Even though soaps are supposed to get our stuff clean, the truth is that a lot of the soaps and cleaners we use on a daily basis (from shampoos and body washes to laundry detergent and more) actually contain a lot of toxic ingredients that can cause health risks to you, your loved ones, and wildlife over long periods of time.
The soap we wash our dishes with is no exception! So, what is the safest non-toxic dishwasher detergent? What’s the least toxic liquid dish soap?
Let’s find out.
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Are Dishwasher Detergent & Liquid Dish Soap Toxic?
Before we jump into our list of recommendations for safe dish soap, let’s take a look at the common problematic ingredients you’ll find in conventional dishwasher detergents and liquid dish soap.
Preservatives are good because they keep things like mold and bacteria from growing. However, some preservatives are safe (and just as effective), while others have been linked to health concerns. Here are some of the common ones to watch out for in dish soaps and detergents:
DMDM Hydantoin / Formaldehyde
We talked about DMDM Hydantoin in a recent article about shampoos. (It’s the subject of a recent lawsuit that TRÉSemme is facing because consumers have been losing their hair!)
The problem with DMDM hydantoin is that it slowly releases formaldehyde over time. It’s what called a formaldehyde-releasing preservative, or FRP.
Although formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance, the amount that exists in our bodies is very small. When we are exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde, it can lead to skin irritation. There is also some indication that it can contribute to cancer as well, although more research is needed to confirm this.
Ingredients like methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone are increasingly being used in cleaning products as antibacterials and antimicrobials. The problem with these two chemicals is that they are known irritants and can cause skin allergies upon contact.
This is another ingredient that’s used as a preservative. It can cause skin and throat irritation, is an allergen, and is also toxic to wildlife.
This is another common antibacterial ingredient found in liquid dish soap. It’s a known endocrine disruptor, which means it messes with hormones and can affect fertility and more. It’s also an asthmagen, is very toxic to aquatic life, and is a suspected carcinogen.
In the United States, the FDA banned triclosan for use in hand soap in 2017, but it’s still allowed in other products like toothpaste, body wash, hand sanitizer, and dish soap (which doesn’t make any sense).
When it comes to preservatives, citric acid is a much safer option. Derived from lemon juice, you’ll notice that citric acid is used in a lot of dishwasher detergents and soaps. It’s a natural cleansing agent that also acts as a preservative because it has antibacterial properties.
We talk about “fragrance” (also listed on ingredient labels as “parfum”) all. the. time. This ingredient is in sooo many personal care and household cleaning products, from laundry detergent and shampoo to candles and perfume, and more.
The big problem with fragrances are that the United States allows companies to include almost 4,000 different chemicals in a product under this vague umbrella of “fragrance.”
These chemicals include things like:
- phthalates and parabens, which are endocrine disruptors that can lead to infertility and more
- phenol, which is a neurotoxin
- BHA and ethoxylation ingredients, which are carcinogens
- linalool, which is a skin irritant
- and many more
“Fragrance” is not great for anyone, but it’s especially problematic for people with asthma, multiple chemical sensitivity, autoimmune conditions, or other sensitivities.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (And Other Ethoxylated Ingredients)
We’ve talked about surfactants in shampoo, body wash, and conditioner. A surfactant is an ingredient that gets your soap nice and sudsy. It’s also a cleaning agent and helps to keep product ingredients mixed together.
Two of the most common surfactants are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). SLS is an irritant, which is why many people (especially those with kids or sensitive skin) choose to skip it.
SLES is a more mild surfactant, which means it’s not as irritating on the skin. The problem with SLES and other ethoxylated ingredients (like PEG), however, is that in order to make it, it goes through a process called ethoxylation.
During this process, two chemicals are used that are known to cause serious health concerns: ethylene oxide, which is known to cause infertility and multiple types of cancer, and 1,4-dioxane, which is a carcinogen.
As an end product, SLES (as well as other ethoxylated ingredients like Polysorbate 20 and other chemicals that have “eth” in the name) can be contaminated with these two chemicals. However, because they’re not added intentionally, they would never be listed on the ingredient list.
