well. love all the diy recipes. working on detoxing my home as well as my body. thank you for shearing all of your knowleage.

  4. Frances on

    This is fabulous stuff! Thanks so much Dr Axe – I have been trying to source the perfect dishwasher detergent for several years now, but up until now have been unsuccessful despite many experiments. This stuff really cleans properly – even glass comes out sparkling! Lovely to know this stuff is not poisoning water courses like commercial stuff (even so-called “eco” products). So much cheaper than commercial products too. Thanks so much for this great recipe!

  5. Val on

    my dishwasher recipe is this…

    2C.washing soda
    1/2 cup citric acid
    mix these first

    1/2cup salt(pure-pickling-salt)
    2tsp orange essential
    2tsp lemon essential
    2tsp diamtasous earth(foodgrade!)

    mix salt with essentials..the earth is silica so it don’t stick
    then mix it all together

    NOW for rinse aid..16 oz cheap 100proof vodka and 6 oz citric acid..sparkling glasses and no poisons coating your dishes


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