Emergency Dishwasher Detergent Alternatives

items to use in place of dish detergent

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

If you need to run your dishwasher but you are out of detergent, you can use some common household products as a dishwasher detergent alternative. Dishwashers clean via a combination of hot water, spray, and a cleaning agent (detergent). Even with a makeshift detergent, those first two cleaning properties will still be at full force. The detergent substitute might not provide the sparkling result that you get with your favorite Finish Dishwasher Detergent, but your dishes and glasses will still be clean.

Here are the household products you can use individually as a detergent alternative. Or try our recipe for a DIY dishwasher detergent.


If the dishwasher is really packed, it's best to remove items that can easily be hand washed or items that shouldn't be in the dishwasher in the first place. In doing so, the substitute detergent will work much better than if it is used in a crowded dishwasher.

items to use in place of detergent in a dishwasher
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
  1. Baking Soda

    Known for its gentle abrasive qualities, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a good cleaner and helps to control odors. Fill the detergent cup with baking soda, and run the cleaning cycle as usual.

  2. Distilled White Vinegar

    The acidic quality of distilled white vinegar will cut through any greasy residue on the dishes. Fill a bowl with 1/2 cup of vinegar, and place it on the top rack. The force of the water will distribute the vinegar during the wash cycle to the other dishes.

  3. Borax

    A natural mineral element, borax is an ingredient in many commercial dishwasher detergents. Simply fill the detergent cup with the borax powder.

  4. Washing Soda

    Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is an excellent cleaner and works well in hard water. Fill the detergent cup with the powder, and use a regular wash cycle.

  5. Lemon Juice

    Just like vinegar, lemon juice contains a mild acid that will cut through the residue on dishes. Use 1/2 cup of the juice just as you would vinegar. Be sure to strain fresh or bottled lemon juice first to remove any pulp; otherwise, you might find dried pulp on your dishes.

  6. Citrus Drink Powder

    Powdered lemonade mix can also be used. Fill the detergent cup with the powder, and run a regular cycle.

Products Never to Use in an Automatic Dishwasher

Unless you want a flood of bubbles cascading over your kitchen floor, skip the following products:

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Liquid, powdered, or single-dose laundry detergent
  • Body wash
  • Shampoo
  • Household all-purpose cleaners

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Recipes

You can make your own dishwasher detergent for daily use or to keep on hand for emergencies. It will have a bit more cleaning power than using just a single product in an emergency.

Be sure to label the finished product, and include instructions for use on the label. As with all cleaning products, keep them stored properly and out of reach of children, pets, and vulnerable adults.


To boost the cleaning power of DIY dishwasher detergent and get better results, fill the rinse agent compartment with distilled white vinegar. This will help remove any residue that can cause spotting.

DIY Powdered Dishwasher Detergent

What You Need

  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1/2 cup powdered citric acid
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • Plastic storage container
baking soda
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska


Combine all of the powdered components, mixing well. Store in an airtight plastic container. Use 1 tablespoon of the detergent per dishwasher load.

scooping homemade detergent into the dishwasher
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

DIY Dishwasher Detergent Tablets

What You Need

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • Silicone candy molds or ice cube trays
  • Airtight plastic container
homemade detergent pods
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska


In a mixing bowl, combine the washing soda, kosher salt, and baking soda. Add the lemon juice, and stir well to make sure that all of the ingredients are equally moist.

Add 1 tablespoon of the moist mixture to silicone candy molds (shape should fit in your dishwasher detergent cup) or ice cube trays. Allow the molded tablets to dry completely and harden.

Remove from the molds, and store in an airtight container. Use one tablet per dishwasher load.

using homemade dishwasher pods
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska