Homemade Dishwashing Liquid!

A while ago, I decided I wanted to find an alternative for commercial dishwashing liquid (for handwashing dishes). Why?

  1. Cagey-ness
    Want to know what is in your dishwashing liquid? Good luck! Many don’t list ingredients. What are they hiding?
  2. Cruelty
    Barring a few, almost all are tested on animals.
  3. Triclosan
    Many have triclosan and Canada is behind times when it comes to regulating its use. Triclosan is an antimicrobial chemical that is used in various products, right from soaps to toothpastes to toys. There are serious concerns about toxicity, contribution to antimicrobial resistance and hormone disruption. And as a result, its use in these products is banned in many places!
  4. SLS
    Almost all have a form of sodium lauryl sulfate, a derivative of palm oil, which is unsustainably sourced most of the time. Think Indigenous rights, habitat destruction and endangerment of species like the orangutan, elephants, etc.
  5. Biodegradibility
    ‘Biodegradibility’ is a bit of a black hole. Reliable information on many ingredients is almost impossible to find, and that’s if you know the ingredients. Many ingredients in cleaning liquids are either not biodegradable or toxic to marine life.
  6. Synthetic colours, preservatives and fragrances
    Plethora of these in various cleaning agents. There are concerns about almost all of them, ranging from skin irritation to risk of cancer.
  7. Packaging
    I don’t have access to a bulk store or refilling station for dishwashing liquid.

Then I started getting into complicated and scary chemical names like methylisothiazolinone and dioxane and phosphates that I know nothing about. And it all starts to get daunting and wishy washy at that point.

It all felt a bit overwhelming at first but really, wasn’t that difficult once I decided to take the plunge. I shortlisted a few options, tried two, and stuck with the second one.

  1. Castile soap and vinegar
    I tried Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap for scrubbing followed by a vinegar rinse. The soap did a really good job at soaping but unfortunately, the lack of synthetic surfactant also means it is not as effective at removing grime as commercial stuff is. Lightly soiled stuff came out clean but anything steel and glass was left with streaks that were hard to get rid of, even with vinegar. I am not discounting this option completely and would still be happy to use it if I didn’t have an alternative. But for regular use, this was not going to be functional for our household.PS – Mixing castile soap and vinegar is an extremely bad idea. It results in an obnoxious smell accompanied by what looks like vomit. When you mix a soap (base) with vinegar (acid), you are basically undoing the saponification process. So, don’t be tempted!
  2. There are recipes out there for washing soda and I was very tempted to try them but decided I didn’t want risk of any accidental remnants coming in contact with food. So this was out. Now I have to find a use for a packet of washing soda sitting under the sink (ideas welcome).
  3. Soap nut liquid
    I don’t know what exactly is in it but the stuff is like magic. It was highly successful and we haven’t looked back. The light bulb went on when I saw soap nuts available in bulk at a local store (Bulk Barn). They are also easily available on Amazon. The liquid doesn’t lather like soap or detergent, obviously, and does not smell like summery flowers. It does, however, work beautifully on all types of grease. We are so conditioned to equate suds and fragrance with “clean” that it takes a bit of mind shift to get used to seeing no suds. So this is how I make it.

I have made the liquid two different ways.


This is the recipe I used initially. But I couldn’t be bothered doing the adding and boiling. I needed simple and easy so I modified it to the following.

  1. Take 15 soap nuts (I get shells only but can’t see why whole wouldn’t work, just remember to take the seeds out later).
  2. Dump them into a large pot with 8 cups (or 2L) of water. Make sure there is enough space or it boils over.

  3. Boil the crap out of them for 30 mins. I leave them on low-medium heat (just more than a simmer). At some point while the nuts are boiling, it helps to mash up the flesh with a fork to get all the juices out.

  4. Strain, jar and chuck in fridge.



If you have an Instant Pot, this is my preferred method. It requires no supervision, just bung the stuff in and leave the gadget to do its thing. Also, even considering the time the Pot takes to come to pressure, the whole process takes less time from start to finish.

  1. 15 Soapnuts + 1.5L water

  2. 15 mins on Manual followed by NPR

  3. Strain the liquid and chuck in fridge.

Easy as! I do find that if I mash the nuts up with the back of a spoon or fork and leave them to soak for some extra time after cooking in the IP, I get a darker coloured solution. I imagine more of the substance comes out and the solution may be stronger as a result.

The IP method results in a lighter coloured solution but I find no difference between the two methods as far as cleaning ability is concerned. With either method, you will end up with about 1.5 litres of liquid. It lasts for a couple of days only at room temperature so you will need to refridgerate or freeze. Everywhere that I have checked has said the liquid keeps for up to 3 weeks in the fridge. Mine has lasted a couple of months in the fridge with zero issues – no cloudiness, no foul smell, no mould. I dish out small amounts into a ramekin for daily use.

And this is the great thing. It even works for laundry! I have experimented with various amounts and combinations and for us, ¼ cup of liquid as detergent and ¼ cup of vinegar in the fabric softener compartment works perfectly. Again, the clothes aren’t going to smell like summery flowers or anything edible because there is no added fragrance (people do add essential oils to said liquid, I don’t know enough about EOs yet to experiment) but they do come out clean and sweaty odours are gone.

Happy washing!


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