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Monday, December 18, 2023

Stretching Liquid Dish Soap (For Hand-Washing Dishes) With Baking Soda

My grandmother was full of wisdom for me in my early years of marriage. She had all kinds of tips, especially tips that would help me save money. She lived about 5 minutes from where my husband and I set up our first home together. One afternoon when I was visiting, I was drying lunch dishes while she washed. (My grandmother never had an automatic dishwasher.) She and I were talking about how much easier life was now/then than when she first married, mere months before the stock market crash of 1929. I asked for details about how she did ordinary things in the home. Here's what she shared with me:

"Take this dish soap," pointing to the bottle of Ivory. "I had nothing like this then." 

"I used to take a bar of soap and grate it and store it in a jar. After meals, when it was time for me to clean up, I put a spoonful of it [grated soap] into a tea cup and added boiling water from the stove. I stirred until all of the soap was dissolved. I stirred in a heaping spoon of bicarbonate [baking soda], too. When it was ready, I poured this into the dishpan and added the boiling water for washing."

Me, incredulous, responded something like this, "really? Grated bar soap and baking soda is what you used for dishwashing?"

"Yes, dear. Where we lived, this is what we all used in those days to wash dishes. Sometimes I ran out of bar soap and couldn't buy more for a while. In those days I used just bicarb to clean dishes and a lot of elbow grease to scrub pots. Bicarbonite was always cheap. Bar soap was more precious during the Depression."

I've held this little homemaking tidbit in the back of mind all of these years, meaning to try this out someday. 

One day in early November (around the time I had a dental infection and was desperate to get my surgery), our dishwasher went kaput. The part we need is no longer available, wouldn't you know. So we've been hand-washing all of our dishes since. The only bright spot in my dental ordeal is I was not expected to wash dishes for about a week. 

I've been surprised by how quickly we go through a bottle of liquid dish detergent. One evening last week, as I was filling the washpan with hot water, I noticed we were nearly out of dish soap. That's when my memories of my grandmother's stories and wisdom came to the surface. I wondered if I could use just a little dish soap and a very heaping spoonful of baking soda to wash the dishes that night.

And you know what? It turned out that I could. All of the dishes came out sparkling clean. Even the pots and skillet cleaned up without the addition of more soap. And this is what we used for the rest of last week and all of the weekend.

Wanting to see if other folks had tried this in recent years, I went online and discovered that, yes, a little baking soda is a great way to amplify soap's cleaning abilities. A small amount of soap can clean more dishes with baking soda added than just the same amount of soap by itself.

"Wash dishes for a sparkling clean: Washing dishes with baking soda and dish soap is an easy way to boost cleaning power. To use baking soda for washing dishes, simply fill your sink with hot or warm soapy water. Then add 2 heaping tablesoons of baking soda to the water. Soak any greasy pots or pans with stuck-on food in the solution for several minutes. This lets the powerful duo work their magic. Then scrub away! Another way is to simply sprinkle baking soda onto a damp sponge with a bit of dish soap to use as a gentle scour."  

We've also found it extremely helpful to pre-rinse all greasy dishes or pots before adding them to the soda/soap water.

I have yet to try this with just baking soda, as my grandmother said she had to do. I will let you know if baking soda alone will clean dirty dishes when I perform that experiment. For the meantime, I now know how to stretch small amounts of liquid dish detergent. Thanks, Nana.


  1. I never heard of this but it makes total sense to me. Adding a scoop of baking soda to a load of laundry helps clean the stinky smell out of workout clothes so why not with dish detergent. I am going to try this. I think I will even put a nice bowl of soda next to my dish soap as a reminder to add a scoop. I also rarely use my dishwasher and prefer the hand washing dishes method. My husband and I "do the dishes" together and it's a great time together to chat about our day or plan for the week and even dream of a future.

    1. Hi Alice,
      I really should keep some baking soda next to the washing machine to help with some of our laundry odors. Thanks for the idea.
      I don't mind hand-washing that much. It's just been an adjustment. But I am tired by the time we're done eating and just want to relax. My answer to that is to wash as much as possible before we eat, so w only need to wash our plates, silverware, and maybe a pot or casserole dish. Your dish-washing with your hubby sounds like a cozy time of the evening.

  2. Like Alice said, it makes perfect sense but I never heard of it. I wonder if we can get by with cheap detergent if we add baking soda? It's worth the experiment. Our grandmothers certainly had a lot more to do for their basics needs back in the day. My grandmother raised a bunch of kids (one with special needs) while running a farm. My grandfather had a job outside of the farm and was not much help when he was at home. I don't know how she did it, but she always seemed calm.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I don't know about automatic dish detergent, but for hand-washing, we use Dollar Tree stuff and that still worked well with the baking soda. For really greasy pots and pans, you may need to wipe them out with a scarp of paper before adding to the soap/soda water. We had the best results when we pre-rinsed the plates to get grease off before washing in the soap/soda solution. It would be an interesting experiment to see just how far this could be pushed.

      Your grandmother certainly had her hands full day and evening. Her life would be very challenging for most of us.

  3. Oh, how interesting. I frequently use baking soda to scrub stains on my kitchen items (tea stains on my mugs are a regular problem) so it would make sense to put some in with dish soap.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I often use baking soda to clean the kitchen sink and scour cooked on food in pots. It does work well for scouring. I haven't tried it on tea stains before, but now I know another way to get those mugs and cups sparkling again, thanks to your comment!

  4. I use baking soda to clean regularly, especially for stubborn stains and smelly things. I've visited parts of South Asia where people use ash to clean dishes- just ash. Their dishes don't sparkle but they're clean enough. Dish bar soaps are available these days to avoid using plastic bottles but they're pricey. Regular soaps usually have some sort of moisturizers in them so they're better for hands then pots ;D. I use those small garlic/ ginger/ onion bags as scrubbers for reusing/ Earth friendly purposes. A little bit dish soap, steel wool and elbow grease work like a charm for sparkly clean pots.

    1. Hi Farhana,
      your comment about dish soaps having moisturizers added to make them softer on hands reminds me of what we said about one particular bottle of dish soap we had earlier this year. This soap seemed to put more grease on plates than it took off, so we would say they added lotion to the dish soap.
      I save the mesh produce bags, too. I've used them in the garden, especially the larger ones. I also use the smaller ones to cover pots with flowering bulbs in them to prevent the squirrels from digging up the bulbs before they sprout in spring. I like getting more uses out of items that would otherwise end up in a landfill.


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