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Everyday cheapskate: Surprising other uses for automatic dishwasher detergent

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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 outside the dishwasher in many useful ways.

Case in point: My microfiber cloths. I have a stack that I use for wiping up spills, dusting furniture, cleaning windows, countertops, floors, woodwork and appliances. Those cloths get dirty, and 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 Cascade automatic dishwasher pod. I set the wash temp to hot and gave it an extra rinse. The results were amazing -- super clean, effective microfiber with no stains at all.

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.

All automatic dishwasher detergents 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 peroxide 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 for its other uses.

All Purpose Cleaner

Combine ½ 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.

Bathroom Stain Remover

Got a stubborn 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.

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 ½ 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 is 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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