Liquid dish soap does a fine job of cleaning dishes, but I cringe every time I have to buy a plastic bottle full of soap. I had an epiphany about homemade dish soap several months ago, and I’ve been experimenting. If — like me — you’re trying to cut back on single-use plastic, this might be just the solution you’ve been looking for.
How I wash dishes by hand
My dishwashing method has changed over time. I grew up in a house without a dishwasher. For our dish washing duties, we filled the kitchen sink with hot water and bubbles and then stacked dishes in the sink. As we washed each plate or cup, the water in the sink got colder, less bubbly, and dirtier. If you wash dishes like this, you know what I’m talking about.
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When we moved to Hawaii, I began seeing a method of washing dishes that I’d never seen before. Imagine — such a simple chore, but done completely differently in another part of the world! I’ve completely converted to this method for hand washing dishes.
Instead of filling a big sink, I now fill a medium-size bowl with hot water. None of the dirty dishes go into the water, so the water always stays clean. To wash each dish, I dip a dish rag or sponge into the hot water and then squeeze on a bit of dish soap. The suds transfer to each dirty dish as I clean it, getting sudsy and clean. I repeat this with all of my dirty dishes, wetting the sponge and recharging it with dish soap as necessary.
This method works beautifully, but there’s still the question of the plastic bottle. Not to mention that store bough dish soap uses some harsh ingredients.
A vintage solution: solid homemade dish soap
Then I remembered my mom telling me that my Grandma used to make tallow bars to wash laundry. Instead of the powder or liquid that we use today, she’d cut off a piece of the soap bar and toss it into the washing machine with the dirty clothes. This made me wonder about using a solid homemade dish soap bar. Why not?
Before I made up a solid homemade dish soap specific for that purpose, I wanted to try the idea. I set a bar of homemade soap in a shallow bowl and began using it instead of liquid soap. It worked perfectly well! The dishes came out clean and my sponge was suitably sudsy. The only trouble with this method was that the soap did get quite soft in the bowl. This told me that I needed a harder bar.
I started poking around the internet for a recipe without much luck — have I invented something totally new?? Further searching left me looking for a laundry soap bar and I landed on my friend Jan’s recipe. (By the way, I credit Jan for giving me the confidence to start making my own soap. Check out her Soapmaking ebook collection here.)
Jan’s recipe is made with pure coconut oil. I didn’t have enough coconut oil on hand, so I used a soap calculator to figure out how to use half coconut oil and half tallow. And instead of forming this recipe into bars, I poured the batter into shallow bowls that I picked up at the thrift store.
I ordered this handmade sponge from this seller on Etsy. But on my list of projects to try is one of these homemade reusable sponges.
Using this homemade dish soap
I keep the bowl of hard soap right next to my sink. If I’m washing a lot of dishes, I’ll fill up a container with hot water and dip my sponge in that as I wash. If I just need to clean a few dishes, there’s not even any need to fill a bowl — I just wet the sponge with hot water, then rub it on the hard soap until it begins to foam.
When you’re done washing dishes, be sure to drain off any water that may have puddled in the dish. This will extend the life of the soap.
Some notes on soapmaking
Making soap is not difficult, but you really do need to follow some basic safety precautions.
- Always wear goggles and long sleeves when working with lye.
- Measure ingredients exactly. You will need a scale in order to make soap at home. There’s no getting around this.
- Never pour water into lye; instead, measure the lye into the water.
Soapmaking Success e-course
If you’re ready to dive into soapmaking, check out Jan’s Soapmaking Success e-course! It includes six lessons that will have you making soap like a pro in no time. It includes:
- Incorporating fruits & veggies
- Soapmaking with flowers & herbs
- Using alternative liquids
- Using natural colorants
- Simple soap designs
- Designing soap labels
You should also give Jan’s basic soap bar a try.
★ Did you make this homemade dish soap? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below! ★
Homemade Dish Soap Bar
Changing up the way you wash dishes by using a solid dish soap bar can substantially reduce the number of plastic bottles you use.
- 4.45 ounces lye sodium hydroxide
- 9.96 ounces water
- 14 ounces beef tallow
- 14 ounces coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons essential oil lavender or citrus are great
Measure the water into a non-reactive heatproof container.
Carefully pour the lye into the water. (Never pour water into lye.) Stir carefully. Combining the water and lye will create a chemical reaction and the water will become VERY hot.
Set the lye mixture aside. While the lye cools, heat coconut oil and tallow to about 90 to 100°F. The tallow will take longer to melt than the coconut oil. If you achieve the desired temperature before it's completely melted, just turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for a few minutes. The residual heat will melt the tallow all the way.
Pour the lye solution into the warm coconut oil and stir by hand briefly. (Note: The lye and oils should both be about 100ºF at this point.)
Use an immersion blender to bring the soap to trace.
Incorporate essential oils.
Pour soap into shallow bowls and allow to cure for 2 weeks before using.
Using this solid dish soap
Wet sponge and rub onto soap until suds form.
Use sudsy sponge so thoroughly wash dirty dishes.
- Always wear safety goggles and long sleeves when making soap.
- Never pour water into lye (pour lye into water).
- Using lavender, orange, or lemon essential oils gives this homemade cleaner a light fragrance.