A Green, Clean and Cheap Way to Enjoy Spot-Free Dishes

Spot-free dishes at Happy Simple Living
Photo by Steve A. Johnson

If you have an automatic dishwasher, chances are you have a little dispenser that you’re supposed to fill with “rinse aid” to help the dishes come out sparkling and spot-free. Rinse aid isn’t cheap, though; at our local grocery store, an 8.45 ounce bottle retails for $5.15, or about 61 cents an ounce.

Rinse aid has another little problem. Have you ever read the back of the bottle?

Rinse Aid at Happy Simple Living

Many brands of rinse aid contain chemicals that can irritate the eyes and skin. Is it just me, or does it seem counter-intuitive that we’re instructed to coat our dishes and eating utensils with potentially harmful chemicals?

You may also wonder, as I do, about rinse aid’s environmental impact. According to Grist: “Conventional rinse aid is one of the mystery products wherein manufacturers only need disclose active ingredients. We can find Material Safety Data Sheets for these products on line, which say reassuring things such as “The manufacturer’s MSDS does not state whether the ingredients are considered carcinogens or potential carcinogens.” Rumor has it that conventional rinse aids do contain phosphates, the chemical compounds that can lead to marine dead zones.”

I tried running the dishwasher with just eco-friendly dish detergent, but the glasses came out spotty. Then someone told me you could use distilled white vinegar instead of rinse aid. So last month I experimented and filled the little dispenser with vinegar.

Vinegar rinse aid at Happy Simple Living blog

Eureka! After a dozen loads of dishes, I’m happy to report that the vinegar rinse works perfectly. The glasses are spot-free, and in case you’re wondering they don’t smell like we pulled them from a pickle barrel. In fact, I think the dishes and dishwasher actually smell fresher since we made the switch. Vinegar is natural, and we paid $1.29 for a 32-ounce bottle – or 4 cents an ounce.

If you feel hesitant to pour a non-approved product in the dispenser or if your dishwasher doesn’t have a rinse aid dispenser, you can instead just put a small glass (a shot glass works perfectly) upright in the bottom of your dishwasher rack and pour in about 2 tablespoons of white distilled vinegar right before you run the dishes. The vinegar will get mixed in with water during the rinse cycle, and your glasses will be sparkling clean.

If you make the switch from a chemical rinse aid to all-natural vinegar, I’d love to hear how it works for you. Happy rinsing!

The signature for Eliza Cross

You might also enjoy:

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of 15 books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

27 thoughts on “A Green, Clean and Cheap Way to Enjoy Spot-Free Dishes”

  1. I’ve been using vinegar in the dishwasher for a couple of years now. I agree that the dishwasher does smell better and my dishes are spotless as well. My old dishwasher had a plastic liner and vinegar kept it stain-free. The new dishwasher (stainless interior) is nice and clean too!

  2. Great add to vinegar’s universal cleaning purpose. I heard that it even has anti-bacterial properties. My dad uses it as a soak formula for his false teeth.

  3. Our dishwasher has been dead since January (very sadly), but we had been using vinegar in the rinse for a couple of years, and agree 100%, totally effective. commercial rinse aid is not only probably bad for the environment and quite like us as well, it is also a colossal waste of money, in my experience!

  4. http://freetobgreen.com

    I am amazed at the many uses for vinegar. I will definitely have to give this one a try. I have been using BioKleen automatic dishwasher detergent which is eco friendly. We have noticed that our glasses are coming out much cleaner than when we used the traditional store bought brand. We also don’t seem to get that white film on our dishes with the BioKleen product. However, it never hurts to add a little something extra to get your dishes clean and shiny so the next load will have a vinegar boost. Thanks for in the information!

  5. Wow, yet another use for vinegar! Is there no end to what it can do? We mostly clean with either vinegar or baking soda at our house; not only are they versatile and inexpensive, but I don’t have to worry so much should my little boys accidently get into them. Thanks so much for the tip – I can’t wait for my rinse aid to run out so I can make the switch.

  6. That’s simply amazing! I had no idea vinegar could do the trick. I’ve tried different products that are supposed to remove spots, but they never worked very well, and definitely cost a lot more than vinegar.


  7. Dear Happysimpleliving,
    I just stumbled across this and, As the holidays approach, many of us will be hosting family and friends – and nothing inspires a person to give their home a thorough clean than knowing guests will be arriving soon. Before you grab the usual store bought, commercial cleaner, remember that many of them contain harmful chemicals such as phthalates, alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) and ethanolamine, which have been linked to asthma attacks, reproductive harm and other issues that hurt humans, pets and the environment.
    Keep up the posts!

  8. Awesome! Vinegar…you really can use it for anything! I would have not thought to use it in the dishwasher though! Thanks for the tip!

  9. I’m going to have to try this. I never had good luck with cheap chemical rinses anyway.

    You can get white vineagar by the gallon really cheap at Costco.

