Homemade Dish Soap Put to the Test

For our ongoing series of DIY cleaning tests, we scoured the Internet (pun intended) for homemade formulas for hand-cleaning dishes.

We tested each of three homemade dish cleaners with three tough-to-clean items ó a pan with some fried-egg residue, a plate with dried-on yolk from said eggs, and a plastic high chair tray smeared with stain-inducing spaghetti sauce.

1. Melted bar soap

PROS: Inexpensive; simple to make; eventually removed food, grease and odors.

CONS: Unpleasant smell; too thick; too labor-intensive to use.

Rodale, respected publishers of Prevention and Menís Health magazines, offers a recipe for essentially turning a bar of hand soap into liquid dish soap.

Itís pretty straightforward. Grate one 4-ounce bar of plain soap (we used Ivory, which had the simplest list of ingredients we could find) and whisk the shavings into 8 cups of steaming hot water until melted, then add a few drops of essential oil if desired. We used peppermint oil in all three of our tests for a more direct comparison.

After letting the resulting liquid cool overnight, we returned to a pot full of opaque goop with the consistency of egg whites ó a little too thick for effective use in a bottle with a pour spout, which Rodale suggests. Instead, we scooped it onto the sponge for cleaning dishes.

The mix of Ivory and peppermint also had an odd smell, but that would not be an issue with a more pure unscented soap.

The liquid cleaned grease and food off plates and pans, and did not seem to leave any residue, but it took more effort and time than the standard commercial dish liquid.

The biggest advantage of this mixture was the cost. An Ivory bar costs about 56 cents, and the other ingredients are optional, so this recipe makes half a gallon of dish soap for well under $1, or about one cent per ounce.

2. Powdered soap with glycerin and vinegar

PROS: Better smell, inexpensive.

CONS: Left film & odor on dishes; mixture separated.

AOLís DIY Life offers a slightly more complex recipe for liquid dish soap. It calls for dissolving one cup of soap flakes in a gallon of water, then adding one tablespoon of glycerin. We let it cool and added one-half cup of vinegar, which was meant to fight grease, and a few drops of peppermint essential oil.

The grease-fighting vinegar was less than effective. The soap left an oily film and some food odors on the dishes and pan. Worse, the mixture separated while cooling, making it impossible to use in a bottle.

This mixture is also slightly more expensive than the first option. Our soap flakes cost about $2 per cup, plus 45 cents worth of glycerin and a few cents worth of vinegar. That adds up to at least $2.50 per gallon, or about 4 cents per ounce.

3. Diluted castile soap

PROS: It’s effective, simple and smells good.

CONS: It’s expensive.

We recently listed seven household cleaners made with castile soap. You can also hand-wash dishes with diluted castile soap, a natural vegetable oil-based soap. A mixture of one part water and one part castile is not as much a dish soap recipe as yet another use for a great, natural, all-purpose cleaner.

The diluted castile soap quickly and effectively cleaned the dishes and left them smelling minty fresh (we used peppermint Dr. Bonnerís). However, it doesnít come cheap. We bought a 4-ounce bottle for $3.59 (granted, larger quantities are somewhat cheaper per ounce), so one diluted ounce costs 45 cents. It may be convenient to have one universal cleaner, but it is not particularly cost-effective.

Why we’re sticking with commercial dish soap

After the three admittedly unscientific tests, we returned to our commercial dish cleaning liquid. All three formulas were at least somewhat effective, but they donít match commercial products. We’re sticking with our Seventh Generation dish soap. It’s a simple, biodegradable dish soap with minimal ingredients. It is widely available, but it is significantly more expensive than the homemade alternatives. Seventh Generation dish soap is available in bulk for about 12 cents per ounce at the time of this writing, while you can make your own dish soap for about one cent per ounce.† Nevertheless, after testing out homemade alternatives, we think the best value is our regular commercial dish soap.

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Image: laeste/stock.xchng

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Valerie R.
Valerie R.2 years ago

Whenever I've tried alternatives (homemade, bar soaps etc.) to the commercial dish soap the results were undesirable and I always went back. My homemade laundry soap had good results and is something I would make again in the future.

Leia P.
Leia P.2 years ago


Mary Beth M.
MaryBeth M.3 years ago

Some things are fun to try, but not worth the effort. I use Mrs Meyers or Seventh Generation.

Rebecca N.
Rebecca N.3 years ago

Thanks for this info. I make my own laundry detergent, but have never thought to try homemade dish soap.

Kathy T.
Kathy T.3 years ago

I am a soap maker. There are lots of us around. Try your local farmer's market. If you use home made soap and use the first method mentioned, you'll end up with a goupy substance which cleans your dishes well, isn't hard on your hands, and is not too expensive. (This is based on my own soap of course.)
I've tried the commercial detergent mentioned and I find it takes a lot of it to get the job done. My soap worked better!

Sherri Mowbray
Sherri M.4 years ago

I'm suprised that there doesn't seem to be an alternative 'homemade' dish soap. Where is the most likely place one could find castile soap ~ and is it sold under a brand name (i.e. borax being known as Twenty Team Mule) ?

Siti Rohana
Siti R.4 years ago

never seen Castile soap, will try looking for it at the supermarket shelves.

Sisilie Baardsen
Sisilie B.4 years ago


Nicole G.
Nicole Gorman4 years ago

Whatever you wind up washing your dishes with just make sure the water is HOT!!

Stella Elise
Stella Elise4 years ago