If you need to run the dishwasher but are out of dishwasher tablets, here's what to do.

Do use these things

The best dishwasher tablet alternative

Fill the tablet dispenser three-quarter full of baking soda (AKA bicarbonate of soda). Add two to three drops of washing-up liquid (literally three drops and no more – see the warning below). Make sure your dishwasher salt is topped up and run your dishwasher.

White vinegar

If you don’t have baking soda, place of cup of white vinegar in the top rack. The acid in the vinegar should cut through the grease on your dishes. It's not a perfect solution but it's better than leaving the dishes and letting the dishwasher turn into a stinky cupboard.

Only use vinegar once in a while in an emergency: if you use it too often, it will start to wear down the rubber inside the machine, such as the gasket (the seal around your dishwasher’s door).

Don’t use

Washing-up liquid

Unless you want to have a bubble bath on your kitchen floor, DO NOT fill your dishwasher reservoir with washing-up liquid. Washing-up liquid is made to create a lot of foam, whereas dishwasher detergent doesn’t foam at all. The foam will literally escape around the sides of the door during the cycle and you will spend the rest of your day trying to wipe up slithery bubbles.

I have been there. The clean-up takes hours.

If this information comes too late, here's what to do.

  1. Stop your dishwasher as soon as possible.

  2. Remove as much of the sudsy water as you can from inside the dishwasher. 

  3. Break down the bubbles. The best way I’ve found – and it’s much more effective if you live in a hard water area – is to use a bar of soap. Thoroughly lather your hands in bar soap and run your hands and the bar of soap through the bubbles. The soap reacts with minerals in the water to create a defoamer. You may have experienced something similar if you’ve ever used bar soap during a bubble bath and killed all the bubbles.

  4. You can also sprinkle sea salt on the bubbles on your floor to break them down. When you wipe up the overflow, try to use cloths you can throw away afterwards, at least for the initial stages of the clean-up, otherwise you’ll repeat the foam party problem in your washing machine.

  5. Run your dishwasher again on a cool setting, with a cup of vinegar inside.


If you look for dishwasher tablet replacements online, one thing that comes up again and again is Borax. But you really shouldn’t use this in your dishwasher.

In Europe, Borax has been banned altogether and in the US the FDA has banned it as a food additive, as there are concerns about its potentially damaging effects on reproductive health.

While the exposure you would get from using it in your dishwasher is extremely low, you're already exposed to it in things you eat and drink, so adding more of it to your daily life is unwise. Just because it's natural, doesn't make it good for you.

If you can’t get bicarbonate of soda, you can buy Borax Substitute to use instead.

Vinegar and bicarbonate of soda

Several online sources recommend making your own dishwasher tablets using these two ingredients together. But here’s why you shouldn’t do it. It’s not dangerous, by the way – it’s just pointless.

After the initial fizzing reaction (in which carbonic acid and sodium acetate are created and which is great for clearing drains), there is a second reaction: a decomposition into water and carbon dioxide gas.

Essentially what this means is that any cleaning power the two have together bubbles away when you first mix them together.

But, either one on its own is a good option to help get your dishes clean.

After more dishwasher advice? Read up on how to load your dishwasher (properly) and how to maintain it.

If you're buying a new dishwasher and you'd like to see some options, we've reviewed both a full-size integrated dishwasher, the Hisense HV651D60UK, and a slim model, the Neff N50 slimline S875HKX20G – which has smart features.

Visit Home Hacks for more top tips and advice on dealing with the new normal.