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How can you find non-toxic dishwashing soap? In this unique guide to non-toxic dish soap, you will learn how to distinguish among what are, in my opinion, the worst, bad, better, and best dishwashing detergents. Also, you will learn about specific ingredients that make dish soap potentially unsafe. Plus, you will see how Dawn, Mrs. Meyer’s, Method, Seventh Generation, Eco-Me dish soap, and others compare to one another. Additionally, you will find several options of the safest dish soap to choose from. For dishwasher detergents, check out my post 5 Best Non-Toxic Dishwasher Detergents, and for hand soap, visit my Non-Toxic Hand Soap Guide.
Non-Toxic Dishwashing Soap
Growing up, I used lye-based natural dish soap for washing the dishes. On the one hand, it looked nasty, had a pungent smell (because it had no synthetic fragrance), and got soggy. But on the other hand, it cleaned well, had no plastic packaging, and posed no hazards to health or the environment. In fact, we used lye soap for laundry and personal care as well!
When “fancy” bottles with dishwashing liquid filled the market, lye soap became unpopular. If only we had stopped to think what we were discharging into our waterways and allowing back into our kitchens through tap water! It is time we started using non-toxic dish soap again. Fortunately, there are some options of non-toxic dishwashing soap that I consider safe for you and the environment. How can we know that?
Well, the only way to assess the safety of a product is to read its ingredient label and draw conclusions. Granted, one should know individual ingredients to be able to estimate the safety of the entire product. This requires lots of research and studying, and who has the time and desire for that?
As it happens, I just love doing ingredient research, diving into scientific sources and chemical databases. Indeed, I have been doing it since 2013 and know a thing or two about the consumer goods market.
Before talking about the worst, bad, better, and best dish detergent options, let us discuss the ingredients that may affect their safety.
Ingredients To Avoid In Dishwashing Liquid
To begin with, in an ideal world, the safest dish soap would have close to none of any concerning ingredients. However, in the real world, we must take many factors into consideration.
For example, non-toxic dishwashing soap may not work in hard water. Unless you have a water softener, you may need to use dishwashing detergents with some harsher chemicals to get the job done. (To know more about the hardness of your water and what to do about it, refer to Is Hard Water Safe to Drink? blog post.)
In addition, the same ingredients arouse a different level of concern in different products. Thus, I would try to avoid skincare products with specific ingredients because I don’t want my skin to absorb them. But in dishwashing liquid, the level of concern for some of these ingredients is lower if you rinse your dishes well and wear gloves. That is why you will see some of these ingredients even in the dishwashing products from the “better” and “best” categories.
Generally speaking, I divide concerning ingredients into two main groups:
- ❌of high to medium concern and
- ⚠️of low concern.
|Level of Concern||Ingredient|
|❌||Fragrance (both natural and synthetic fragrance)|
|⚠️||I do not see preservatives.|
Can There Be Colorants In Non-Toxic Dish Soap?
In my opinion, colorants do not belong in non-toxic dishwashing soap for the following reasons.
First, colorants may contain residues of heavy metals. To clarify, color additives are derived from petroleum or minerals, both of which come from the Earth’s crust (source). Because of industrial pollution, heavy metals are in water, soil, and air, and thus are a natural part of the Earth’s crust. As a result, there may be trace amounts of heavy metals in colorants used in dish soap.
Second, colorants may contain residues of petroleum-based carcinogenic contaminants such as PAHs and benzo[a]pyrene (CAS number 50-32-8). According to the European Chemicals Agency, benzo[a]pyrene poses hazards to health or the environment. Indeed, it may cause genetic defects and cancer, and may damage fertility and the fetus. Also, it may cause an allergic skin reaction and is very toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects. (Learn more about colorants in my post Heavy Metals in Makeup.)
Ultimately, how vital is color for dishwashing soap? Well, I do not think it is important at all. That is why you will not find dish soap with colorants among non-toxic dishwashing detergent options. Neither will you find natural or synthetic fragrance among the safest dish soap ingredients, and here is why.
Does Fragrance Belong In Safe Dishwashing Liquid?
