As with most things I DIY I do it for two main reasons: to reduce toxins in my home AND to save money. I started hunting for a DIY dishwasher detergent recipe several years ago, and starting making my own about 2 years ago. After reading through many recipes, I came across one that primarily uses lemons. WHOLE lemons. That might not seem very exciting to you BUT I have a lemon tree that overproduces lemons so this recipe was a perfect fit. Although I do use my lemons in cooking and to make lemon juice (even freezing it into lemon ice cubes) I STILL have an overabundance (there’s only so much you can freeze, drink, and cook with), so this dishwasher detergent recipe is a great way to use them while making a useful product.
I didn’t end up trying other dishwasher detergent recipes because this one worked great and it seemed to be the most practical and frugal one for me to make. In my years of making it, I have made some tweaks to it since I like to make a much bigger batch than the original recipe and when I have tried to triple or quadruple the original recipe it ends up too watery. If you want to make a small batch, check out the original recipe: https://brendid.com/fresh-lemon-homemade-dishwasher-detergent/
If you want to make a big batch (that is a little more than triple the original recipe), see my big batch recipe below as I have found the water ratio and cooking times have to be changed for big batches.
-8 cups or about 16 large whole lemons diced (with seeds removed)
-11 cups water (divided, 3 cups first than 8 cups)
-2 cups white vinegar
-4 cups kosher salt
Step 1: Prep your lemons
Dice the lemons in small chunks (about 1 inch long pieces, like the image above) so that they don’t take forever to cook and soften, ensuring to remove any seeds. Typically I cut them in half and remove the seeds AND THEN chop them. I will admit, the removing the seeds part is a bit time consuming, BUT this batch should last you a couple of months so you can think of it as an investment in future time saved.
Step 2: The first cooking
After chopping your lemons, put them in a stock pot (I use an 8 quart stock pot) and cover with water (about 3 cups). Cook at medium high heat until boiling and then reduce to medium low heat, keeping it at a slow boil and uncovered. Be sure to stir it occasionally (about every 5 to 10 minutes). Cook for a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced and syrupy and the lemons are tender.
Step 3: Blend it up
Pick out any seeds you missed (it happens to the best of us). Once this task is complete, put half of the lemon water mixture into your blender with 4 cups of water. Blend on high for a minute or two, until thoroughly combined. Empty the contents into a separate container. Repeat with remaining lemon water mixture and another 4 cups of water.
After blending, strain the mixture through a fine grain colander to remove the pulp and rind that is too thick to go through. I used a colander like this one: LiveFresh Premium Quality Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainer Sieve Colander – 7-5/8 Inch
I typically strain the lemon mixture directly back into the stock pot AFTER cleaning it (pulp tends to get stuck in it). Use a spoon to scrape the sides of the colander as you strain it back into the stock pot. You can compost the remaining pulp and rind or you can pour it down your sink while your garbage disposal is running to clean it out and leave it smelling fresh.
Step 4: The final cooking
Once you are done straining the lemon and water mixture back into the stock pot, add the salt and vinegar to it. Mix to combine and bring the mixture of all the ingredients to a boil. Basically, I cook it on medium high heat for about 5 minutes and then reduce it to medium heat for 5 minutes. Finally I reduce it to medium low or low (depending on how wildly it is boiling) and let it cook for about another 30 minutes, so that it can thicken some as it reduces. Keep it at a simmer and slow boil, stirring every 5 minutes.
You will probably notice between stirrings that a salty crusty top forms (see photo above), which is why it is important to stir it regularly so that it gets incorporated back into the dishwasher detergent. Once the final 30 minutes are up simply let the product cool and then store in glass jars in your fridge or freezer. The final consistency is described as “runny applesauce” by the original author for the single batch of this recipe. I feel like this is an odd description since applesauce is already quite runny, so how can it be more runny? That being said, I can’t really think of a better description beyond likening it to a watery smoothie perhaps? At any rate, if you follow the cooking directions and it doesn’t seem all that thick to you fear not for it will STILL clean your dishes and get the job done.
The final results:
This lemon dishwasher detergent keeps in the fridge for about 4 to 5 months. It makes a little over 3 quarts (about 13 cups). I use ¼ cup per load, which means it makes enough for 52 load of dishes for me. However, all dishwashers are different in the amount they hold for liquid detergent, so just fill your dishwasher detergent dispenser accordingly based on what it holds.
Note: This recipe takes several hours to make, including cooking times, so if you make it be sure to set aside adequate time. That being said, if needed you can wait to finish after the blending step, completing the final cooking when you have the time, ensuring to refrigerate the blended mixture if it will be awhile before you can finish it. If you do this, you will probably need to cook it a bit longer to get it boiling, but then after that follow the cooking instructions as written.
If you have a lemon tree that produces a surplus of lemons or if you can find them for cheap this is definitely a great way to use them. Have you made your own dishwasher detergent? If so, what kind did you make and how did it turn out? Do you have any questions for me that I didn’t answer in this post? Let me know in the comments below. If you make this recipe, be sure to share it on Instagram and tag me @sheabutter_sunshine_sarcasm.