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Homemade Liquid Dish Detergent

By Karina | June 18, 2008

washingdishes.jpgJenn and I have talked in the past about making homemade soap or detergent, and as I came to the end of my last bottle of Trader Joe’s liquid dish soap, I decided to give it a whirl. Turns out, though, that while there are lots of recipes for powdered dish detergent for machines on the internet there are just not a whole lot of LIQUID dish detergent suitable for hand washing your dishes. After extensive searching, though, I came across this one.

I ended up quartering the recipe. I made it with half of a bar of ancient Octagon soap that I’ve moved from apartment to apartment for at least 5 years. (Gramma always says to keep a bar of laundry soap around in case you run into a patch of poison ivy. The harsh soap cuts the oils that transport the poison ivy “itch,” and will minimize your reaction. And now you know!) It turns out that the Octagon soap was kind of dried out, but while it made some amazingly loud noises while I was grating it, it melted just fine. I was able to find the washing soda at the grocery in the laundry detergent aisle, and the other items I had on-hand. I also added some rosemary essential oil with the lemon to improve the scent.

I followed the directions closely, but here’s the exciting part: when I added the baking soda to the soap mixture it foamed all over the stove. Luckily I got the pan into the sink in time to avoid total catastrophe (and my stove has never been cleaner than after wiping all that soap mess off of it), but how weird, right? Maybe it was a reaction to the lemon juice, or maybe it’s because baking soda is amphoteric, and will react with both acids (the lemon juice) OR bases (the washing soda). I bet it was a reaction to the washing soda, because it’s a much stronger base than lemon juice is acidic.

After the exciting foaming reaction I left the soap out to cool, and it cooled off to be really foamy and kind of hard – it was waaaay too thick to squeeze out of my reused liquid detergent bottle – so I heated about a cup of water and mixed the warm water in as best as I could. It’s still really really thick, and I have to squeeze the bottle with both hands to get any soap out, but I don’t know if that’s because of the loss of mixture during the foaming or what. Next time I need to use a larger pot to avoid any foam-over.

All in all, I find that this recipe works really well to clean my dishes, but I just don’t like using it very much! It doesn’t foam or produce big bubbles at all, and I use a lot more than I did of the commercially prepared soap. (I mixed up the detergent in the beginning of May and I’ve gone through about 1/2 of it in 6 weeks.) And of course, there is that hard-to-squeeze thing. Most annoying, though, is that the soap is so hard that it won’t dissolve in water when I want to soak a pot. I have to get my whisk out and mix the soap into the water first before I fill the pot. Most of my dishes are done with the soap-on-sponge method, so it’ s not a problem I run into frequently, so I would like to be able to avoid the extra whisking step!

And of course I have some questions. Like, what the heck is Octagon soap made out of, anyway? I’m sure it’s not an eco-friendly detergent base, considering it’s made by chemical giant Colgate-Palmolive. I should probably start with a bar of happy castile soap, for example, from our friends Dr. Bronner’s. I know that that stuff will melt down but I wonder how that will affect the consistency? Also, where the heck does washing soda come from? Washing soda is sodium carbonate and according to wikipedia is produced by mining from alkaline salt flats in the USA, though it is also produced by the Solvay process outside of the USA (big geek heads up: I am familiar with the Solvay process because I used to work on the Onondaga Lake superfund site, where the Solvay process was heavily used and contributed to some of the area contamination.) The Solvay process also is used to produce baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate. According to this webpage washing soda is non-toxic and is a great grease cutter, so it’s probably the most active ingredient in this detergent.

I think I’m going to have to try again, but next time, I’ll use a different kind of soap, a larger pot, and maybe mix in more water right at the beginning to thin it out. I think I should also put the baking soda in first and THEN add the washing soda. Sometimes the order of mixing helps dilute any reaction you may encounter. I’ll be sure to let you know how it works out!

Image from flickr user anna banana via creative commons license.

Have you experimented with homemade detergents? What’s your favorite recipe?

Topics: Home | 55 Comments »

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2008-06-18 08:18:03

I have mixed baking soda and lemon and didn’t get fizz bomb – but when i mix it with ume vinegar it takes on a life of it’s own and makes me want to do a 2nd grade science project on erupting volcanoes :)

Comment by Shannon
2008-06-20 18:31:18

try that on the bottom of your oven-with some vinegar. If you let it set for a while, cleaning it will be effortless

Comment by carrie
2009-03-25 13:10:39

dish soaps make me sick so I’m looking for an alternative, have you tried just melting the Octagon soap with water to a thinner consistency? Do you think that will clean without the other ingredients?

Comment by Bellen
2008-06-18 08:27:23

How about using liquid Dr. Bronner’s – I used it camping and just a couple of drops would do a panful of dishes.

