My Homemade Tests

I decided to set up a test of everyday ingredients to see how they’d clean, using easy recipes I found online. Here’s what I started with:

  • Borax: $5 for a 76-oz. box.
  • Washing soda: $3 for a 55-oz. box.
  • Baking soda: $2 for a 4-lb. box.
  • Citric acid: $3 for a 4-oz. bottle.
  • Salt: $1 for a 26-oz. bottle.
  • Vinegar: $6 for a 1-gal. bottle.
  • Unsweetened lemonade mix: $1 for 5 packets.

The Experiment

Before trying each recipe, I smeared oatmeal on a clean, clear pot lid, let it dry for an hour, then put it in the center of the top rack of the dishwasher.

Oatmeal lid

I washed my first load with a commercial detergent made by Seventh Generation. The pot lid came out looking like this:

Commercial detergent

The pot lid didn’t get completely clean in the dishwasher alone — there was still a couple of spots, but they came off easily with a little scrubbing by hand.

Recipe #1

1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
½ cup citric acid
½ cup kosher salt

Recipe 1 ingredients

Mix all ingredients together and store in a tightly sealed jar. Store in a cool, dry place. Use 1 tablespoon per load. Makes 48 loads.

Cost per load: 8 cents

Effectiveness: I noticed a few spots left on the pot lid after the dishwasher finished. They easily lifted off with some scrubbing, but the detergent didn’t get rid of all the spots by itself.

Recipe 1 lid

The rest of the dishes were fairly clean, although there was a slight film on my silverware. This detergent clumps after a while, particularly in warm temperatures, due to the salt in it. It’s easy to pulverize the clumps, though.

Recipe #2

1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
½ cup kosher salt
5 packets unsweetened lemonade mix

Recipe 2 ingredients

Mix all ingredients and store in a tightly sealed jar. Use 1 tablespoon per load, or 2 tablespoons for extra-dirty dishes. Makes 42 loads.

Cost per load: 2 cents

Effectiveness: The pot lid came out remarkably clean with this recipe. There were a few faint spots and one stubborn piece of oatmeal stuck to the right side (which took a fair amount of scrubbing by hand to remove) but overall it was pretty clean.

Recipe 2 lid

The rest of my dishes came out cleaner with this recipe than they did with the first one. There was no film on anything.

Recipe #3

1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
Vinegar

Recipe 3 ingredients

Combine the borax and washing soda and store in a tightly sealed jar. Use 1 tablespoon per load. Add vinegar to the rinse cycle. Makes 32 loads.

Cost per load: 3 cents

Effectiveness: The pot lid came out with a few smudges, plus an oatmeal flake that stuck to the glass. Again, the spots came off with a little scrubbing.

Recipe 3 lid

Recipe #4

1 cup borax
1 cup baking soda
2 tsps. citric acid
Vinegar

Recipe 4 ingredients

Combine the borax, baking soda, and citric acid, and store in a tightly sealed jar. Use 2 teaspoons per load. Add vinegar to the rinse cycle. Makes 34 loads.

Cost per load: 2 cents

Effectiveness: There were still some spots on the pot lid, particularly around the edges. The rest of my dishes were pretty clean, but a couple of glasses had some cloudy spots, and the silverware was slightly filmy.

Recipe 4 lid

Recipe #5

1 cup washing soda
¼ cup citric acid
¼ cup coarse salt
Vinegar

Recipe 5 ingredients

Mix the washing soda, citric acid, and salt. Store in an airtight container. Use 1 teaspoon for average loads; 1 tablespoon for extra-dirty loads. Add vinegar to the rinse cycle. Makes 24 loads.

Cost per load: 8 cents

Effectiveness: Again, there were a few spots left, and they were all the way around the perimeter of the pot lid instead of just a spot here and there.

Recipe 5 lid

Recipe #6

1 cup borax
1 cup baking soda

Recipe 6 ingredients

Combine ingredients and store in an airtight container. Use 2 tablespoons per load. Makes 32 loads.

Cost per load: 2 cents

Effectiveness: Terrible! The pot lid was still spotted and crusty, and the rest of my dishes were a filmy mess. I ended up running the dishwasher again with a different detergent, just to get everything clean.

Recipe 6 lid

The Verdict

None of the six recipes got the pot lid perfectly spotless, but the one that came the closest was recipe #2. To be fair, dried oatmeal is a tough job for a dishwasher alone, and under normal circumstances I’d have pre-rinsed the lid first.

Recipe #2 is identical to recipe #1 except that it calls for lemonade powder instead of citric acid. Both serve the same function — they add a citrus taste to drinks, but they also serve as cleaning agents in homemade cleaners — but something about the lemonade made it more effective. Bonus: Lemonade packets are much cheaper than citric acid, taking the cost per load from 8 cents in recipe #1 to 2 cents in recipe #2.

So I’ll stick with recipe #2, but do a pre-rinse on any dishes with caked-on crud. I’m already excited about all the money I’ll save.

Interested in other low-cost, eco-friendly ways to keeping your house clean? Check out these great ideas: