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 find out which ingredients make dish soap potentially unsafe and why. Specifically, you will see how Dawn, Mrs. Meyer’s, Method, Better Life, Seventh Generation, Eco-Me dish soap, and others compare to one another. Plus, you will find several options of the safest dish soap to choose from. To get my review of 73 popular DISHWASHER detergents, check out my Dishwasher Detergent Guide, and for hand soap, visit my Non-Toxic Hand Soap Guide.
In this post:
- What is the healthiest dish soap to use?
- What ingredients should you avoid in dishwashing liquid?
- Can there be colorants in non-toxic dish soap?
- Does fragrance belong in safe dishwashing liquid?
- What are ethoxylated ingredients?
- Why are formaldehyde-releasing preservatives not okay for toxin-free dish soap?
- What if your dishwashing liquid contains “zolinone” preservatives?
- When I do not see preservatives in a product…
- Is phenoxyethanol fine in dishwashing detergents?
- What is wrong with the “amidopropyl” group of ingredients?
- Are essential oils in non-toxic dish soap a serious concern?
- Dishwashing Liquids in the Worst Category
- Dish Soaps in the Bad Category
- Non-Toxic Dishwashing Detergents in the Better Category
- What kind of dish soap is non-toxic?
- Non-Toxic Dishwashing Soap in the Best Category
- Conclusion about Non-Toxic Dish Soap
What is the healthiest dish soap to use?
Growing up, I used lye soap for washing the dishes. Although it looked nasty, had a pungent smell, and got soggy, it cleaned well, left no plastic, and was safe. In fact, we used lye soap for both laundry and personal care!
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. On my website, you can learn about the steps I take in my research and check out my e-books that will help you make informed decisions about products.
Before talking about the worst, bad, better, and best dish detergent options, let us discuss the ingredients that may affect their safety.
What ingredients should you 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. (Check your community’s water quality report to know the hardness of your water). Unless you have a water softener, you may need to use dishwashing detergents with some harsher chemicals to get the job done.
In addition, the same ingredients arouse a different level of concern in, say, skincare and dishwashing products. Thus, I would try to avoid all the concerning ingredients in my skincare products because they stay on the skin and get absorbed. Conversely, if you rinse your dishes well and wear gloves, the level of concern of some of these ingredients in dishwashing liquid is lower. That is why you will see some of these ingredients even in the dishwashing products from “better” and “best” categories.
|Level of Concern||Ingredient|
|⚠️||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 may cause genetic defects and cancer, and may damage fertility and the fetus. Also, it is very toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects and may cause an allergic skin reaction. (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 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 2022 Transparency List enumerates 3,619 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. Thus, they include antioxidants, preservatives, diluents, solvents, fixatives, and colors. 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, 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.
Plus, think about it. Do you really want the taste of your foods and beverages to be changed based on fragrance in dishwashing soap? Even before I started to learn about toxins in products, my husband would get special fragrance-free dishwashing soap for his wine glasses. It made no sense to spend a lot of money on nuanced wine and then have the taste affected by a dishwashing detergent.
Therefore, in my opinion, non-toxic dishwashing soap should not have fragrance on its list of ingredients. And ethoxylated ingredients are some other ingredients that I do not think should be among the clean dish soap ingredients.
What are ethoxylated ingredients?
For starters, how can you spot ethoxylated ingredients on a product’s ingredient list? By looking for the following in the names of ingredients:
- PEG and a number (e.g., PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil)
- Polysorbate (e.g., Polysorbate-80)
- The “-eth” ending with a number or without (e.g., Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Laureth-7)
In a nutshell, ethoxylated ingredients are a product of the process of ethoxylation. It involves the reaction of carcinogenic ethylene oxide with other ingredients to make them less harsh on the skin.
Unfortunately, a by-product of this reaction is carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane that can stay in the end product as a contaminant. In a way, it is 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. Hypothetically, we could test each batch, but how feasible is that for us as consumers to do?
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).
Why are formaldehyde-releasing preservatives 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
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, it seems logical to me that safe dish soap must not contain formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. What about the “zolinone” preservatives – are they fine? 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 purchase.
First, benzisothiazolinone is a skin sensitizer and may cause eye damage, skin irritation, an allergic skin reaction, and is very toxic to aquatic life (ECHA).
Second, 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).
Third, 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 (ECHA).
Next, 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 (ECHA).
Further, both MCI and MI have been associated with contact allergy. Thus, MI was named by the American Contact Dermatitis Society as the “Contact Allergen of the Year” for 2013. Also, lab studies on the brain cells of mammals suggest that MI may be neurotoxic.
Bottom line, even non-toxic 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. Indeed, 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 label, it is a good idea to call the manufacturer. 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.
Personally, I avoid skincare products with phenoxyethanol. However, 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 the 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
- 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?
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 at hand so you would make informed decisions.
Thus, according to this critical review on the use of essential oils in cosmetics and personal care products, essential oils have a strong 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 dishwashing soap that contains them. That is why I included 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.
However, again, gourmet food chefs would not use them, and anybody who enjoys fine wine. They could affect the way your food and beverages taste.
