Using Other Cleaning Products in a Dishwasher


There are several reasons a consumer would need to use a dishwashing detergent alternative. Mold, mildew, and smell are some reasons that demand different cleaning strategies. Battling hard water is another one.

Then there is the scenario of just plain accidentally running out of detergent. What's a person to do then? No worries, several options are reviewed below.

For the sake of this article:

Dishwasher detergent and dish soap are not the same thing. Dishwasher soap is specially formulated to be used in electric dishwasher appliances; liquid dish soap is intended to be used for hand washing dishes in a kitchen sink filled with water.

Warning: never, ever combine cleaners together. This can result in a dangerous chemical reaction that is harmful to the user's health. This also applies to natural ingredients, unless clear guidance is provided indicating that it is safe to do so.

So... should you use bleach in a dishwasher?

Bleach as a means to disinfect dishes is not needed for these reasons:

  • regular dish washer detergent should already contain some bleach according to the USDA
  • the hotter setting of the dishwasher should disinfect the dishes

However, if you're looking to tackle some mold and mildew, bleach is the answer. As ironic as it is, dishwashers themselves need to be cleaned sometimes. If your question is about using bleach to disinfect dishes, check out the article, Is Your Dishwasher Really Sanitizing?

Can you clean the interior of a dishwasher with bleach?

Mold, mildew, and stains are a few challenges appliance owners face with dishwashers. It's natural to think about bleach as a go-to product  for this problem. But is it safe for dishwashers? It depends what type of liner your dishwasher has.

Some dishwashers have plastic liners, and some have stainless steel. 

You can clean a dishwasher's interior with bleach only if it is not stainless steel. According to the Home Depot,  a stainless steel dishwasher or a dishwasher that contains stainless steel parts can be damaged by bleach.

Bleach can damage the stainless steel  of a dishwasher interior by dulling the finish and leaving permanent stains to the steel liner.

Not sure if that technically "ruins" the stainless steel. It sounds likes it just uglies it out. One of the big sells on a stainless steel liner is the feature of  being the ultimate in sanitation. If the liner is pitting it out, it may lose some of its integrity. An appliance salesman told us that the stainless steel interior helps the dishwasher last longer. I can't vouch for the accuracy of that statement.

Cleaning dishwasher from mold and mildew..

As ironic as it is, sometimes the dishwasher liner needs to be cleaned. "Amazing" cleaner from The Dollar Store is used to remove film from the dishwasher door interior.

If you visit the Home Depot, site, they actually guide you on how to place a small bowl of bleach in the upper rack and running it through a wash cycle. This is supposed to deep clean the interior of the dishwasher.

If you have a mold or mildew problem, I would not hesitate to try it out (but only on a plastic dishwasher liner!).

Using white vinegar or baking soda on stinky, smelly, dishwashers

Home Depot gives additional practical advice on overcoming odors in the dishwasher. Use vinegar to eliminate "grime and odor" or baking soda  to "clean the interior and kill odors." Do NOT use baking soda and vinegar together at the same time. Clean with the vinegar first and then with the baking soda. 

What if I run out of dishwasher soap?

The Spruce has all kinds of substitutes and homemade recipes to use in place of dishwashing soap. The ingredients include things such as borax, dish soap, kosher salt, lemon juice, and washing soda (if you don't know what "washing soda" is find out more here). They advise not using any liquid detergent in the homemade recipes, but ironically recommended it in another article.

Blogger Courtenay over at Creek Line House did give the dish soap a try. She reported only putting three drops of Dawn dishwashing soap and two heaping teaspoons of baking soda into the detergent tray. Courtenay was happy with the results!

Emergency replacement dishwasher soap or regularly using a homemade version is the owner's choice. Know that dishwasher soap purchased from a manufacturer is always formulated to work the best for the dishwasher, as well as the plumbing.

Resist the idea to use regular dish soap in dishwasher

Courtenay's success from Creek Line House was with three small drops of dish soap. Replacing dish soap of equal volume as dishwasher soap can be disastrous.

Regular liquid dish soap cannot be used in a dishwasher because the formulation of ingredients makes the liquid suds up into a large volume of bubbles. This is especially true if the dish soap is equal to the standard amount of regular dishwashing agent you would use.

This applies to all favorite brands of dish soap brands . Since this is such an important message, I will re-emphasize it:

Dawn dish soap cannot be used in equal volume as a replacement to dishwasher detergent in a dishwasher  When Dawn is used in a small quantity of drops, it can work as a short-term substitute for dishwasher detergent only when combined with baking soda.

When dish soap is used, the dishwasher creates excessive amounts of suds when coupled with the aeration of the wash blades circulating water -  the result is a dishwasher full of suds.

The only way to reverse the action is to run the dishwasher through more rinse-only cycles until the suds are watered down. Could the scenario in the picture below happen? Although a staged picture, yes, it could happen.

Vice versa, dishwasher soap cannot be used in a kitchen sink as a detergent substitute. It's formulated to be low-suds. Instinctively, our brains would want to add more dishwasher soap in a low-suds situation. This results in a bigger problem of more soap residue left on dishes that will be hard to remove.

Dishwasher with great amount of suds coming out after using incorrect detergent (dish soap).

Using regular dish soap in dishwasher can have the effect of excessive bubbles.

Castile Soap (Dr. Bronner's) as a substitute dishwashing soap

Castile soap is a new product for me and something I didn't grow up using. I hope to explore more about this versatile product. In the Cheat Sheets for Home Painting Projects it is included as an option for washing paint off of skin.

Castile is a bit of a wonder cleaning product, as it has proven to be most versatile. Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap is one popular brand that gets a lot of questions. I could not find any clear comment if castile soap could be used in the dishwasher from the Dr.  Bronner website.

I did, however, find on the Dr. Bronner Facebook page, the comment from the moderator, "This is why we don't recommend using Dr. Bronner's in the dishwasher" in reply to a dishwasher picture running out with suds.

There are still very passionate Dr. Bronner Castile Soap users that claim they do use castile soap in the dishwasher with no problems. Dr. Bronner also offers another popular product people attempt to use in the dishwasher, Sals Suds.  It could be using just the right amount, as is the trick when using Dawn liquid dishwashing soap in the dishwasher in conjunction with baking soda.

From the comments of Facebook enthusiasts:

"Dr bronners peppermint is the only thing I have been using as dishwasher detergent for years. I put one cup of dr bronners in an old 42oz dishwasher detergent bottle and fill the rest with water. It’s the best."

"I make my own powdered laundry detergent using your bars of soap and I tried it for kicks in my dishwasher because I desperately needed to run and had run out of my usual stuff. It works great so that’s all I use now."

"I would use less bronners and a spoonful of vinegar. "

If you're still interested in using Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap, refer to the "Dilutions Cheat Sheet" for lots of good mixes and comments from real people using the product.

In conclusion

It's nice to have options, and with dishwashing machine soap alternatives, you do. Hesitate on the side of caution when trying out anything new. We don't want any bubble-filled kitchen scenarios!

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. Years of being a stay-at-home mom and supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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