You Can Crash the Car. But if You Use Dish Soap in the Dishwasher, You're Grounded for Life

You probably have all of the ingredients you need to make dishwasher detergent in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Mary-Elisabeth Combs Associate Writer
Mary-Elisabeth is an associate writer on CNET's How-To team. She's a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill's English Department, and resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. On the How-To team, she covers a little bit of everything. When she's not writing, she's catching up on Formula 1 or reading.
Mary-Elisabeth Combs
3 min read
Close-up hand filling dishwasher with gloss liquid into the dishwasher box.

If you're out of dishwasher detergent, this will get you out in a pinch. 

Miguel Tamayo Diaz/Getty Images

You've loaded your dishwasher with the day's dirty dishes. You reach for your favorite dishwasher pods, powder or liquid detergent, and discover you are completely out. You now have a choice: You can either unload the dishwasher and wash your dishes by hand or drop everything and run to the store. 

CNET Home Tips logo

Or ... you see the bottle of dish soap and wonder if you can use that in your dishwasher. Stop right there. Take it from me: That is a terrible idea. The consequences can be so disastrous that my parents threatened a permanent grounding if I used dish soap in the machine.  

If you're out of dishwasher detergent but want to wash your dishes without handwashing them, making an unplanned trip to the store or flooding your kitchen, you're in luck. You can make a suitable dishwasher detergent replacement with ingredients you might already have in your kitchen. 

We'll explain how to get your dishes clean with this homemade dishwasher detergent hack, and for more tips, here's how to keep your Keurig coffee machine clean and 7 genius ways to use lemons for cleaning

Wait, why can't I use dish soap in my dishwasher? 

Using dish soap as a replacement for dishwashing detergent might seem like a logical next step, but it will only end in a major, soapy disaster. If you're unfamiliar with the outcome, putting dish soap in your dishwasher can cause the dishwasher to overflow with suds and water and potentially flood your kitchen. 

This is due to a difference in how dishwasher detergent and dish soap clean your dishes. According to appliance company Maytag, dish soap uses suds to clean your dishes, while dishwasher detergent uses enzymes to break down starches and proteins that might be stuck to your dishes. Your dishwasher isn't prepared for super sudsy water, which is why it often floods and overflows if you use dish soap instead of detergent. 

 When I was younger and learning how to do the dishes, my parents drilled into me that I was not to put dish soap into our dishwasher under any circumstances. Any other dishwashing mistake would be completely fine, but flooding our dishwasher was 100% off the table. Thankfully, that has paid off, and I've never flooded a dishwasher.

What do you need to make DIY dishwasher detergent?

You've used the last of your dishwashing detergent but still have a load of dishes to do? You're in luck. You may already have in your kitchen many of the ingredients you need for your own DIY Dishwasher Detergent. For the most part, all you'll need for your homemade dish cleaner is borax, citric acid, salt and washing soda. No borax? You can substitute baking soda. 

Here's the recipe: In a large bowl, mix a 1:1 ratio of borax (or baking soda) and washing soda, and then add ½ cup of both citric acid and salt. Mix well to combine. 

After that, you're good to start washing your dishes with your homemade detergent. If you'd like to keep your mixture for the future, store it in an airtight container. 

How to use DIY dishwasher detergent 

Luckily, you can use your homemade detergent powder just as you would store-bought dishwasher detergents. Fill the detergent compartment in your dishwasher with the powder, and run your dishwasher as you usually would. 

Given that some of the ingredients in the DIY detergent are a bit abrasive, you're going to want to hold off on using this as your go-to washing solution, since it might over time ruin your glassware. It's completely safe to use in a pinch when you simply have no other options. 

For more, here's the complete guide to cleaning your stove and how to DIY a three-ingredient all-purpose cleaner