The bubbles from liquid dishwashing soap? I think we’ve been brainwashed into thinking they are necessary – I’m not sure they are because I cannot think how the bubbles contribute to the cleaning process.

Comment by Jenn
2008-06-18 10:17:48

Hey Bellen– I also use Dr. B’s while camping, but when I’ve tried it at home I’ve been a bit disappointed. It doesn’t really seem to cut grease all that well, at least in my experience.

I think you’re right about the bubbles and brainwashing– we’re used to it in shampoo, soaps, and toothpaste, and I think it’s all a scam.

Comment by michelle
2008-06-18 12:13:05

The auromere toothpaste that I mentioned in a different post earlier today actually comes in a non-foaming variety to eliminate the sodium laurel sulfate: http://www.auromere.com/natural_toothpaste.html, suggesting that bubbles/suds are not necessary for the cleaning function. Admittedly, I do like suds and bubbles, though.

Comment by michelle
2008-06-18 09:04:51

All this makes me think that you should be wearing safety goggles, missy! I may have some soap to give to you so you don’t have to buy any from that christmas I made shea butter soaps for my dad.

2008-06-18 09:43:02

[...] Tiny Choices finds a recipe for liquid dish soap. [...]

Comment by homeschoolmom
2008-06-18 11:57:00

Teehee, this is just about exactly one of the science experiments we just did with our 2nd grader…and I was surprised at the big reaction she got with lemon juice and baking soda. I don’t know how homemade my liquid dish soap is, but I use Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds mixed with lots of water in an old Joy soap plastic bottle. The ratio is completely unscientific, like 1 part Sal Suds to 10 parts water. In other words, a little Sal Suds goes a long way. One bottle of Sal Suds lasts 6-9 months and we also use the stuff to clean lots of other things, too, like cars. Not countertops, tho, cuz you have to rinse (it’s sudsy after all) and I’m lazy.


Comment by Danielle
2008-06-20 19:42:28

The best grease-cutting soap I know of is made by my father as a by-product of bio-diesel production. It looks nasty, but it will clean anything and is def earth-friendly as it’s a bonus from recycling! Let me know if you want to know more :-)

Comment by cat147
2008-06-20 20:53:02

i want to know more!! i’ve got a grease-monkey husband … will it work on his hands? ;)

Comment by Karina
2008-06-21 01:27:56

that’s because it’s a byproduct of a lye reaction! it’s super duper soap

Comment by catharine biuso
2008-06-25 11:31:26

i also use the dr bonners sal suds though it does contain sodium laurel sulfates. i combine that with a very unscientific mixture of vinegar (for a clean shine), baking soda, borax and a dash of tea tree oil (my husband likes to leave raw chicken in the sink and i can’t brake him from it so the added anti bacterial is for that not because i’m a germ-aphobe). all of this creates a very thick gel like stuff that you have to cut with some warm water (so that you don’t have to use 2 hands to squeeze out ;) )
i’ll switch to a something that doesn’t contain sodium laurel sulfates after i’m done with the dr bonners but so far this works great.

Comment by Stormy Lass
2008-06-30 20:10:15

It is the soda ash that is making your soap to thick. Try using only half next time. Good luck!

Comment by Gail
2008-07-31 00:10:12

About the Octagon Soap – according to this site http://www.terryspharmacy.com/products/OctagonSoap/ it is a lye based soap, which is why it’s so great at cutting grease. Castille soap wouldn’t cut greases as well. According to Wikipedia, lye itself is not bad for the environment. So it’s probably a great soap all around.

2008-08-21 05:26:42

[...] How to avoid 1,9-dioxane in  your dish soap. Make your own, which is what Karina of Tiny Choices tried. Learn from her mistakes: "I think [...]

2008-10-13 06:01:13

[...] almost out of dish soap. That’s right – the stuff I made way back in June is almost gone. That’s a really great track record for a container of soap! a solid 4 months, [...]

Comment by Beth Terry
2008-10-22 03:00:06

I’m wondering why we couldn’t just dissolve a soap bar in water. Do you really need all the other ingredients? I ask because I”m in the process of trying just that — bar soap dissolved in water — and wondering if there’s some reason this will not work right.


Comment by Karina
2008-10-22 07:14:23

In all my research I saw a bunch of people who said things like: “this soap doesn’t work GREAT, so I keep a bar of soap at the kitchen soap for spot cleaning.”

I bet if you are using a washcloth or sponge you could just lather it up with the bar of soap and use it directly on each dish, instead of the traditional hot soapy water! Just like cleaning your body in the shower vs in the bubble bath (for a dorky early morning analogy).