I do not believe fragrance belongs in non-toxic dish soap. As you may know, “fragrance” is not just one ingredient but a blend of multiple ingredients. It is up to the manufacturers to disclose or not disclose them because of the “trade secrets” loop (source).
Further, the International Fragrance Association Transparency List enumerates more than 3600 ingredients used to create fragrances. The reason there are so many ingredients in fragrances is that besides the scent-releasing chemicals, there are also supporting ingredients, such as:
- fixatives, and
Among these ingredients, there are chemicals associated not only with allergic reactions but also with endocrine disruption and even cancer. According to the European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (EU SCCS), fragrance mixes may cause allergic, irritant, and airborne contact dermatitis. In addition, they may cause photosensitivity, immediate contact reactions (contact urticaria), and pigmented contact dermatitis. And if you think “natural” fragrance is safer, read my post on natural fragrance to make an informed opinion.
Plus, do you really want your food and drinks to taste like synthetic fragrance in your dishwashing soap? Even before I started learning about toxins in products, my husband would get special fragrance-free dishwashing soap for his wine glasses not to compromise the taste of the wine. So, in my opinion, non-toxic dishwashing soap should not have fragrance on its list of ingredients.
Some other ingredients that I do not think should be among the clean dish soap ingredients are ethoxylated ingredients.
Why Shouldn’t Ethoxylated Ingredients Be In Non-Toxic Dish Soap?
To begin with, ethoxylated ingredients result from the process of ethoxylation that makes them less harsh on the skin. The process of ethoxylation involves the reaction of carcinogenic ethylene oxide with other ingredients. A by-product of this reaction is carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane that can stay in the end product as a contaminant and a “hidden ingredient” because it is not listed among the ingredients. (Learn more about hidden ingredients in cosmetics here.)
Additionally, FDA skin absorption studies showed that 1,4-dioxane can penetrate animal and human skin when applied in certain preparations. Even though it is possible to reduce or even remove 1,4-dioxane from a product through the vacuum-stripping process, we cannot know for sure if it has been done correctly.
You can identify ethoxylated ingredients by the following indicators:
- PEG, PPG + number (e.g., PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil)
- Polysorbate + number (e.g., Polysorbate-80)
- Ending “-eth” +/- number (e.g., Laureth-7, Sodium Laureth Sulfate)
Note that Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate are different chemicals. While Sodium Laureth Sulfate (CAS # 9004-82-4) is made by the process of ethoxylation and, therefore, is concerning due to potential contamination with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (CAS # 151-21-3) is not an ethoxylated ingredient and poses no such concern (in my opinion).
Of course, if you are using dishwashing liquid with ethoxylated ingredients, it does not mean you will get sick. Remember to rinse the dishes well, though, and wear gloves. However, ideally, you want a non-toxic dishwashing detergent without ethoxylated ingredients (and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives).
Formaldehyde-Releasers Are Not Okay For Toxin-Free Dish Soap
For your information, the following preservatives may release small amounts of formaldehyde into a product over time:
- Diazolidinyl Urea
- DMDM Hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl Urea
- Sodium Hydroxylmethylglycinate, and
To clarify, the ECHA describes formaldehyde as toxic if swallowed, inhaled, or if it comes in contact with the skin. Moreover, it causes severe skin burns and eye damage and may cause an allergic skin reaction. Above all, it may cause cancer and is suspected of causing genetic defects. (Learn how to protect yourself from formaldehyde in products here.)
In sum, the hazards caused by formaldehyde go against the very purpose of non-toxic dishwashing soap. Hence, to me it seems logical that safe dish soap must not contain formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.
What about the “zolinone” preservatives – are they okay? Read on!
What If Your Dishwashing Liquid Contains “Zolinone” Preservatives?
To emphasize, a liquid product must contain preservatives to protect it from mold and bacteria. If your liquid dishwashing detergent contains some of these preservatives, be sure to wear gloves and rinse the dishes well. The information below will help you make informed decisions about the products you will buy.
First, benzisothiazolinone is a skin sensitizer and may cause eye damage, skin irritation, an allergic skin reaction, and is very toxic to aquatic life. (Learn more in my post about benzisothiazolinone.)
