Zero Waste Dish Soap - your waste-free alternative to washing your dishes.
On your way to becoming zero waste, you’ll probably find yourself coming across an awful lot of DIY this and DIY that. Sometimes it can be hard to make time for all that DIY in your day.
Don’t worry, we’ve got your back!
Here you’ll find two DIY liquid vegan dish soap recipes:
One for those of us who prefer to make things in bulk every once in a while. And another for the people the rest of us—who maybe don’t have space to store months’ worth of dish soap, but can make time to mix it up every couple of weeks.
Bulk Recipe For a Zero Waste Dish Soap:
You will need:
- One 4 oz bar of Castile, or another vegetable oil-based soap (unscented)
- 1 tbsp of washing soda. This is different from baking soda or borax!
- 2 tbsp of coarse salt.
- 1 gallon of water or ½ gallon water and ½ gallon saponin solution (instructions below)
- 16 drops of your preferred essential oils, lemon is a popular choice (optional)
To make the saponin solution use a saponin rich plant, such as soapnuts:
- Bring ½ gallon of water to a boil.
- Add 10 soap nuts and boil for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Reduce heat and smash soap nuts in liquid to make sure you get the most out of them.
- Strain mixture through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth to remove solids and allow them to cool.
- You can compost your remaining shells.
- Despite the name, soap nuts are actually berries and are completely safe for those with nut allergies.
Single Bottle Recipe for a Zero Waste Dish Soap:
For this one, we’ll just adjust our ratios! You will need:
- 3 tbsp of grated Castile, or another vegetable oil-based soap (unscented)
- ½ tsp of washing soda. This is different from baking soda or borax!
- 1 tsp of coarse salt.
- 3 cups of water or 1 ½ cups water and 1 ½ cups saponin solution (instructions below)
- 15 drops of your preferred essential oils, lemon is a popular choice (optional)
Starting with a plain unscented soap means that you can experiment with what smells you like best as well as what essential oils seem to help get those dishes squeaky clean.
This recipe should work with sheep or goat milk soaps as well.
To make it vegan you’ll probably want to use an olive oil or coconut oil-based soap. Some Castile soaps are made from palm oil so that may be another thing to look out for when gathering your ingredients.
Most of these ingredients will be fairly easy to find packaged in recyclable or compostable paper or cardboard making this a truly zero waste dish soap recipe.
Now, let’s get to soapmaking! (below are the instructions for both recipes to make a zero waste soap dish)
- Grate your bar soap using a hand grater, or toss the bar in chunks into your food processor.
- Warm ½ of the water in a large pot over medium heat. Sprinkle in grated soap and stir over heat until fully dissolved. Do not let the water boil!
- Add washing soda and salt then stir until fully dissolved, this may take about a minute.
- Into a large container pour other ½ of water (or saponin solution,) essential oils then add the warmed solution.
- Let your soap cure for a day. If it gels up you can use an immersion blender or pour into a regular blender to smooth it out.
- Shake bottle to mix before using.
There is nothing quite like finishing a DIY recipe. Now every time you do the dishes, you can look at that bottle and know you have one less thing in your home to throw away.
If you aren’t quite feeling that pride, stick around to learn more about the impact you are having by making this stuff yourself!
Here’s a bit of a reality check:
Sometimes when we choose a product or make our own, that has a lower environmental impact, we must make sacrifices.
When you start using your new eco-friendly, zero waste dish soap, you may ask yourself:
How do traditional dishwashing detergents get your plates and glassware so nice and spot free?
Well, the answer is usually phosphates. Phosphates are naturally occurring compounds and are commonly found in chemical fertilizers as well as your dish detergent. Like many things, too much of these guys is not a good thing.
When we release large concentrations of phosphates into our waterways, they can encourage the growth of algal blooms.
Doesn’t sound too bad, right?
Unfortunately, algal blooms are way worse than they sound. Algal bloom refers to the excess growth of algae and phytoplankton in lakes, reservoirs, and other bodies of water.
The effects are similar to any mono-cultural farm. When there is too much of one organism in any environment the resources used by them can become overdrawn.
In the case of algal blooms, they deprive other aquatic life—such as the fish and plants—of the precious resource, light.
Since algae and phytoplankton float on the surface of the water, they get first dibs on the sunlight.
This is bad news for the plants underwater.
Fish, just like us, need oxygen. Usually, the fish in an aquatic system rely on their aquatic plant neighbors to produce dissolved oxygen for them to breathe—but, when an algal bloom moves in— light becomes scarce and so does oxygen for the fish.
Not only can an algal bloom seriously throw off the balance of the ecosystem, but they can also be downright dangerous.
Phosphates can trigger a bloom of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria).
This is where it gets really scary:
If a human ingests a large number of cyanobacteria, the results can be deadly. When blue-green algae is involved the threat is not only to the fish and aquatic plant-life, but also to humans using the water for recreation, drinking, or bathing.
Luckily for you the recipes above and the No-Tox ZeroWaste Dish Soap, which I will talk about in a minute, are phosphate-free!
Another thing you may notice about your new zero waste dish soap is that it doesn’t suds up quite like the bottled stuff you are used to.
One reason for that is both of the recipes I’ve shared with you have been dish soap recipes. Most dishwashing liquids sold in stores aren’t soaps at all but detergents.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking:
What’s the difference? And why should I care?
Well, the answer is actually pretty simple:
While traditional soaps are made through a process of saponification of animal fats or vegetable oils—this happens when fats or oils come into contact with a base like lye—detergents are typically surfactant based.