Comment by Dena
2008-12-03 18:15:36

Beth, grate the bar soap and melt in a pot of hot water on the stove.

Comment by Jenn
2009-01-12 11:53:26

Beth, have you tried dissolving a bar of soap in water, and using it as dishsoap? How did it work out?

Comment by Marie
2008-11-04 00:52:11

You made a mistake by using baking soda instead of washing soda. Two different things. You want Arm and Hammer SUPER WASHING SODA available in the laundry aisle, not the baking aisle! :-)

Comment by Karina
2008-11-04 07:10:54

Nope – the recipe I used called for both! Have you got another recipe that you would recommend?

2008-12-11 06:02:28

[...] the metal bottle is highly reusable– for your next batch of DIY dishsoap, [...]

Comment by rich
2008-12-22 22:43:47

If this helps: sodium carbonate = washing soda = soda ash, which is readily available anywhere one sells pool chemicals. (It may also be called “pH up”.)

Comment by openeyehealth
2009-02-19 23:08:56

I found an easy recipe for safe & natural homemade dish soap using only 3 ingredients: liquid castile soap, water, and a few drops of essential oil. It works great (even on greasy dishes) and smells good, too. For the full recipe and details, visit http://openeyehealth.com/2008/10/quick-easy-homemade-dish-soap/.

2009-04-21 09:52:00

[...] ElsectorSeven placed an observative post today on Homemade Liquid Dish Detergent | Tiny ChoicesHere’s a quick excerpt … the exciting part: when I added the baking soda to the soap mixture it foamed all … foamy and kind of hard – it was waaaay too thick to squeeze out of my reused liquid detergent … [...]

2009-04-22 02:40:19

[...] ElsectorSeven added an interesting post today on Homemade Liquid Dish Detergent | Tiny ChoicesHere’s a small reading … the exciting part: when I added the baking soda to the soap mixture it foamed all … foamy and kind of hard – it was waaaay too thick to squeeze out of my reused liquid detergent … [...]

Comment by SteveR
2009-06-01 01:48:24

I tried the same recipe. It was also too thick, so I kept cutting it with water.
Next time I think I would add more water, more washing soda.
I think it is the soap which makes it thick, after all, it comes from a solid bar.
Alternatively, it might be best to make your own liquid soap or start from a liquid soap base ( liquid soaps are made with potassium based lye ( potassium hydroxide) intead of sodium based lye).

Btw, if you want a man to do the dishes, challenge him to make the soap. I’m so keen to keep proving my soap works, that I end up doing the dishes.

Also, I do think this soap really works, just need to work out a good mix and consistency. Forget bubbles, they do nothing.

Comment by Esther
2009-06-26 16:23:19

I’ve looked all over the internet for a dish liquid recipe – thanks!! I can’t wait to try it out.

Comment by willie pennington
2009-07-20 19:02:28

i would like to know all the recipe for dishes detergent.

2009-09-12 09:00:46

[...] udothedishes,….with homemade dish soap! [...]

Comment by Adina
2009-10-04 16:33:39


Has some good resources for decent prices.

Comment by Sandy
2009-10-07 11:39:41

A tiny squirt of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap and hot water work great for me.

Comment by shea butter soaps
2010-02-17 16:21:17

Thanks for the information. So many different types of soaps.

Comment by Brandy
2010-05-09 20:19:31

so where is the recipe????

Comment by sunshine
2010-09-23 16:53:59

i would like an easy receipe to make dishsoap cant find castile soap anywhere

Comment by Samika George
2010-10-17 01:07:16

Please tell me more about the grease cutting soap. :)

Comment by Deborah
2010-10-18 16:36:47

I’d love to know more about your dad’s grease-cutting soap.

I am a beginner & I want to start making dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, bubble bath.

Thanks for your help


Comment by carolee
2011-01-31 20:38:51

I’ve been making laundry detergent for 2 years. (The Duggar family recipe). Want to try the liquid dish detergent.

Comment by Jenn
2011-02-09 21:53:13

Hey Carolee– we’d love to hear about your family recipe! Would you share it with the TC family, or is a closely-guarded secret?

Comment by Brian
2011-04-21 18:17:06

agreed, what’s the recipe for laundry detergent?

Comment by michelle
2011-05-23 13:22:28

QUOTE: SLS is used to make products like shampoo, detergents and toothpaste create suds. We’ve been long conditioned to equate suds with cleaning power, but let me make this clear SUDS DO NOT CLEAN. I’m not going to get into the chemistry of this, but put those old “scrubbing bubbles” right out of your head. People like sudsy bubbles. Bubbles make us FEEL like things are getting cleaner(and happy), but it is an illusion. Manufacturers sell illusion as much as they sell products, so they make sure we get lots of bubbles.

