9 Best Substitutes for Dishwashing Detergent

Substitutes for dishwashing detergent
Photo by Jordan Rowland

When you run out of dishwashing detergent, plenty of household items can be used as substitutes.

However, it’s essential to use items that won’t damage your dishes or your dishwasher itself (for instance, you don’t want to use sand instead of dishwashing detergent because then you’ll have an even bigger mess to clean up). 

Before using the following substitutes for dishwashing detergent, give your dishes and/or dishwasher an initial rinse with plain water to ensure they’re entirely free of debris before proceeding with the other suggestions.

1. Vinegar  

Vinegar is one of the great substitutes for dishwashing detergent because it cuts through grease and grime, plus it’s environmentally friendly and inexpensive.

Add 1/2 cup to your dishwasher’s rinse cycle to use vinegar as a dishwashing detergent. 

You can also add a few drops of essential oil to give your dishes a nice scent. If you’re hand-washing dishes, add 1/4 cup vinegar to a sink full of hot water.

2. Baking Soda + Vinegar

When you run out of dishwashing detergent, there’s no need to panic. Plenty of household items can be used as substitutes for dishwashing detergent.

Baking soda and vinegar is one such combination. Simply mix equal parts of baking soda and vinegar together and use them in place of your usual dishwashing detergent.

The baking soda will act as a gentle scrubber, while the vinegar will cut through grease and grime.

3. Vinegar Solution

Add 1/4 cup of vinegar to 1/2 cup of water, and use this solution to scrub away grease and grime from your dishes. You can add a few drops of essential oil to the mixture for a nice scent. 

You can make a paste with vinegar and baking soda if you have tough stains. Just rub the paste onto the stain and let it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing it off.

4. Salt  

When your dishwashing detergent runs out and you’re in a pinch, salt can be used as a substitute.

Add a tablespoon or two of salt to some warm water and scrub away at your dishes.

The salt will help break down any grease or food particles. Rinse dishes as usual after scrubbing.   

5. Natural Bar Soap

Natural bar soap is one of the everyday kitchen items that can be used as a substitute for dishwashing liquid.

To use bar soap as a detergent, wet the dishes and then rub the soap directly on them. 

You can also create a makeshift dishwashing liquid by mixing equal parts of water and bar soap.

Be sure to use a non-toxic soap, like Ivory or Dr. Bronner’s, to avoid leaving harmful chemicals on your dishes.

6. Castile Soap  

Castile soap is a versatile product that can be used for cleaning a variety of surfaces, including dishes.

When diluted with water, it can be used as a block of gentle dishwashing soap.

Simply add a few drops of castile soap to a bowl of warm water and wash your dishes as usual. You may need to rinse them twice to remove all the soap residue.

7. Lemon  

Lemons are great for cutting through grease and grime, making them a perfect stand-in for dishwashing detergent.

Plus, they’ll leave your dishes smelling fresh and citrusy. To use, simply cut a lemon in half and rub it on your dirty dishes.

Rinse as usual. You can add a few drops of lemon juice to your dishwater for extra cleaning power.

8. Soap Nuts  

Soap nuts are natural, eco-friendly conventional substitutes for dishwashing detergent. They grow on trees and contain saponin, a natural cleaning agent.

To use soap nuts, simply place a few in a small bag and tie it to the handle of your kitchen sink. 

When you run the water over the bag, the saponin will be released and clean your dishes just like regular dishwashing detergent!

9. Hot Water Soak  

If you find yourself without dishwashing detergent, hot water is your best friend. Fill your sink with the hottest water possible and let your dishes soak.

This will help loosen any caked-on food and make it easier to wash them by hand. You can add a little vinegar to the water for extra cleaning power.

Things You Should Not Use to Wash Dishes

  1. Auto grease – This is a big no-no. Auto grease will not only leave your dishes greasy, but it can also cause your dishwasher to break down.
  2. Bleach – Bleach is excellent for disinfecting surfaces but should never be used on dishes. The chemicals in bleach can react with food and cause illness.
  3. Hand soap – While it may seem like a good idea to use hand soap to wash dishes, it’s not very effective. Hand soap removes dirt and oil from the skin, not dishes.
  4. Laundry detergent – Laundry detergent is another product that should never be used to wash dishes.

A Toothbrush + Baking Soda + Water

When you’re out of dishwashing detergent and need to clean your dishes ASAP, there’s no need to panic.

Plenty of common household items can be used as substitutes for dishwashing detergent.

For example, a toothbrush + baking soda, + water can work just as well as a commercial dishwashing detergent.

You probably already have these items on hand, so you won’t have to make a memorable trip to the store.


In a pinch, any of these substitutes for dishwashing detergent will do the trick: white vinegar, baking soda, lemons, salt, or castile soap.

Remember to use a little extra elbow grease when scrubbing your dishes if you’re not using dishwashing detergent. 

And if you have sensitive skin, avoid using harsh chemicals like vinegar or lemon juice.

The best choice is probably liquid castile soap, which has been proven by doctors and dermatologists alike to be gentle on even the most sensitive skin.

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