Make your own dishwasher cleaner for 35¢

A few years ago, our new-ish Bosch dishwasher started acting funny. A few minutes after we would start it, it would say it was done. My husband took it apart and cleaned it out really well and that helped for awhile, but the problem started coming back. Soon we found that if we open the door at just the right point during the starting cycle, we can trick the dishwasher into finishing the cycle.

I eventually discovered that Finish dishwasher cleaner made our dishwasher more likely to be happy, and between that and scrubbing out the filter frequently, our dishwasher has been mostly okay.

But I use the dishwasher cleaner every month! At $5 per single-use bottle, that costs us $60 a year. Ugh. Eventually I discovered Lemi Shine machine cleaner, which costs less but works just as well. That was an improvement.

A few weeks ago, I discovered an old bottle of homemade dishwasher detergent in the back of my cupboard. I figured I might as well use it up, and I noticed that when I started using it again, my funny dishwasher problem went away.

I poked around online and did some research, and here's what I found:

According to this, nonionic surfactants (and also anionic surfactants) are likely to be found in grease-cutting dish soaps. I checked mine, and sure enough, it had them. (You can read about surfactants here.) Surfactants boost cleaning power, so I think they sound like a good addition to dishwasher cleaner, especially nonionic surfactants, which are not affected by hard water, which is the reason I'm cleaning my dishwasher in the first place.

If you've read this far, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.


Make your own dishwasher cleaner


  • 3 tablespoons citric acid* (34¢)
  • 1/2 teaspoon blue grease-cutting dish soap** (less than 1¢)

1. If your dishwasher has an easily accessible filter, pull it out and scrub with an old toothbrush. Mine has one on the bottom of the dishwasher.

2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon citric acid in the bottom of your dishwasher. Put the other two tablespoons citric acid and the dish soap in the soap container of your dishwasher.

3. Run dishwasher on heaviest, hottest cycle.

4. Scrub filter again.

The first time you clean your dishwasher, you may need to do it twice if it was very clogged up with hard water deposits. If you clean it regularly, you may be able to start using less citric acid and a normal dishwasher cycle.

Before I was spending $5 a month on dishwasher cleaner. Now I'm spending less than $5 a year!

Bonus tip: If you have dishes with a funny white film from the dishwasher, try running them through with this mixture. It worked on mine!

*I bought mine here. You can find it in smaller quantities, too. You could also try using small packets of unsweetened lemonade flavored Kool-Aid (see here), but you'd need about 9 packets!

**I have two different brands in my house. One listed nonionic sufractants; the other didn't list any ingredients. I'm just going to assume that most varieties of grease-cutting dish soap (which are usually blue) are going to have nonionic surfactants.


If you try this, I would love if you would comment and let me know how it worked.


Make your own dishwasher soap
Removing crayon from the dishwasher
Dishwasher soap problems (white film on dishes) 


  1. OK, I LOVE this post! First of all, because it's totally the kind of post I would write. Second, because my dishwasher seems to need this. I do pull out all the parts in the bottom to clean it once a month, but there's still a kind of greasy film all over everything. I really want to try your method of cleaning it out to see if that will fix things. Thanks for putting in the time and research to figure this out!

  2. Thank you so much for this. I decided over the weekend that I need to do something with the dishwasher. Do you remember when you substituted lemon koolaid for citric acid? Could you do that here?

    1. If you look at the first asterisk at the bottom of the post, it has instructions for that. Let me know if it works for you!

  3. found you through money saving mom-- I had "find homemade dishwasher soap" on my to do list this week--- so yay! thanks :)

  4. wow - a great find - i will def check it out - first to buy the citric acid. we don't have soft water, and about ready to install a new dw -i want to start out and keep it clean. thanks!

  5. If you just want a lb to try it out, i found it here:http://www.bulkapothecary.com/raw-ingredients/other-ingredients-and-chemicals/citric-acid/?gclid=CIGV25W3pLoCFQZyQgodlnsAnA

  6. oops - found a better price point - free shipping for four lbs on ebay:http://www.ebay.com/itm/CITRIC-ACID-100-PURE-4-LB-FOOD-GRADE-LARGE-GRANULES-5-STAR-SERVICE-/190827951614?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2c6e3b75fe