Diethanolamine (DEA), monoethanolamine (MEA), and Triethanolamine (TEA) are three more ethoxylated ingredients that (in addition to possibly being contaminated with those two chemicals referenced above) can react with nitrates in dish soap in order to form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. These ingredients are also used as foaming agents and emulsifiers.
There are safer surfactant alternatives available that are just as effective. When it comes to dish soap and other cleaning products, look for things like lauryl glucoside, coco glucoside, myristyl glucoside, lauramine oxide, or decyl glucoside instead. These are just as effective in getting your dishes clean!
The colorants that make your dish soap blue, orange, or green are derived from petroleum and/or minerals from the Earth. Because of this, they can contain heavy metal residues (like lead, which is a neurotoxin; cadmium, which is a carcinogen, irritant, and linked to reproductive problems; and nickel, which is a very common allergen).
Not only that but there are other types of problematic residual chemicals that can end up in petroleum-derived products. PAHs, for example, are a family of chemicals that can result in everything from infertility and allergies to cancer and genetic defects.
On top of all of that, the petroleum industry as a whole is unsustainable and environmentally destructive. Although it’s currently unrealistic to completely rid ourselves of petroleum-based products, it’s always beneficial to move in that direction when we can!
There’s really no reason your Dawn dish soap needs to be that bright blue color—it’s just aesthetic. That’s why most of the non-toxic dish soap below is not colored.
Why Make the Switch to Non-Toxic Dishwasher Detergent and Non-Toxic Dish Soap?
The way we see it, there are two main reasons why you might want to consider swapping out your dish soap:
- Almost all soaps leave some sort of residue behind. That means even though you’re washing it stuff off of your pots, pans, and plates, you’re still likely to ingest at least a little bit of it (which means you want to make sure it’s safe!)
- Think about where all that soap goes when you wash it down the drain. It enters into our waterways! This means it not only will affect aquatic life, but it will end up right back in our homes once it passes through the sewage systems and is refiltered. Even though modern water filter systems have vastly improved (well, in many cities if not all), they can’t get nearly everything out. (For example, an increasing amount of pharmaceuticals are found in our water supply.)
What is the Best Non-Toxic Dishwasher Detergent? (Our List of Recommended Brands for Your Home)
If you’re looking for non-toxic dishwasher detergent packs, these are a great option. They are biodegradable, fragrance-free, and made in the USA.
Dropps is another great option for non-toxic dishwasher detergent pods. (Although, we only recommend the unscented version.) These work really well, and if you sign up for a subscription, they are pretty affordable, too (you can get down to about 2 cents per pack, depending on how many you buy).
AspenClean’s Dishwasher Detergent Pods are the first to be Verified by the Environmental Working Group, indicating their safety. These are fragrance-free, fully biodegradable, Made in The USA, septic-safe, and Ecocert certified.
These dishwasher packs are made in Illinois and contain only three ingredients. They’re graywater-friendly and biodegradable, too.
This is a great option for non-toxic dishwasher detergent powder. Mama Suds also only contains four ingredients. It’s also biodegradable and safe for septic systems.
Fit Organic Free & Clear (available in stores like Walmart)
If you prefer non-toxic dishwasher gel instead of pods, check out Fit Organic Free & Clear. This is one of the only safe ones that you can pick up at a store if you need to!
Puracy’s Dishwasher Pods are actually made with a 3rd generation formula (improved upon after feedback from real Puracy customers after the first two generations), and developed by a chemist with more than 20 years in dishwasher detergent formulation experience. Plus, they’re biodegradable and safe for gray water and septic systems.
(Note that we only recommend the dishwasher detergent, not the dish soap. We love a lot of Puracy’s products, but unfortunately, their liquid dish soap contains Benzisothiazolinone.)
The Best Brands for Non-Toxic Dishwashing Liquid
Made Of’s fragrance-free foaming dish soap is a plant-based cleanser that’s a favorite of many parents!
Meliora carries the MADE SAFE Certification, which is one of the best third-party certifications out there for safe products. This is a plastic-free dishwashing block. You can leave it sitting next to your faucet (preferably on a soap dish), then just rub your dish brush on the block to pick up the suds before you wash your dishes.
Dishwashing blocks are just as effective at cleaning dishes—some people prefer them and others don’t! You might have to try it out for yourself and see what you think.
