What’s the most fun part of doing dishes? Yeah, we couldn’t come up with one either! But the only thing less fun may be researching non-toxic dishwasher detergent! Luckily, we love researching this stuff. So without further ado, here are the top ingredients to avoid when choosing a non-toxic dishwasher detergent and three of our current favorite products.
The top ingredients to avoid when choosing a non-toxic dishwasher detergent
- Fragrances: The word “fragrance” seems simple enough. But in reality, each fragrance is made up of many ingredients, sometimes hundreds, which don’t have to be disclosed on ingredient labels because they’re considered “trade secrets”. Phthalates are common in both “natural” and “synthetic” fragrances because they’re what make scents last, and they’ve been linked to very serious health issues including hormone-disruption. The presence of “fragrances” in your dishwashing detergent means that your soap could cause asthma, allergies, and endocrine disruption as well as cancer, reproductive toxicity, and other sensitivities. Fragrances may make your dishes smell clean but in reality they aren’t making them any cleaner, and are only adding health risks into your detergent.
- Polyacrylates: The concern around these are the impurities that tend to coexist with them, including acrylic acid, 2-ethylhexyl acrylate, and methacrylic acid. Acrylic acid is known for causing eye damage and severe burns as well as allergic dermatitis and respiratory irritation. It’s also toxic to aquatic life.
- Methylisothiazolinone – This preservative is common in detergents labeled as “natural” even though it’s linked with inhalation toxicity, dangerous allergic reactions and possible neurotoxicity. Again because cleaning product manufacturers aren’t required to list all their ingredients, it’s hard to know what products this is in. Our advice is to look for non-toxic dishwasher detergent that says it is preservative-free or MIT free.
- Benzisothiazolinone: This is an antimicrobial agent found in personal care products and cleaning products. It’s notorious as a skin, eye, and lung irritant and it’s also an environmental pollutant that’s toxic to fish.
- Sodium hypochlorite is also known as bleach. It is used because of its broad spectrum antimicrobial function. Sodium hypochlorite is corrosive to eyes and skin, can cause throat irritation and gastric burns, is a respiratory irritant and is associated with acute or chronic bronchitis. OSHA requires that workers use it only while wearing a mask and gloves and it is deadly when swallowed by children (and it is one of the most common chemicals accidentally swallowed by children). When mixed with other cleaning agents like ammonia, deadly chlorine vapors are emitted.
- Dyes that make a dish detergent look innocently blue, yellow, orange, green aren’t doing anything other than attempting to give you the perception that the product is more effective. They don’t actually make the performance of the detergent any better, and in fact introduce significant health risks that you’ll want to avoid.
Our Top Pick: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Dishwasher Pods offer a safer alternative to conventional dishwasher detergents in a convenient pod form. Liquid soaps are more likely to contain preservatives, so the pod helps you avoid those, while also avoiding the hassle of powdered detergent and struggle to measure the right amount! No chlorine, phthalates or synthetic fragrances and a resealable pouch make this product one of our favorites in the category.
Nobody’s Perfect: This formula is lightly fragranced with essential oils, which can be allergens. The oils are derived from citrus fruit, so should be avoided if you have family members with citrus allergies in your home.
Honest Company Auto Dishwasher Detergent Gel, Free & Clear is a more traditional gel detergent for those that love ‘em.
Nobody’s Perfect: the product contains Caprylyl/Myristyl Glucoside which, in addition to being a really hard ingredient to pronounce, is a surfactant which helps “solubilize” oils into water (when ordinarily they would reject each other). There isn’t a ton of data, and the EWG gives the product a top score, but they may be respiratory irritants, which is something to consider for those with asthma or other respiratory conditions.Mama Suds Automatic Dishwasher Powder is a safe, vegan, eco-friendly and 100% biodegradable formula made from simple, natural ingredients. And the brand offers a $5 sample so you can test it out in your machine with your water to ensure that it works for you.
Nobody’s Perfect: Sometimes natural products need a little help and don’t perform as well in hard or well water. Make sure you try it out and follow their recommendation to use a little white vinegar in the rinse cycle for best results.
Next time you’re in the grocery store, make finding a non-toxic dishwasher detergent easier with the EWG’s Healthy Living app. Just scan the barcode on a product to see an ingredient breakdown on it and over 200,000 other products and how they rate in terms of safety. You can also check their database here. And don’t forget to check out our non-toxic product guides, created to help take the guesswork out of picking non-toxic products for your family.