Woman Pour Powder in Dishwasher box. Dishwasher with Dirty Dishes. Washing dishes in the kitchen.

Surprising Other Uses for Automatic Dishwasher Detergent

It’s no secret that dishwasher detergent is specifically formulated to be used in automatic dishwashers whether it comes as powder, pods, pacs, liquid, or gel. What may come as a big surprise is that these products’ grease- and dirt-busting abilities can be used in many useful ways outside the dishwasher.

Woman Pouring Powder in Dishwasher box. Dishwasher with Dirty Dishes. Washing dishes in the kitchen.

Case in point, my microfiber cloths. I have a stack that I use with abandon to clean—wiping up spills, dusting furniture, cleaning windows, countertops, floors, woodwork, and appliances. Those cloths get dirty, eventually stained.

The enemy of microfiber is laundry soap that does not get 100% rinsed away. A potential buildup of soap or other laundry products will ruin the effectiveness of microfiber. That’s the reason I don’t use laundry detergent with them.

In the past I have laundered microfiber clothes in hot water and borax, using the hottest water setting on my machine plus an extra rinse. That has worked well, but doesn’t get out all the stains. I know, what’s the big deal about stains in cleaning cloths? I guess the answer there is that it just bothers me.

And then it hit me—dishwasher detergent. I’d recently read a tip about using dishwasher detergent outside the kitchen, so on a whim I threw a pile of dirty stained microfiber cloths into the washer along with one automatic dishwasher pod. I set the wash temp to hot and gave it an extra rinse. The results were amazing. Take a look:

dirty clean microfiber cloths

This got me thinking and quickly spun me into research mode to understand how and why this worked so well with no effort—no soaking, waiting, or scrubbing.

Here’s what I learned

Dishwasher detergent comes in a number of different versions: powder, liquid, gel, pacs and pods. All contain powerful surfactants and enzymes with high pH levels to break up and wash away grease, oil, and dirt particles. In its powdered versions, automatic dishwasher detergents are likely to also contain bleach. That’s what makes dishwasher detergent an effective, inexpensive alternative to many kinds of household cleaners.

Bleach eradicates stains like coffee and tea, enzymes eat away at proteins and solids, and surfactants tackle dirt. But enzymes and bleach can’t play well together in gel products because most bleaches, in liquid form, will kill enzymes. This is the reason that dry dishwasher detergent may be our most powerful option.

All-Purpose Cleaner

Combine 1/2 cup of dishwasher detergent powder with 2 gallons of hot water, mix well. Once dissolved, pour the solution into spray bottles.

To use: Spray onto a clean cloth and wipe off the area that needs cleaning rather than spraying the area to be cleaned. Rinse the area well with warm water, then dry with a clean, soft rag.

You can confidently use this solution on the exterior and interior of household appliances, vinyl floors, painted surfaces, and glass. When using this homemade cleaner on glass items, a microfiber cloth promises a streak-free shine.

Laundry stain treatment

Because it contains bleach (some brands have chlorine bleach, others peroxide) dishwasher detergent makes for an effective laundry detergent booster because it’s made to break down food and grease particles and stains.

You can safely treat dingy, stained white fabrics by filling a plastic container with 1/2 cup of dishwasher detergent powder or 1 dishwasher pod, 1/4 cup chlorine bleach, and 1 gallon of very hot water. Combine the ingredients, place the garments into the solution and soak them for at least 15 minutes before running them through their usual cycles in your washing machine. Make sure you let the solution cool down first if you’re treating knit or delicate white items—bleach can damage colored items.

Bathroom stain remover

Got a stubborn bathtub or toilet ring? Drop a dishwasher pod or tablet into the toilet bowl, allow it to sit for a few minutes. Scrub the stains away with a toilet brush. Quite amazingly, I’ve discovered that a pod will dissolve in the room temperature water in a toilet bowl. Experimenting with straight powder, however, did not prove as effective for me because unlike the pod, it didn’t dissolve well.

An easy tackle for tub stains is to pour 1/4 cup of powdered detergent into a plastic or glass container. Add enough hot water to make a thick paste. Gently rub the paste onto the stained areas using a sponge or cloth, then allow to sit on those stains for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse well and be amazed. If dealing with a tough situation you may need to repeat.

Garage and driveway stains

Got oil, transmission, or other car fluid stains on your driveway or in the garage? Automatic dishwasher detergent to the rescue. You can probably figure out the routine by now, or follow this: Mix 1/2 cup of dishwasher detergent powder with enough hot water to make a thick paste in a plastic container. Scrub the paste onto the stained surface (a stiff brush is a great option), allow it to sit for a few minutes, then rinse it away with your garden hose.

What about cost?

And now for the big question: Is it cost effective? That depends of course on how much we pay for these products. Purchased on sale or in bulk, I believe it can be.

But more than that, if dishwasher detergent is handy when you’ve run out of laundry detergent, or you don’t want to spend a ton on a gallon of specific driveway cleaner or take the time to drive to a specific store to get it, but you’ve got that box of dishwasher detergent all ready to go—absolutely!

Your results

With so many brands and types of automatic dishwasher detergents out there, it’s difficult for me to give you definitive results on each and every option. And as compared to my results, your mileage may vary.

What I know based on the tests and experiments I’ve done, overall, automatic dishwasher detergent has amazing capabilities to clean and remove stains on items and situations that have nothing to do with a dishwasher!


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  1. Joan says:

    I use the pods with my glass carafe that has tea stains. I also use boiling water in the carafe. Easiest way to clean tea stains.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes, because front-loading HE washers, just like dishwashers, cannot tolerate suds. Dishwasher detergent and HE detergent are non-sudsing.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Joanne … Use the search function at EverydayCheapskate.com home page to find posts on those specific subjects

  2. Cynthia W Crowell says:

    When we bought our home the home inspector told me to use dishwasher detergent to clean the Jacuzzi tub in our bathroom. It sterilizes and works like a charm. Add that to your list!

  3. Jenni says:

    I used to keep a box of powdered, generic auto dishwashing detergent in my laundry area when my children were small.
    All of the food on the clothes seemed to signal a need for it, and it worked.
    I haven’t thought about that in twenty years!
    Thanks Mary, and Happy Anniversary!

  4. Lenore Holt says:

    As a licensed massage therapist I had lots of sheets with oils or lotions that had soaked into them to launder. The only way to get them really clean was to wash them with dishwasher detergent and hot water, plus bleach to make sure that they were sanitary. Great advice on using dishwasher detergent for more than just dishes!

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