Second, methylisothiazolinone (MI) is a skin sensitizer and may cause severe skin burns, eye damage, and an allergic skin reaction. Besides, it is fatal if inhaled, toxic if swallowed, and very toxic to aquatic life. (Learn more in my post about methylisothiazolinone).
Third, methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) is a skin sensitizer and may cause an allergic skin reaction and respiratory irritation. Additionally, it is fatal if swallowed or inhaled, causes severe skin burns and eye damage, and is very toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects. (Learn more in my post about methylchloroisothiazolinone.)
Next, octylisothiazolinone is a skin sensitizer and may cause serious eye damage and an allergic skin reaction. Also, it is toxic if inhaled and is very toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects (ECHA).
Although these preservatives are clearly not safe because they pose hazards to health or the environment, even safe dishwashing detergent must have some preservation system. Here is why.
When I Do Not See Preservatives In A Product
To begin, if what you consider non-toxic dish soap has water but no preservatives, it is not a good sign. The absence of preservatives is not an indicator of non-toxic dishwashing soap. On the contrary, without preservatives, there is a risk of bacterial contamination, which is a pretty serious matter. Even though they are invisible, bacteria can do harm to people with weak or developing immune systems. (Check out my overview of scientific studies on bacteria in the WaterWipes Baby Wipes post.)
Hence, if you do not see preservatives on a product’s label, it is a good idea to call the manufacturer (as I do). Once you find out how they prevent bacteria and mold growth in their products, it will determine which category the product belongs to.
For example, phenoxyethanol is a popular preservative because it is considered much safer than “zolinones” and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Yet, I have some reservations about it.
Is Phenoxyethanol Fine In Dishwashing Detergents?
In my opinion, phenoxyethanol is a “middle of the road” preservative, which means it is not the worst one. One of the main reasons I have reservations about it is its manufacturing process.
Indeed, as a product of a reaction between carcinogenic ethylene oxide and highly corrosive phenol, phenoxyethanol may contain residues of these specific ingredients. (Learn more about phenoxyethanol in skincare here.)
Personally, I avoid skincare products with phenoxyethanol, but I believe in dishwashing liquids it is okay as long as you wear gloves and rinse your dishes well. That is why I put some products that contain phenoxyethanol in the “best” dishwashing detergent category. Again, in an ideal world, non-toxic dish soap would have no concerning ingredients whatsoever. But in the real world, we want our non-toxic dishwashing soap to be effective, too.
What Is Wrong With The “Amidopropyl” Group Of Ingredients?
To start with, the ingredients from the “amidopropyl” group that some of the dishwashing liquids contain are:
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine
- Lauramidopropyl Betaine
- Cocamidopropylamine Oxide, and
- Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine.
Just as with phenoxyethanol, my concern with them lies within their manufacturing process and potential contaminants. Specifically, these surfactants may have 3,3-dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA) and amidopropyl dimethylamine (amidoamine) contaminants. As potential sensitizers, they arouse concerns even in tiny amounts. (Learn more about cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, cocamidopropyl betaine, and coco betaine here.)
However, in my opinion, dishwashing liquids with these ingredients should be okay. Just be sure to wear gloves and rinse your dishes well. That is why I put some products that contain “amidopropyl” ingredients in the “best” non-toxic dishwashing soap category.
Are Essential Oils In Non-Toxic Dish Soap A Serious Concern?
Personally, I do not mind small amounts of essential oils in my skincare, personal care, and beauty products.
At the same time, I know that there are people sensitive to essential oils and scents. It is my job to give you all the information I have so you can make informed decisions.
Thus, according to this critical review on the use of essential oils in cosmetics and personal care products, essential oils have an allergy potential and may cause skin sensitivity and irritations. In my free blog post about natural fragrance, you can read about a study on mice exposure to essential oils and its contradictory results.
