Whether you’re washing dishes at a camp site, you’ve run out of dish soap, or the stores are out, sometimes you end up needing to wash the dishes in a weird way. Here are a number of dish soap alternatives, plus how to wash the dishes in the best way when you’re not using the soap you’re used to. You’ve got this!
Dish Soap Alternatives
There are a number of different materials you can use to successfully wash your dishes. Consider that our ancestors managed it for thousands of years before that blue, liquid soap appeared on store shelves.
The dish soap alternatives I’m going to talk about today are the ones I’ve actually used. They’re not fancy and you probably already have the ingredients on your shelves.
Please note: This article covers dish soap alternatives, not dishwasher soap alternatives. I don’t own a dishwasher, so I’m afraid I don’t know much about them.
What Can I Use Instead of Dish Soap?
To be honest, I can’t stand the feel, the residue, and the taste that gets left behind from that popular blue soap. I really wanted to stop using it and find something that wouldn’t leave such a nasty taste and feel behind.
I switched to a natural dish soap for a time and that was working well enough. However, a certain worldwide medical event occurred and I could no longer buy my favorite natural dish soap. I had to find something I could use in place of dish soap right away!
Homemade Dish Soap Alternatives
I did try making some homemade dish soap alternatives – I’ll list those at the end of the article. They all worked to some degree. I discovered I especially liked recipes that included the Dr. Brohner’s Sals Suds.
(Read this article from Science Trends to learn more about how soap generally works.)
The one thing that blue, popular commercial product has going for it is its grease cutting power! No matter what I did with these homemade concoctions, I couldn’t cut grease very well. This problem was especially pronounced on plastic and metal pans (especially the bottoms of the pans for some reason I could never figure out).
What NOT to Use as a Dish Soap Alternative
For safety sake, it is NOT recommended that you use the following as a substitute for dish soap:
- Dishwasher Soap
- Laundry Soap
- Liquid or Bar Hand Soap
These products contain non food-safe ingredients that can remain on your dishes causing them to smell, feel, and even taste weird. This residue can also be potentially dangerous to ingest.
There are a number of recipes for dish BAR soap, however. These are usually fragrance free and made with oils that naturally suds, like coconut oil. Hearts Content Farmhouse has just such a homemade bar dish soap recipe.
Does Water Hardness Matter When Using a Dish Soap Alternative?
Yes, how soft or hard your water is will change the outcome of your dish soap alternative experiments! The following recommendations are for hard water.
I repeat: The following recommendations are for using dish soap alternatives with hard water.
My water is full of calcium and other minerals. Because soap is basically made of fat and salts, all those minerals affect how soap reacts in my dishwater. The calcium leaves residue but those minerals also reacted with my homemade soaps in a way that left greasy residue on my dishes.
I had to find something that would take that off!
How to Wash the Dishes Weird
Before I get into dish soap alternatives, I need to talk a bit about the process of washing dishes when you’re using more natural soaps and cleansing materials. This can feel new and odd, if you’re just transitioning to more natural dish washing methods.
There are a few things to know beforehand that will make your dishwashing more successful:
- Pre-rinse your dishes*. This is always a good step to take, regardless of what soap you’re using. While it’s coming to temperature, use the stream of water to rinse off residue, stuck on food, etc. The cleaner your dishes are going in, the longer your dish water will cleanse your dishes. Plus, the more grease you can pre-remove, the easier the whole process will be!
- For particularly greasy items like the butter dish, wipe the item down completely with a paper towel or old rag. Dispose of the rag or compost it (even though you’re not really supposed to put grease in the compost pile).
- Use the hottest water you can stand for rinsing. After the dish water bath, your dishes will benefit from a final sanitary rinse in hot water. When using a dish soap alternative, I’ll set aside my plastic and rinse everything else in a stream of boiling water from the tea kettle.
- Wash the cleanest items first. Again, this keeps your dish water cleaner longer.
*Train everyone in your house to do this any time they bring a dish to the sink. The best time to rinse a dish is when the food or drink is still wet and easy to remove.
My Favorite Dish Soap Alternatives
I’ll list these in order of which I use most often, either because they work the best or because I can easily source the ingredients. Typically, I use my homemade dish soap recipes to clean the dishes and then use one of the following methods to clean off the grease that accumulates after the wash. I would also use just these items without the homemade soap.
Baking Soda & Vinegar
The same combination that will clean the calcium out of your toilet bowl will also clean your dishes. Hands down, this is the method I use the most often to remove grease. Sometimes, a sprinkle of baking soda will work on it’s own.
Use Baking Soda & Vinegar to Cut Grease:
- Wet the dish and shake off excess water.
- Sprinkle a spoonful or two of baking soda onto the dish.
- Rub it in with your hands all over the effected area.
- Rinse with hot water.
- If grease remains, repeat the baking soda and then add a spoonful of vinegar. Allow the mixture to sit for a minute and then rinse it away with hot water.
You can use plain vinegar or our recipe for Citrus Vinegar Wash. Don’t soak your dishes in pure vinegar because it is quite acidic and can cause damage to items like metal pans. And your stone countertops!
If you lived in Medieval Europe, salt would have been the main dish washing ingredient you used every day for pots, pans, cheese making equipment, and beer barrels. Salt has been used for centuries for cleaning, disinfecting, scouring, and even preserving.
I keep cheap table salt on hand for the dishes, as well as grease stains in the laundry. Use salt in the same way you use baking soda above.
Salt it what I typically use to scrub my cast iron pans if there’s something particularly stuck on them. Since it isn’t recommended that you use dish soap on seasoned cast iron (because it removes the seasoning and can leave fragrance residue behind), this works perfectly.
Citrus is a marvelous grease cutter, especially if you combine it with a sprinkle of salt. Lemon is particularly well suited to cleaning.
Simply cut a lemon in half and keep it next to the sink to run over stubborn grease spots. When you’re done washing the dishes, run the citrus around the inside of the sink to clean it.
The easiest way to naturally wash dishes is with soap nuts! You have to already have them on hand, of course. After that worldwide health event, soap nuts was one of the products I started to buy and use regularly.
Read this article from Pistachio Project to learn to use soap nuts for laundry.
Can I Wash Dishes With Just Hot Water?
Technically, yes, if the water is super hot. Remember, when you’re washing dishes, you’re not just removing the mess you can see. You’re also removing anything that might lead to bacterial or other bad boogey growth on your dishes. You don’t want to eat germs off your plates!
A temperature around 140°F – 150°F (60°C – 66°C) will kill most germs. Just watch your hands at that temperature and don’t get scalded! Remember to let the dishes cool before you move them after their hot water bath.
Take Out the Middle Man
One thing I really enjoy about using homemade dish soap recipes and the other dish soap alternatives is that I eliminate the middle man when I use them. As long as I’ve collected the ingredients to make my own alternative soaps and cleaning agents, I don’t have to worry about what’s going on at the store.
That is a very peaceful feeling!
To learn to make your own soap, please visit the Nerdy Farm Wife’s offerings below. I own her books and use them all the time to not only make soap, but other household cleaners and items.