Dishwasher Powder

A very quick to make simple substitute for store bought dishwashing tablets.  Buying the ingredients in bulk means these work out at about 27 cents per wash. As economical as any of the products in the supermarket, but without all the packaging and nasties.

IMG_0001Dishwashers can be very economical in terms of water and electricity use. Dishwashing powders, however, are usually pretty harsh on the environment.  Those little pods, which seem to be the most popular, range in price from about 30 to 70 cents each.  They are over-packaged, with individual plastic wraps inside a cardboard box, or another plastic bag.

The way they are marketed makes them sound almost space-age – ‘ultra’, ‘platinum’ and ‘quantum’ are just some of the terms tossed about.  Unless you are feeling more natural – then it’s ‘citrus’, ‘apple’ or ‘lemon’. There’s nothing nice about pentasodium triphosphate (it’s amazing how many formulations have phosphate salts in them), and subtilisin may cause allergic reactions. Of course these chemicals are rinsed from your dishes and won’t cause you any harm unless you touch or ingest them, but they do end up in the waterways.

Despite the fancy names and packaging many of the formulations only have a couple of active ingredients and so these are are really quick and simple do-it-yourself product.  If you have a bulk store then you can buy citric acid and sodium percarbonate easily. Otherwise you might have to source those online.  The other ingredients are sold in most supermarkets.

Got five minutes? Let’s make dishwasher powder!

This is a ratio recipe. Simply double, or triple the quantities to make up the amount you desire.  I usually double the basic ratio for each batch, which lasts us a couple of months and gives about 32 washes. 

1/2 cup citric acid 

Active ingredient and chelating agent – removes metals and softens water. Plant derived, biodegradable and suitable for greywater and septic tanks.

1/2 cup washing soda

AKA sodium carbonate – softens water and removes grease. Mineral derived, suitable for greywater and septic tanks.

1/2 cup sodium percarbonate

AKA sodium carbonate peroxide. Non-chlorine bleach, mineral derived, biodegradable and suitable for greywater and septic tanks.

1/2 cup sodium bicarbonate

AKA sodium hydrogen carbonate – weak disinfectant and stain remover.Mineral derived, suitable for greywater and septic tanks.

1 T tea tree oil (as fragrance, optional)

Add all the ingredients to a container and shake. 

Use about a tablespoon per wash.  I use a small scoop that came with the eco-detergent I used to buy before I switched to making my own.

Big commerce would have you believe you not only need dishwasher powder, but rinse aid and even detergent to clean the dishwasher itself. There’s no need to buy rinse products.  I never use them.  I’ve filled the rinse dispenser with white vinegar a few times, but I can’t see it makes any difference. Occasionally I leave a half a squeezed out lemon on the top rack during a wash before composting.  I also don’t rinse the dishes before I load them. No domestic disasters have resulted and it means I have one product under my sink instead of the two or three I’m ‘supposed’ to need.

Let me know how it goes for you. Happy dishwashing!


Washing powder

A quick and simple recipe for a household staple.  Laundry powder can cost between 40 and 50c per wash.  This homemade version costs about washing powderhalf that.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that laundry detergents are a relatively new product, and although they date from the 1900s, their use really only took off after World War II.  I still have some little pyrex dishes, one of which was given as a promotion in each enormous packet to induce 1960s housewives to switch to this wonder product.  Within decades the impact of using non-biodegradable surfactants and phosphate salts was highly visible, with foams and algal blooms in our waterways.

Legislation lead to reformulation, and the surfactants now used have to be biodegradable within 28 days (soap breaks down within 3 days), and Australia phased out the use of phosphate salts from 2011.  The cost of transportation meant most of the bulking agents were removed, and the products were sold as ‘concentrates’ in smaller boxes.  Still, the raw materials for this six billion tonne a year industry come from petrochemicals and sulfuric acid, among others.  I’m not saying any of the raw materials remain in the final product – they have all reacted – but in my book, simpler is better, plant-based is preferable and it’s usually cheaper to make it yourself.

Most modern synthetic detergents are formulated around three main ingredients, builders (such as sodium carbonate, which make up 30-60% of the weight), 10-30% surfactant (the bit that actually does the cleaning, usually alkylbenzenesulfonate), and 7-10% bleaches and brighteners. Sometimes there are enzymes (up to 2%) to break down stains, and there are other additives to stop dirt re-adhering to the fabric, as well as perfumes. Most people don’t notice the scent, but I do.  I find the cleaning product aisle at the supermarket headache-inducing, and when I handle other people’s clothes I often find the lingering smell of detergent quite distasteful.  The fact that many people have to use low-irritant versions with no dyes, perfumes or enzymes demonstrates the harsh nature of these synthetic products. These bleaches and brighteners are also really hard on fabric, and can make your clothes look worn and faded.

Here is my tried and true recipe for washing powder:

This is a ratio recipe. Simply double, or triple the quantities to make up the amount you desire.  I usually triple the basic ratio for each batch.

1 cup Lux soap flakes (sodium soap of tallow and coconut oil- the surfactant)*

1/2 cup borax (sodium tetraborate decahydrate – stain remover)

1/2 cup washing soda (sodium carbonate – water softener and detergent booster)

1 T eucalyptus oil (as fragrance)

Add all the ingredients to a food processor and blitz for about a minute.

Use about a tablespoon per wash.  I use a small scoop that came with the eco-detergent I used to buy before I switched to making my own.

I usually whip up a batch every month or so.  The whole process takes less than ten minutes.  I can buy all the ingredients at my local supermarket, and it works out at about 25c a wash.  It would be even cheaper if you have a bulk store nearby and can buy the ingredients in larger quantities.

I use a front loading washing machine and a cold water wash, and have none of the problems with the dispenser clogging that can happen if you use soap flakes, because the powder is fine enough to dissolve easily.

Borax isn’t recommended when washing wool or silk, but I must admit I often forget to separate wool and silk clothing and I haven’t noticed any adverse affects.

*Vegans might like to source Castile soap flakes made from coconut and soybean oils.

If not me, then who?

Every action towards sustainability matters.  No matter how small, however seemingly insignificant. One grain of sand is nothing, but millions of them make a beach. That is the premise of this blog.

While it is true that as societies move towards a sustainable future it is the actions of large corporations, of governments, of mining companies, energy providers, airlines and manufacturers that will have the largest impact, it is the small, everyday actions of ordinary consumers that will influence the trends. The simple changes people make in their own homes have gentle power and profound influence.  When ordinary consumers don’t buy a product anymore it has an effect.  When they demand something new it has an effect.

My own long (and continuing) exploration of environmental activism has always been around personal accountability – personal actions.  I have to feel that I can look at myself in the mirror and say I did whatever I could to tread lightly.  If governments are responsible for making changes it is only because they are ‘by the people, of the people and for the people’ and my vote matters.  It isn’t up to government to take the lead.  It is for people, ordinary people, to make the government move towards sustainability.

It can seem an overwhelming problem.  It can seem as if positive one change is swiftly countermanded by greedy, grasping, influential corporate power.  No-one seems to be held accountable, or be willing to take responsibility for driving change.  But I can take responsibility for what goes on in my life, in my home.  I can live the change I want to see.  And you can too.  This blog shows you how.

In simple ways, in gentle steps, you can learn to gradually introduce small changes to your daily routine that will help the environment, save you money, add value to your life, improve your health and your relationship with the planet.  Lofty aims can be combined with self interest!

Relax; find a new rhythm; learn to sustain.