The Branch Basics All-Purpose Concentrate formula is good for so many things—including washing your dishes! Just put the Concentrate in a foaming soap dispenser and a little will go a LONG way. So many people love Branch Basics because this stuff really does work well!
In addition to their Dishwasher Pods, AspenClean’s liquid dish soap is a great non-toxic option too. They’re fully biodegradable, EWG Verified, ECOCERT Certified, septic safe, and made in Canada. They have a Lavender and Lemongrass scent along with a Eucalyptus and Rosemary scent, which are made with plant oils instead of synthetic fragrances. They have an unscented version, too.
Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap is one of the best all-purpose soaps you can get. It’s safe, sustainable, and can be used for so many different things. Plus, it comes in several different scents, so you can choose your favorite.
Molly’s Suds unscented soap bar is another great low waste, plastic-free, and biodegradable option.
Eco-Me (available at stores like Walmart)
This is one of the only safe brands you’ll be able to find in stores. It’s manufactured in the US and is greywater and septic safe.
Common Goods’ dish soap comes in Unscented, Lavender, and Bergamot. It can cut through grease on pots and pans, but it also gentle enough to use as a fruits & veggies wash as well.
Plus, it’s concentrated and comes in a glass bottle and refill pack to help you cut down on plastic!
Is Dawn Dish Soap Toxic?
Popular conventional dish soaps and detergents like Dawn, Cascade, Palmolive, and Ajax contain a lot of the potentially toxic ingredients listed above. Let’s look at the ingredients in the original blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. For reference, the ingredients in bold are either on MADE SAFE’s Banned List or have a C rating or worse in EWG’s database.
Water, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, C10-16 Alkyldimethylamine Oxide, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Alcohol, Denat., PPG-26, Sodium Chloride, PEI-14 PEG-24/PPG-16 COPOLYMER, FRAGRANCE, Phenoxyethanol, Methylisothiazolinone, Acid Blue 9
In other words: don’t trust the super cute ducklings that Dawn is always waving in front of your face. Dawn is not as safe (for humans or for wildlife) as you might think.
Is Mrs. Meyer’s Dish Soap Non-Toxic?
Unfortunately, when it comes to popular “green” brands like Mrs. Meyer’s, consumers often become victims of greenwashing.
When it comes to brands like this (along with Seventh Generation, Method, etc.), SOME of their products are safer than their conventional alternatives, whereas other products still contain lots of problematic ingredients. This can cause a lot of confusion for customers.
When it comes to Mrs. Meyer’s Dish Soap, it doesn’t make the cut. Let’s look at some of the problematic ingredients in their Lemon Verbena Dish Soap (most of these ingredients you will recognize from above!):
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Polysorbate 20, methyl ionones, tetramethyl acetyloctahydronaphthalenes, 3,7-dimethyloct-6-enenitrile, Methylisothiazolinone, Benzisothiazolinone
What About Better Life Dish Soap?
We’ve been asked about this one because both their dishwasher detergent and their liquid dish soap are recommended by many others as great non-toxic options. Although these products are definitely better than conventional dish soaps, we haven’t listed them here simply because their liquid dish soap contains methylisothiazolinone and their dishwasher gel contains methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone.
These seem to be the only potentially problematic ingredients in Better Life’s dish soap (they don’t contain fragrance, phthalates, etc.), so it’s far from the worst brand to use.
DIY Non-Toxic Dishwasher Detergent Recipe
If you’d rather make your own non-toxic dishwasher detergent, it’s pretty easy to do!
Here’s what you need:
- 1 cup Sodium Carbonate
- 1 cup Baking Soda
- 1 cup Citric Acid
- 1 tsp liquid Castile Soap (like Dr. Bronner’s listed above)
- 25 drops of your essential oil of choice (lemon is great for dishwasher detergent!)
Simply stir together all the dry ingredients first, then add the Castile soap and essential oils and mix well. Use 1 tablespoon of detergent per load (or up to your dishwasher’s detergent cup full line). Store in an air-tight container (like a mason jar).
When it comes to dishwasher detergent and dishwashing liquid, stick with the safer brands listed above to reduce the amount of toxins in your home and waterways while still getting your dishes squeaky clean.