One of the most common surfactants found in things like dish soap is SLS or sodium lauryl sulfate which may go by any number of other names in your product’s ingredient list.
Although the stuff is extremely rough on your skin and is a known skin and eye irritant—in the case of dish soap, it isn’t so much our bodies that we have to worry about, as our contact with it is usually limited.
The questions to ask here are these:
How do they make it?
The production of SLS can often be environmentally damaging. Synthetic SLS is often manufactured using petroleum. Other forms are made using vegetable oils.
While this means that some SLS is actually completely plant-based, the popular choice for these varieties is often the omnipresent palm-oil, the production of which often leads to the destruction of rainforest habitat.
And: What happens to all that SLS once it goes down the drain?
The good news is that scientists don’t expect SLS to bioaccumulate, which is when substances in an environment build up in the organisms that live in it.
Think mercury in fish.
The bad news is that SLS isn’t great for our water-dwelling friends. The ICSC (International Chemical Safety Card) Database identifies SLS as toxic to aquatic organisms.
I’ve got a couple of ways you can up the suds power of your zero waste dishwashing liquid:
Saponin is a naturally occurring surfactant. It is the stuff that makes the water foamy when you rinse off Quinoa grains.
Some plants, like the soap nut tree, produce concentrated amounts of this substance which we can use to boost our natural cleaning products!
Switch up your scrubber:
A natural sponge or a wooden dish scrubber can be a fantastic option to help your homemade dish soap or your vegan dish soap bar go further! The dense holes in a natural sponge help the soap to make more suds! This means you can clean more dishes with every drop.
These suckers are naturally antimicrobial!
I have been using the same slice of natural yellow sponge for over six months and it’s still in great shape. You can disinfect your sponge with a solution of baking soda and water monthly and keep it just like new for years!
A loofah is another great zero-waste pick.
Natural loofahs—which are very different from their plastic, artificial cousins—are actually members of the squash family.
On top of that:
If you don’t live near the ocean, loofahs are often easy to find locally because they are prolific growers (ever planted more than one zucchini plant?) and grow well in a variety of climates.
A farmer at my local farmer’s market here in the Midwest sells them every year. Loofahs are fairly stiff even when wet, making them great for scrubbing off stuck-on food!
Another use for loofah as slices.
Discs of loofah are great for solving that soggy soap bar problem. Simply set a dry slice of loofah under the bar and let it provide airflow to dry your soap!
Now, back to the Why of all of this!
Eliminating harmful chemicals like SLS from our dishwashing routine isn’t the only reason to try DIY.
If you are here, you probably already know that we have a serious plastic problem. While some dish soap bottles are made of recyclable plastic according to NatGeo a whopping 91% of all plastic produced goes unrecycled.
You might be thinking:
Well as long as I dispose of my recyclable plastics responsibly, I am still zero waste, right?
Unfortunately, these numbers aren’t just the result of people neglecting to put things in the right bin.
Often, the way that plastic degrades makes it hard for companies to make a profit by recycling them.
While it’s fun to imagine that everything we put into the single-stream bin gets its second life in some new product that isn’t the reality.
Approximately 25% of the recycling picked up by waste management is too contaminated to be recycled.
I bet you can guess where it ends up!
Yep, the landfill.
The rate at which we have been making plastics has doubled every 15 years while our consistency with recycling it has failed to improve.
If we keep going on like this there will be twelve billion metric tons of plastic in our landfills. In case you need a visual a metric ton is about the weight of an elephant.
Packaging makes up 40% of the plastics we produce.
And, often, we don’t even need it!
A large amount of the weight and volume of liquid soaps like dish soap is water and other fillers.
While I love the above recipe because it lets me keep washing dishes in the way I am used to, here’s a question you may not have thought to ask:
Why do I need my dish soap to be liquid?
The answer? You don’t!
There is a lot of great bar style zero waste dish soap on the market these days. Here at EcoRoots, we have —a natural, zero waste and a vegan Dish Washing Block that works great for busting through grease and grime.
On top of that:
All of our products are plastic-free and cruelty-free.
Our zero waste dish soap, like all of the other products, is made simple. All of the ingredients come from plants or minerals. It is also free of unnecessary dyes and fragrances.
But does it work?
Well, the reviews are overwhelmingly positive! Many satisfied costumers said they’d never go back to the bottled stuff.
Since the blocks are a decent size (7.5 oz) they should last you quite a while! Even at that size, one of these blocks takes up a lot less space next to your kitchen sink.
Which is awesome if you are like me and you despise a cluttered counter.
For your average single-person home a 7.5 oz block should power through at least six months’ worth of dishes. That’s one bar to replace up to three bottles worth of liquid soap!
Let me say that again:
That’s up to three plastic bottles you could be eliminated from the waste stream with each bar you use instead!
Like my own recipe, No-Tox Life has chosen to include in their soap a natural, saponin based, surfactant—in their case an extract of the soap bark tree— which adds to its grease busting action!
While there may be a bit of a learning curve to this whole solid rather than liquid thing, you may find you like this denser product better!
In the past, we didn’t need a thousand kinds of bottled detergent to get the job done!
Just one simple bar of soap.
When you support a small company like us, whose products encourage reusing, recycling, and eliminating containers, you help send a message:
It’s time to ditch that plastic bottle!
Whether you choose to try out this recipe, switch to our zero waste dish soap bar, your choices can have an impact.
The more commonplace things like these become the more motivated large corporations will be to make changes to their unsustainable and harmful products.