I am Elsa, a MSc Environmental Entrepreneurship graduate and social media content creator, passionate about sustainability and circular economy.

I am Elsa, a MSc Environmental Entrepreneurship graduate and social media content creator, passionate about sustainability and circular economy.

DIY Plastic Free Dish Soap

DIY Plastic Free Dish Soap

In my last blog post I talked about how you can start exploring the world of homemade cosmetics. This time I will be guiding you to the world of homemade cleaning products, starting with dish soap.

How many bottles of washing up liquid do you go through in a month? In a year? Many of the washing up liquid bottles can be recycled in the UK, but what if you could make your own plastic free alternative? There is also a lot of talk about toxins in cleaning products, of which washing up liquid must be on the less harmful end of the spectrum. Nevertheless, you can make your own dish soap by using ingredients that are safe enough to use on your skin or in cooking and baking and safe for the environment too. You can also quite easily find these ingredients plastic free and that way reduce the amount of plastic waste you are generating.

The most important part of homemade dish soap is castile soap. Castile soap gets its name from its place of origin in Castile, Spain. Castile soaps are made up of vegetable oils (traditionally olive oil-based) and include no animals fats. I teamed up with Dr.Bronner's* to try their castile soap bars and they are great for this recipe. Castile soap is biodegradable and non-toxic so as well as using it as a dish soap, you can very well use it even for your hair and skin! Dr.Bronner's castile soaps come in a few different scent variations, and they also offer a liquid castile soap alternative, which is very powerful. I have this as a back-up for very dirty dishes that a homemade dish soap might not be able to tackle so efficiently. One drop of the liquid castile soap on your dish sponge or a brush will go a surprisingly long way! *sponsored

DIY Dish Soap

Before making the dish soap, please read through 'Important things to note' at the bottom of this blog post.***

What you will need:

  • steel pan (I used a large sauce pan)
  • measuring jug
  • metal spoon
  • grater
  • heat-resistant jug or a funnel (step 4)
  • glass bottle with a pump to store the ready dish soap (I prefer a glass bottle because you can pour the ready dish soap into it when it is still warm. You could possibly also use a plastic washing up liquid bottle for this but then you might also need a funnel to get the liquid in as it becomes thicker when it cools down.) I bought my lovely reusable dish soap dispenser from Kuishi (you can also find them on Amazon.co.uk!).
  • hob and a well-ventilated preparation area

Ingredients (makes about 550ml of dish soap):

  • 1/4 cup of grated castile soap - I teamed up with Dr.Bronner's to try their castile soap, which is big enough to make four batches of dish soap. It also comes wrapped in recyclable paper!
  • 2 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 tsp of baking soda - helps lift off greate and dirt from your dirty dishes, can be used to clean various things around the house in different ways! You can find plastic free baking soda in local zero waste shops or online in Plastic Free Pantry or Zero Waste Club.
  • 20 drops of tea tree or other essential oil of your choice, e.g. lavender (optional) - tea tree is known for its antiseptic qualities, which is why I add a few drops of it into my dish soap.

Step 1.

Grate 1/4 cup of castile soap to a separate container. Boil water in a kettle and measure 2 1/2 cups of water into a steel pan. Put the pan on the heat to keep it hot, just below the boiling point. If you don't have a kettle, measure 2 1/2 cups of water into the steel pan and heat it up until it is almost boiling.

Step 2.

Add the grated castile soap into the hot water and stir with a metal spoon until all of the soap has dissolved into the water. Keep the pan on the heat, however, do not let it boil (small bubbles are OK).

Step 3.

In a small glass or a container mix 1 tsp of baking soda and 1 tsp of cold water together. This will prevent the addition of baking soda to the mix in your pan (coming up next) to cause it to bubble up too much and potentially overflow (like happened to me the first time I tried this). Once the soap has dissolved in the hot water, add your baking soda paste into the pan. The mixture is likely to bubble, but mix it for a little bit longer until the soda paste has dissolved. Take the pan off the heat.

Step 4.

Add your essential oil of choice to the mixture (be careful not to let any undiluted essential oils to come in contact with your skin and, speaking from experience, they can also be harmful to certain types of plastics so I prefer to now put the oil straight from the bottle into my dish soap mixture without any middle containers). Mix well.

Your dish soap will be clear and thin at this point, but it will get thicker as it cools down. I will usually pour it first to a heat-resistant jug to cool down a little bit (about an hour) further before pouring it into a glass pump bottle and letting it finish cooling there. You can also let it cool down more in the pan and later on use a funnel to get it into the bottle. If you are using a plastic bottle to store the dish soap, you might need to wait a little bit longer so that you won't damage the plastic, but because the mixture gets thicker as it cools, you might also require a funnel to get it into the bottle later on! I would strongly recommend a reusable glass bottle - makes this easier and so much more fun!

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And there you are! You are good to go! You can start using the dish soap already, but be careful not to burn your fingers, if it is still hot.

Despite multiple tries, my dish soap tends to get quite thick and sometimes nothing is coming out of the bottle, but not to worry, there is a very easy solution to this: add a little bit of hot water into the bottle, shake it for a few seconds and you are good to go again.

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***Important things to note:

I want to mention a few things to keep in mind when making this dish soap so that you avoid being disappointed, because it will be quite a bit different to a conventional washing up liquid.

  • this dish soap will not foam nearly as much as a conventional washing up liquid and it may seem strange at first, but you will get used to it.
  • since this dish soap has been made with more natural ingredients, it will never be as powerful as those with more chemicals in them! You will probably need to use a little bit more of this soap than you would a conventional soap. It unfortunately also does not perform very well in cold water, so warm or hot water is recommended to be used with this dish soap to help it lift off grease and dirt.
  • this soap works slightly differently to conventional washing up liquids: instead of almost breaking up fat (probably not the scientifically correct term or action) like conventional dish soaps do, this natural castile soap version lifts it off the dishes and may leave more visible greasy residue in the water and in your sink (this can be easily washed off with some hot water and a little bit more soap after you have done the dishes).
  • because of the nature of the soap (mentioned above) this dish soap is also not efficient if added to standing water to soak dishes, it will work better in action added to a sponge or a brush and being used to remove grease and dirt. 
  • if you leave your dishes to air-dry (like I do) the soap can leave greyish drop marks on your dishes (noticeable on glass and metal), but these can be easily polished away with a teatowel.
  • and last but not least, this recipe is likely to work differently depending on the types of ingredients and the type of water available in your area so do not worry, if you don't get it right the first time. Make small changes to the amounts of the ingredients and try again! I went from very thick (too much soap and baking soda) so the right thickness after a couple of tries and have now found a good consitency with the measurements mentioned in this tutorial.

Although frankly, homemade dish soap isn't as powerful as a conventional washing up liquid, I love using it because I know that it is less damaging for the environment and much more gentle to my skin.

Leave a comment below if you decide to try this recipe and let me know how you got on with it! Otherwise keep your eyes peeled for a dish soap related giveaway later this week @elsaannukka!

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