All in all, if you are not allergic to essential oils, I believe it is okay for you to use non-toxic dishwashing soap that contains them. That is why I added some products with essential oils in the “best” dishwashing detergent category. Alternatively, if you are sensitive to essential oils and scents, it is a good idea to stay away from products containing them. (If you are pregnant, read my Helpful List Of Chemicals To Avoid During Pregnancy where I discuss essential oils as well.)
However, again, gourmet food chefs and anybody who enjoys fine wine would not use them. They could affect the way your food and beverage taste.
Now, let’s determine the safest dish soap based on my opinions on the safety of ingredients.
Dishwashing Liquids In The “Worst” Category
If you are looking for non-toxic dish soap, the following are not for you, in my opinion:
- Ajax Ultra Triple Action Orange Liquid Dish Soap, and
- Dawn Original Dishwashing Liquid.
The reason I placed them in the “worst” category is that they contain what are, in my opinion, the most concerning ingredients, including colorants. Even so, the good news is that neither of them has formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. See their concerning ingredients in the table below. And if you use these products, please wear gloves and rinse your dishes well.
|Ajax Ultra Triple Action Orange Liquid Dish Soap||❌Colorants/Dyes (undisclosed)|
|Dawn Original Dishwashing Liquid||❌Acid Blue 9|
❌ Ethoxylated ingredients
Dish Soaps In The “Bad” Category
Although I would not call these products completely safe dish soap, they are slightly better, in my opinion. Namely, they have no colorants (and no formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, of course!). If you use them, remember to wear gloves and rinse your dishes well! See the table below for the products in this category and their ingredients of concern. (And stay put for the most non-toxic dishwashing detergent option!)
|Cleancult Liquid Dish Soap, Scented||❌Fragrance|
❌ Benzisothiazolinone ❌Methylisothiazolinone
|Dawn Free & Clear Dishwashing Liquid, Lavender Wisp||❌Fragrance|
|Dawn Free & Clear Dishwashing Liquid, Lemon Essence||❌Fragrance|
|Grab Green Liquid Dish Soap – Scented||❌Ethoxylated ingredient: Sodium Laureth Sulfate |
|Grab Green Liquid Dish Soap, Unscented||❌Ethoxylated ingredient: Sodium Laureth Sulfate |
|Method Dish Soap, Pink Grapefruit (learn more about Method cleaning products here)||❌Fragrance compounds|
❌Polymeric yellow, polymeric pink
|Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Dish Soap, Eucalyptus (learn more about Mrs. Meyer’s cleaning products here)||❌Fragrance compounds|
❌Ethoxylated ingredient (PEG-10 Sorbitan Laurate)
|Seventh Generation Dish Liquid, Scented||❌Fragrance compounds|
Non-Toxic Dishwashing Detergents In The “Better” Category
Though these are not completely non-toxic dishwashing soap options, in my opinion, they are better than those in the “bad” category. Specifically, they have no colorants, fragrance, or formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. They may contain one or two ingredients of high or medium concern and one or two ingredients of low concern. (Please, use gloves and rinse the dishes well.) Also, for some of them, I still have questions about their preservation system.
|Attitude Dishwashing Liquid, Unscented||My long-term concern with Attitude was that I didn’t use to see any preservatives in their dishwashing liquids. In fact, when contacted, an Attitude representative tried to explain why their dishwashing products didn’t need any preservatives. Recently though, Attitude has started disclosing (or using) preservatives: sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. Yet, some retailers (such as iHerb) either sell old inventory or don’t list preservatives. I believe that with the preservatives, Attitude’s unscented dishwashing products are safe. However, my previous experience with this company has not instilled enough trust in me to transfer their dish washing products to the “best” category.|
|Eco-Me Dish Soap, Fragrance-Free||⚠️Potassium Sorbate preservative is effective for mold but not so much for various bacteria.|
|Eco-Me Dish Soap, Scented||⚠️Potassium Sorbate preservative is effective for mold but not so much for various bacteria.|
⚠️Natural Plant Essential Oils: non-disclosure
|Ecover Zero Dish Soap||❌Methylisothiazolinone|
|Palmolive Ultra Dishwashing Liquid Dish Soap, Pure + Clear Fragrance Free||❌Ethoxylated ingredient: Sodium Laureth Sulfate|
⚠️ Lauramidopropyl Betaine
|Rosey Dish Soap (Thrive Market)||⚠️I do not see any ingredients that can act as preservatives.|
⚠️The scented version has essential oils.
