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Making my household cleaners came out of a necessity. When we depended on the food bank, and later when we were on SNAP, we couldn’t really get cleaners. The food bank rarely had any in stock and SNAP only covers food. But I could buy baking soda, vinegar and lemons, or get them from the food bank.

Homemade cleaners need to work. It’s all well and good to be “natural” or “sustainable” but if they don’t clean, leaving you to have to wash your dishes or clothes a second time, then they are adding to the problem.

While working on The Scent of Lemon and Rosemary I made sure that the cleaning recipes I included worked. Nearly all of them are ones I’ve been using for years and the few that weren’t, I worked with and tweaked for months to make sure they did what they were supposed to.

The dishwasher tabs I’ve recently experimented with fall into the not worth it category.

I’d seen the recipes in various Pinterest posts, and once we’d used the last of our commercial batch I decided to give them a try. I went with a recipe that seemed simple enough: epsom salts, baking soda, borax and lemon juice. I omitted the essential oils that the recipe called for as they didn’t seem to add anything to the tabs’ efficacy.

While the tabs do clean better than just stuffing dishes into the dishwasher and running the load, the results are a far cry from commercial cleaners. The glassware all had a dull film on them. Everything had water spots*. And any sticky stains were still there despite having been rinsed before being put through the wash cycle. I ended up having to wash several plates and bowls by hand to get them clean.

While this particular DIY cleaner turned out to be a dud, I wouldn’t consider my experiment a complete waste of time. I pulled out the dish drying rack that we still had from the last house and put it to use while rewashing the dishes. It’s not gone back into storage. Instead, we’ve gotten into the habit of washing dishes as we use them and placing them on the drying rack. When they’re dry, we put them away.

This has turned out to be a better way of handling dishes than letting them stack up and then putting them in the dishwasher. Everyone in the house, kids included, is charged with washing their own dishes and putting them on the rack. When I am cooking dinner, I clean and wash as I go. Once dinner is done, dishes take all of ten or fifteen minutes instead of the half hour or more that they usually took. This also has meant I don’t deal with the annoyance of finding a dirty dish after I’ve filled the dishwasher and started it.

In the last month or so since we’ve made this switch I’ve used the dishwasher a couple of times as I’ve been testing out recipes for the next book. In those cases I’ve just washed the dishes by hand and ran them through a rinse cycle, which has worked just fine. And for me, that’s what matters. I’m not interested in being a perfect, zero waste person (as if perfect or zero waste are even possible). I want to find ways to make those tasks as natural, easy and sustainable as possible.

*It is suggested to use white vinegar as a substitute for rinse aid to deal with water spots. That didn’t seem to work in this situation.

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