Now, let us look at the products in each category and determine what, in my opinion, is 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 dishwashing soap, the following are not for you, in my opinion:
- Ajax Ultra Triple Action Orange Liquid Dish Soap
- Dawn Original Dishwashing Liquid
The reason I put 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 ingredients in the table below (if you use them, please wear gloves and rinse your dishes well):
|Ajax Ultra Triple Action Orange Liquid Dish Soap||❌Colorants/Dyes (undisclosed) |
❌Ethoxylated ingredient (Ammonium C12-15 Pareth Sulfate)
|Dawn Original Dishwashing Liquid||❌Acid Blue 9 |
❌ Ethoxylated ingredients (Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PPG-26, PEI-14 PEG-24/PPG-16 Copolymer)
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. (And stay put for the most non-toxic dishwashing detergent option!)
|Better Life Dish Soap, Scented||Used to list no preservatives; started listing or using them on their website (not on the iHerb online retailer) |
❌Fragrance (undisclosed ingredients)
|Dawn Free & Clear Dishwashing Liquid, Lavender Wisp||❌Fragrance |
❌Ethoxylated ingredients (Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PPG-26, PEI-14 PEG-24/PPG-16 Copolymer)
|Dawn Free & Clear Dishwashing Liquid, Lemon Essence||❌Fragrance |
❌Ethoxylated ingredients (Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PPG-26, PEI-14 PEG-24/PPG-16 Copolymer)
|Grab Green Liquid Dish Soap – Scented||❌Fragrance |
❌Ethoxylated ingredient: Sodium Laureth Sulfate ❌Benzisothiazolinone
|Grab Green Liquid Dish Soap, Unscented||❌Ethoxylated ingredient: Sodium Laureth Sulfate ❌Benzisothiazolinone |
|Method Dish Soap (learn more about Method cleaning products here)||❌Fragrance compounds|
❌Unsulfated material: ingredient non-disclosure
|Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Dish Soap about (learn more about Mrs. Meyer’s cleaning products here)||❌Fragrance compounds|
❌Ethoxylated ingredient (Polysorbate 20)
|Seventh Generation Dish Liquid, Scented||❌Fragrance |
Non-Toxic Dishwashing Detergents in the Better Category
Again, though these are not completely non-toxic dish 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. (More about that in the next section.)
|Attitude Baby Dish Soap, Unscented Attitude Dish Soap, Unscented (buy on iHerb with $5 or 5% discount)||⚠️I do not see preservatives and did not receive any convincing answer from them about that.|
|Better Life Dish Soap, Unscented||Used to list no preservatives; started listing or using them on their website (not on iHerb) |
|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 |
What kind of dish soap is non-toxic?
In my opinion, liquid non-toxic dish soap must have a preservation system. As we have discussed above, preservatives are important in liquid products because they protect the product from mold and bacteria.
For your information, I always contact manufacturers when I have questions about their ingredients. Since we are trying to find the most non-toxic dishwashing soap, I contacted the manufacturers of the products with a questionable preservation system.
To clarify, I contacted Attitude, Better Life, and Eco-Me with a question about preservatives in their products. However, I did not receive any convincing answers regarding a preservation system in their dishwashing liquids. As a safe product formulation consultant, I rely on my professional expertise to evaluate their answers. Therefore, until I get their feedback, I cannot put these products in the best dishwashing detergents category.
As for Ecover Zero Dish Soap, you may not see the full list of ingredients on some retail websites or on the bottle label. For instance, check out the EWG Ecover Zero Dish Soap rating here and the screenshot from Vitacost below. There are no “zolinones” in these descriptions.
However, on the US Ecover website, there is full disclosure required by the state of California. And this list shows “zolinone” ingredients.
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 $5 or 5% discount)||⚠️Cocamidopropyl Betaine |
|Branch Basics Concentrate (works in hard water)||No concerning ingredients|
|Cleancult Liquid Dish Soap, Scented (bonus: eco-friendly packaging)||⚠️Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine ⚠️Phenoxyethanol |
|Dr. Bronner’s Castile Liquid Soap, Unscented (buy on iHerb with $5 or 5% discount), (may not work in hard water)||⚠️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 mean it may not work in hard water)||⚠️Lemon essential oil in the scented one|
Conclusion about Non-Toxic Dish Soap
To sum up, in my opinion, the best non-toxic dishwashing soap is the kind that uses as few potentially concerning ingredients as possible. Definitely, it must not contain colorants, fragrance, harsh preservatives, or ethoxylated ingredients. For clean dish soap to be effective, it is best to use soft water (maybe, consider purchasing a water softener).
Of course, ideally, we want a glass container or paper packaging (in case of a soap bar) instead of plastic. Thus, 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 as well as Dr. Bronner’s unscented soap.
Please know that you can clean the whole house with the Branch Basics Concentrate (use the READ15 discount code for the premium starter kit, glass starter kit, or laundry starter kit). 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!
To get my review of 73 popular DISHWASHER detergents, check out my Dishwasher Detergent Guide.
As always, you are welcome to visit the IRLFY shop to find non-toxic household, skincare, babywear, and other items. Also, you can book a personal consultation with me if you need any help with your healthy living journey. Finally, check out my e-books, which will help you make informed decisions about making certain purchases.