Comment by marsha bushman
2011-08-12 16:03:19

see, I’ve read about that everywhere, but it’s not really the same thing as a recipe, is it? it’s just diluting something that’s already made (and more expensive than regular dish soap.)

Comment by likessuds
2011-08-17 16:29:20

I like the suds because for me, they’re an indication that I have enough soap or detergent in the water. If I could tell that another way, I’d do it, but haven’t figured out how yet. :/

Comment by Teri
2011-09-07 12:52:16

If Octagon soap is such a great grease-cutter, then why is it when I used it in a by-hand dishwashing soap recipe all my glasswear I washed with it ended up looking like there was grease on it. There was a greasy film or something sitting on the glasswear and my silverware. I followed the recipe exactly and made two batches of it. Stored it away overnight for “curing.” Shook the bottle this morning to use the brand new dish soap and all I got in my dishpan mixed with the tap water was what looked like dirty water, like when you take a bath in the tub after having really been working hard and sweating all day and you get kind of a whitish film that accumulates on top of the water. That’s what this stuff looks like in my dishpan. I’m really disappointed in how this product turned out for getting my dishes, glassware, and silverware clean. I mean, if it won’t clean my regular stuff, how can I expect it to clean my pots and pans! If anyone else has an explanation for why I’m experiencing this film from this soap, please let me know. When I was grating the soap before I melted in in the pot, I did notice how soft the bar of soap was. I’m just thinking maybe there is oil in the soap itself that it getting on the dishes, but then why would they call it a great grease-cutter? I’d love any opinions on this. Thanks!

Comment by Rick
2011-09-15 06:18:48

1 – Two gallons of boiling water.

2 – Mix one half bar of Octagon or Fels Naptha grated and dissolve in boiling water.

3 – Then add 2TBL of Borax and 2TBL of Washing Soda into the simmering boiling water.

4 – After the Borax and Washing Soda have dissolver add 2 teaspoons of Xanthum.

5 – Let cool and store.

Comment by Leo R. Guajardo, 11
2011-09-15 18:31:30

Maybe you didn’t noticem BUT, you forgot to post the formula for this fanntastic dish washing liquid or is this one on bottom? I have esde this recipes for making cloth washing liquid, withouT the Xanthum ! it that the only difference?

Comment by Karina
2011-09-16 10:54:48

Leo – the recipe I used is linked to in the article. I haven’t tried the one that Rick just posted but it’s similar in a lot of ways.

Comment by Rick
2011-10-01 04:26:20

Now for the STRONG homemade dish washing liquid soap: (This stuff cuts grease very well.)

Two gallons of boiling water.

Add one-half bar of grated Octagon or Fels Naptha soap.

Add 4TBL of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (“SLS”) – SLS is cheap, easy to obtain by searching the internet for “buy SLS powder” and a few pounds will last you for YEARS. It is strong, so don’t use it to wash your hands too often. You can wash your hands now and then but not all the time with this stuff.

Let the grated soap and SLS dissolve. (It won’t take very long.)

Keep simmering at a low boil and then:

Add 2TBL of Washing soda.

Add 2TBL of Borax.

After all that dissolves (won’t take long) you have to add a bit more stuff to get it thicker because the SLS makes a thinner solution:

Add 1/2 cup of table salt…….after that dissolves:

Add 4 teaspoons of xanthum. After that dissolves.

Let cool and store.

2011-12-20 10:55:47

[...] than the basic recipe above, this discusses a recipe for homemade liquid dish detergent that is a bit more involved, technically, but the post has very interesting information and may [...]

Comment by Jenny
2012-02-22 07:07:48

Just a note about bubbles. If you really want bubbles, add a few drops of glycerin to your soap. For one gallon of whatever, dish soap, laundry soap, about 4 or 5 drops will do. It’s also how you can turn really cheap (store bought) dish soap into bubble blowing bubbles for kids, dilute it with a bit of water and add glycerin. It doesn’t DO anything for cleaning, it just makes it bubbly and for hand dish soap, I guess it can make your skin soft!

Comment by Rick
2012-02-27 10:09:04

One thing you can do is adjust the xanthum gum and salt to get a thickness you like.

Mine is only a suggestion and, depending on the hardness of your water, you might not need as much salt, xanthum gum, etc.

You just gotta try it and get a recipe that gives good thickness.

Good idea on the glycerin. Yes, it can add to bubbling sometimes.

Comment by Eileen
2012-03-15 14:30:14

They are not the same thing. What you want is the Super Washing Soda. I read that you could heat your baking soda up to 400 degrees for 2 hours to become the same thing. The baking soda ingredient is being passed on incorrectly.


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