|Seventh Generation Dish Liquid, Free and Clear||❌Benzisothiazolinone|
Beware Of Ingredient Nondisclosure
In search of non-toxic dish soap, it is important to check the product’s ingredients either on the product’s label or on the manufacturer’s website. In other words, retailers’ websites, blog posts, or databases may not have accurate information on the product. Let’s take Ecover Zero Dish Soap as an example. If you look at the EWG Ecover Zero Dish Soap rating here and the screenshot from Vitacost below, you will not see any “zolinone” ingredients.
However, on the US Ecover website, there is full disclosure required by the state of California. And this list shows methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone.
So, it is always a good idea to turn to the manufacturer’s website or contact the manufacturer directly to confirm the ingredients of a product.
Non-Toxic Dishwashing Soap In The “Best” Category
I consider the products below as close as you can get to a truly non-toxic dish soap. See the table below for the names of the products and their ingredients of low concern (in my opinion).
|Biokleen Hand Dish Liquid, Free & Clear (buy on iHerb with $10 or 10% discount)||⚠️Cocamidopropyl Betaine|
|Blue Land Dish Soap Powder (comes in a paper bag; designed to work even in hard water; learn more here)||No concerning ingredients (be careful not to inhale the airborne dust of the powder, though)|
|Branch Basics Concentrate (READ15 code for starter kits; see happy customers’ comments here)||No concerning ingredients|
|Dr. Bronner’s Castile Liquid Soap, Unscented (may not work well in hard water; buy on iHerb with $10 or 10% discount)||⚠️Natural fragrance in Rose and Almond ⚠️Essential oils in other scented ones|
|Earthley Dish Soap Bar, Unscented (soap-based and, thus, may not work in hard water)||⚠️Lemon essential oil and linalool in Lemon-Thyme version|
|ECOS Dish Soap – Free & Clear (learn more about ECOS dishwashing liquid here)||⚠️Cocamidopropylamine Oxide ⚠️Phenoxyethanol|
|MADE OF Organic Foaming Dish Soap (soap-based and, thus, may not work in hard water)||⚠️Essential oils (organic) in scented versions|
|MamaSuds Castile Soap (soap-based; thus, may not work in hard water)||⚠️Essential oils in scented versions|
|Meliora Dishwashing Soap Bar (no plastic at all; soap-based, which means it may not work in hard water)||⚠️Lemon essential oil in the scented one|
Conclusion About Non-Toxic Dish Soap
Non-Toxic Dishwashing Soap Must Not Contain Colorants, Fragrance, Harsh Preservatives, Or Ethoxylated Ingredients.
To sum up, in my opinion, the best non-toxic dishwashing soap is the kind that uses as few potentially concerning ingredients as possible, such as lye-based natural dish soap. For clean dish soap to be effective, it is best to use soft water (consider purchasing a water softener).
Ideally, you want a glass container or paper packaging for bar soap instead of plastic. For instance, one of the dish soaps we use is Meliora Dishwashing Soap Bar because it is totally plastic-free. For soaking, I like using Branch Basics concentrate.
Please know that you can clean the whole house with the Branch Basics Concentrate (use the READ15 discount code for the premium, glass, or laundry starter kits). When I dilute it according to the instructions (more about that here), I get multiple safe cleaners for various purposes. It ends up being very economical! And the best part is that Branch Basics offers glass spray bottles to keep your diluted concentrate solutions!
For dishwasher detergents, check out my post 5 Best Non-Toxic Dishwasher Detergents, and for hand soap, visit my Non-Toxic Hand Soap Guide. Browse the IRLFY blog and visit our shop to find non-toxic household, skincare, babywear, and other items. Also, book a service if you need any help with your healthy living journey. Finally, check out my e-books, particularly the Savvy Consumer Superpower e-book, that will help you make informed decisions about certain purchases.
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