Monday, April 9, 2012

Tips for Choosing (or Making) a Natural Dishwasher Detergent

If you can't find a detergent that's tough on your dishes yet gentle on the environment, try this recipe for homemade dishwasher detergent.

Woman and child putting dishes in dishwasher.
Seek dishwasher detergents that are safer for your family and the environment.

With fancy marketing ploys everywhere we turn, it’s hard to know which “green” products are actually worth the extra dime. Start small, and where it matters most: your kitchen.

Ingredients to Avoid

Finding a dishwasher detergent that is tough on your dishes yet gentle on the environment does not have to be complicated. Just make sure products with these listed chemicals don’t make their way into your grocery cart.

  • Chlorine — Chlorine-free detergents are the best place to start. Chlorine is used in conventional cleaners to brighten dishes, but at the expense of both our ozone layer and your lungs. It is a common irritant to the respiratory tract that is not ideal to have near food or on your dishes.
  • Sodium Hydroxide — A common degreaser, sodium hydroxide is also used in drain cleaner. It is an abrasive base that can cause chemical burns to the skin and blindness if brought into contact with the eyes. Something to keep out of our water and your kitchen!
  • Phosphates — Clouted in recent media for their negative environmental impacts, these compounds are used to dissolve minerals in hard water, but are also responsible for the overgrowth of algae in our waterways. Look for a label with “no phosphates”; safe for both you and the environment.

A few tips to keep in mind when turning “green” to clean:

  • Conserve water and electricity by skipping the pre-rinse cycle.
  • Other ingredients to cut heavy grease in commercial detergents, such as ammonia and phenols, are potential neurotoxins not found in “green” detergents. For spotless dishes, manually degrease by scraping debris before loading.
  • Arrange large items at the back of the dishwasher where they won’t obstruct the flow of soap.

Recipe for Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Haven’t found a detergent that meets your budget? Make your own! Check out this simple tried-and-true recipe, adapted from In a 32-ounce container mix 1 cup borax, ½ cup citric acid (doubled for hard water), ½ cup kosher salt, 1 teaspoon dry rice (to absorb moisture), cover with a lid and shake well. Use 1 tablespoon with each use, adding white vinegar in the “rinse aid” compartment.

— Hayley Segal, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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