The expectation that a dishwashing detergent should clean the dishes is normal, but it seems that it may go beyond that — and not in a good way. Knowing how the job is getting done is important, which means you may need to take a little time to understand just how products work and if they are safe. (And also why a homemade dishwasher detergent is the best option of all.)
Research shows that many conventional dishwashing detergents contain some ingredients that are not only unsafe for you and your family, but are unsafe for the environment. Sometimes, what we don’t see is worse than we think, such as remembering that what goes down your drain may end up in water areas and reservoirs that affects the life within that bed of water. And, it may come back to the faucet!
However, there are questions as to whether so-called eco-cleaners actually get your dishes clean. Additionally, it seems that some green products may leave some ingredients out of their labeling, making it a bit deceptive to the consumer. But before we disregard the greener approach, let’s talk about the problems with conventional dishwasher detergents. (1)
9 Problems with Conventional Dishwasher Detergents
The concerns with conventional dishwasher detergents include some of the so-called green ones. Below, I have listed a few of the ingredients that have lead to the biggest concerns, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
You may have heard of phosphates. They are known for doing a great job of providing a spot-free glass right out of the dishwasher, but that comes at a price because phosphates can promote too much algae growth. When this happens, beneficial plants and fish get deprived of much-needed oxygen; therefore, they cannot thrive in their natural environment.
The Cleaning Institute reports that while scientific studies indicate that a bigger difference would be made with a decrease in all phosphate-containing products such as fertilizers and construction run-off in addition to dishwasher detergents, but any reduction still contributes to a positive outcome over time. (2) (3)
There is a high concern that preservatives and synthetic fragrances may contribute to cancer development. Additionally, it may cause general systemic/organ issues, acute or chronic aquatic toxicity, respiratory effects and skin irritation/allergies/damage.
Diethanolamine is known to cause cancer, moderate allergic reactions and kidney damage. (4)
Formaldehyde causes some big concerns regarding cancer, organ defects, respiratory problems, skin irritation, allergies and and acute aquatic toxicity.
There is moderate concern that methanol can cause damage to your eyesight as well as skin irritation, allergies and respiratory problems.
6. Sodium Bisulfite
This ingredient could cause some respiratory problems, skin irritation and allergies.
7. Sulfuric Acid
Sulfuric acid may cause cancer, respiratory effects and skin irritation.
Benzene causes many big concerns, including cancer, developmental problems, endocrine disruption and reproductive problems as well as DNA problems. Allergic reactions and damage to visions could result as well.
9. Sodium Hypochlorite
This ingredient could cause acute aquatic toxicity, respiratory effects, organ effects, problems with endocrine system, the nervous system, kidney and urinary effects, cancer and problems with the digestive system. (5)
Dishwashing Products to Avoid
The EWG has listed a few dishwashing products to avoid. All of these products received an “F” grade in EWG’s rankings. The reasons are due to possible problems relating to asthma, skin allergies, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer and environmental concerns. Here are a few that EWG listed on their website: (5)
- Clorox Commercial Solutions SOS Pot Pan Detergent
- Palmolive Eco + Gel Dishwasher Detergent, Lemon Splash
- Cascade Dishwasher Detergent Gel
- Dawn Ultra Concentrated Liquid Dishwashing Detergent Hawaiian Pineapple
- EASY-OFF Professional Liquid Dish Detergent Concentrate
- Cascade Powder Dishwasher Detergent
Dishwashing Detergents with a Good Rating
According to EWG, there are some dishwashing detergents out there that have a good rating. Here is the list they provided on their website:
- Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Powder, Free & Clear
- Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Detergent Concentrated Pacs, Free & Clear
- Green Shield Organic Squeeze Automatic Dishwasher Liquid Detergent, Lemongrass
- The Honest Co. Honest Auto Dishwasher Gel, Free & Clear
- Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Lavender Automatic Dish Packs
- Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Automatic Dishwasher Detergent, Citrus
- GrabGreen Automatic Dishwashing Detergent, Fragrance Free
- Ecover Automatic Dishwasher Powder
- Ecover ZERO Automatic Dishwasher Powder
- The Honest Co. honest dishwasher pods
- Attitude Automatic Dishwasher Detergent, liquid detergent
- Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Basil Automatic Dish Packs
- Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Geranium Automatic Dish Packs
- Whole Foods Market green MISSION Organic Dishwasher Gel, Sweet Orange
How to Make Your Own Dishwasher Detergent
Now that you have the scoop on the good and not so good ingredients out there, why not make a DIY dishwashing detergent right at home? Not only will you save a ton of money, you can be positive that the ingredients are safe for you, your family and the environment without question.
In a medium bowl, add the Castile soap and purified water. Castile soap works wonders without the chemicals associated with conventional soaps because it is completely natural and plant-based. It will help add thickness and a bit of suds to your homemade dishwasher detergent, too. Purified water is important to help avoid chemical contamination. Blend these ingredients.
Next, add the vinegar, citric acid and kosher salt for this homemade dishwasher detergent. White vinegar helps disinfect safely but also helps keep your dishes spot free. The vinegar contains acetic acid, which helps take the grease off while acting as a rinsing agent. Citric acid helps add some shine to your dishes while removing the minerals that may be caused by hard water found in your area. Kosher salt is an amazing ingredient because it is a mild preservative and can get some of those tough to clean stains off of your dishes by acting as a gentle scouring agent.
It’s now time to add the essential oils. Wild orange oil is perfect because it fights off grease and bacteria while enhancing your kitchen with a delightful scent. Lemon essential oil is a powerhouse of freshness, and it’s a great in a homemade dishwasher detergent because it, too, is antibacterial and antifungal.
- To use, add your homemade dishwasher detergent to the dispenser. About 1½–2 tablespoons of detergent per load should do the trick.
- I suggest storing your homemade dishwasher detergent in the refrigerator to prevent fermentation and mold since it is chemical and preservative-free.
- A quick rinse before loading the dishwasher can provide a boost to a good set up of clean dishes.
Though this homemade dishwasher detergent is safe, it’s best to keep it out of reach from children and pets. If you notice any irritation, please discontinue use. For best results, make sure to clean your dishwasher periodically. You can run the dishwasher using a cup or two of vinegar and baking soda to help provide a thorough cleansing.
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent with Orange and Lemon Oils
- ½ ounce Castile soap
- 3¼ cups purified water
- 4 ounces white vinegar
- 1 ounce citric acid powder
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 20 drops wild orange essential oil
- 20 drops lemon essential oil
- Combine all ingredients until well blended.
- Use about 1½–2 tablespoons of detergent per load.