  10. I’m afraid that using vinegar in the dispenser just doesn’t work for me so I will try the tip of a small glass in the bottom rack.
    I have a steam cleaner and when I use it to clean walls and shelves I never use tap water, which is full of contaminants that can be vaporized and inhaled. I always use our well water. If you don’t have a well, you can probably buy water purified by double osmosis, which we use for drinking.
    Another money saving tip, we clean our coffee pot every month with vinegar, as recommended by the manufacturer. I then take the pot full of hot vingar, pour it on the bottom of my dishwasher, and run the hottest, longest cycle to clean the machine.

  11. Since vinegar in my dispenser does not seem to work,I tried your suggestion about putting 2 oz of white vinegar in a shot glass in the corner of my dishwasher. What a marked improvement! Thank you.

  12. Recently I learned vinegar can damage your dishwasher if used in the rinse aid compartment. To avoid this, use the glass on the top rack method. It has the approval of the service man; putting it in the rinse aid compartment does not. Glad you found a way to naturally clean your dishes.

  13. Hurrah! I don’t know why I didn’t think of this myself, although, if it didn’t work in the rinse dispenser, I would never have thought of the shot glass idea – THANK YOU! I use vinegar for almost everything else — hair rinse, substitute for fabric softener [and soap nuts are a great substitute for detergent, btw!], cleaning up spots on the carpet & washing kitchen/bath floors, and on and on. The concept of a “rinse agent” is kind of beyond me in the first place, so I’m extremely happy to know about this additional use for vinegar! Many many thanks to Eliza and to the rest of the “comment-ers”!

  14. Why limit the use of vinegar as a rinse-aid only? I’ve tried using 1/2 cup vinegar INSTEAD of dishwasher soap a couple of times now and all my dishes (and dishwasher) came out sparkling clean with no rinse-aid required. My only concern is harm I might be doing to my dishwasher, but how can vinegar be any more harmful than all those harsh chemicals in dishwasher soap? I’d love to hear feedback on this idea. Thanks!

    • Hi Jan,

      I did not realize that you already answered my question that I just posted today!!!
      Thank you so much!


    • I am glad to have found this discussion. I have been using white vinegar instead of dishwashing detergent for the last few days, and I have no reason to go back to even the green product I was using, which left a hard-to remove film. The $1.69 bottle of white vinegar cleans better than anything else I’ve ever used (I’m an AARP member …), and there is no ‘after’ smell, taste, or reason for concern about what my family is ingesting.

  15. I am so glad I found this site. Thank you for sharing this information.
    I was curious to know if vinegar is used to clean almost everything, do you think it can be substituted for the dishwasher soap? I mean, has anyone ever used just vinegar to wash the dishes in the dishwasher?
    Thank you!

  16. Doing the smart thing for all the WRONG reasons.

    Vinegar works, because it’s acidic.

    Any very acidic substance will work, like Lemon Juice.

    Acids binds to the particles that cause white deposits, and instead of ending up on your dishes, it goes down your drain.

    As far as harsh chemicals, Vinegar when used wrong is about as harsh as you can get. Don’t splash it in your eyes, don’t drink it.

    That’s the basis of the warnings on the extremely overpriced rinse aids, most of which depend on ACIDIC properties of the stuff the use to make it.

    The blue stuff depends on surfactants.

    If you think surfactants are bad chemicals, then don’t use any kind of soap for washing anything your clothes, dishes, yourself ever again.

    The surfactant properties of ALL soaps are what make it work.

    Commercial soaps, including rinse aids are not going to use dangerous chemicals to do their stuff.

    The reason why they do NOT have to list all their ingredients is simple.

    The MSDS does NOT list PROVED, HARMLESS substances.

    Rather than do the right thing for wrong-headed conspiracy thinking, do the right things for the right reasons.

    Rinse aids are extremely overpriced, and we already have in our kitchen to do the same thing just as well.

    In this case vinegar works or lemon juice.

    There is no reason to believe nonsense that they have harmful chemicals. They don’t. There is no need to do such an insane thing.

  17. DO NOT PUT VINEGAR IN THE RIINSE AID COMPARTMENT!! I came across an article about dishwasher tips and homemade detergent. The woman suggested putting vinegar in the rinse aid department. She posted an update saying that after a few years of doing this- she started having problems with her dishwasher and called a repair man. During the home visit she told him that she had been putting vinegar in the rinse aid department. He said vinegar is helpful but it’s is BAD to put it in the rinse aid department because it wears down and destroys the rubber and internals. Instead, He told her to put a small cup on the top rack of the dishwasher and put in small amount of vinegar in the cup

  18. I’m a huge fan of DIY cleaning products so many thanks for the ‘recipes’. We keep vinegar in a spray bottle and use it full strength when one of the dogs pees on the carpet. Keeps it from staining and removes the odor too.

    Best regards! Merton Park Carpet Cleaners Ltd.

  19. I agree vinegar is great in the dishwasher and also a tablespoon in dishwashing water removes hard water spots. I also use vinegar to descale the kettle (or saucepans), I then use the water while it is still warm (not boiling) to descale the shower head and finally put the cool vinegar in the washing machine to disinfect it. It works a treat and really stretches a single bottle. I also find malt vinegar is just as good at descaling as white vinegar and can be cheaper too.

  20. I will be trying this soon. Once the Rinse Aid stuff is empty. Going phosphate free has left all my dishes with a film on them.


Leave a Comment