I don’t know anyone who likes doing dishes in the sink, but we all have to do it. Next time you are sudsing up those dishes, have you ever wondered what ingredients would be safest for your family and the Planet? Well, we found out for you! You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best cleaning products during COVID, best & worst laundry detergents, & best & worst soap & body washes, now join us for the best and worst dish soap brands based on ingredients.
For a full list of Mamavation’s product investigations go here. We know you don’t have the time needed to investigate the dish soap industry, so Mamavation has done it for you! Scroll down to the very bottom for our product recommendations and if you would like to say thank you, you can donate here.
Disclosure: Contains affiliate links and has been fact-checked by Rebecca Elizabeth Sherrick Harks, RN-BSN.
So Where Did Dish Soap Come From?
Somewhere, someone way back in the day we decided that hey – these things (meaning bodies and the like) need cleaning, and some brilliant ancient Babylonian fixed that by inventing soap in 2800 BC.
A bit far from what we use today, we’re still using that knowledge to create the soaps and detergents we use to clean ourselves, our laundry, clean our dishes, and our homes.
Soap is, in fact, named after an ancient Roman legend of Mount Sapo and the first soap.
According to the story, rain washed down the mountain while mixing with both animal fat and ashes, resulting in a clay mixture found to make cleaning more simple.
And by the 7th century, soap-making was an established art in France, Spain, and Italy; they were early centers of the manufacturing of soap due, in some part, to their glorious supply of ingredients – like olive oil.
Life went on, people smelled better, and people were less prone to certain diseases.
Unfortunately, we got a lot grosser in the Middle Ages when cleanliness wasn’t a big deal, but do not fear, by the 17th century, England had begun to make soap, bathing, and cleaning dishes, bringing it back into fashion.
In the 1950s, the world was introduced to laundry detergent and stain removers, and by the 1970s, we had dish soap!
Of course, as soon as it was available, industry giants bought up the patents and created a monopoly on the market.
The Harms of The Non-Specific Ingredients in Dish Soap
Before we launch into our known toxins (most of you know these by heart, but a few may surprise you.)
So, first this: as many of you are familiar with, there really is no set requirement or standard that forces companies to list every single ingredient in our household cleaning products, and like any old company trying to look their best, many of these companies use catch-all phrases for the worst of the chemicals.
We’re all aware of “fragrance” which may make my soap smell like honeysuckle, but it could contain over 100 different chemicals that you’ll never know about (unless you have your own lab).
The same goes for artificial flavor, though we at Mamavation really do hope that you don’t eat your soap.
The household cleaning industry has, of course, their own types of jargon that they’re not required to disclose – and just like fragrance, these names can account for hundreds and hundreds of chemicals that you wouldn’t let in your house, even if they paid you.
Types of Ingredients in Your Dish Soap
The ingredient label on the back of your bottle may seem a bit intimidating to read. But we are here to make that all easier for you.
Here’s some of the main ingredients you’ll find and why they are problematic:
- Surfactants: Effects may include aquatic toxicity, respiratory effects, general systemic concerns, and organ damage.
- PH Adjuster: Effects may include developmental, endocrine, reproductive effects, irritation, allergies, damage, respiratory damages
- Buffer/buffering agent: Effects may include developmental, endocrine, reproductive effects, skin irritation, allergies, damage, respiratory issues.
- Foam booster/foaming agents: Effects of these can include cancers, chronic toxicity to aquatic life.
- Water softener/water-softening agent: Effects can include developmental, endocrine, reproductive effects, skin irritation, allergies, damage, respiratory problems.
- Preservatives: Major concerns can include cancer, general systemic organ damage, acute aquatic toxicity, respiratory problems, chronic aquatic toxicity, skin problems.
The EWG Guide to Healthy Cleaning Drops Clues for Dish Soap
Our friends at the Environmental Working Group took a look at most of the popular cleaning products like dish soaps, cleaning solutions, and laundry detergents several years ago. They concluded the following, which drives home our need for safer cleaning ingredients:
- 53% of the brands they assessed contained ingredients that are known to harm the lungs.
- 22% of the brands they assessed contain ingredients linked to asthma symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals
- Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is sometimes used as a preservative
- 1,4-dioxane, a human carcinogen, is a suspected contaminant of widely-used detergent chemicals
- Chloroform, a human carcinogen, can escape in fumes released by chlorine bleach.
As you can see, there is a need for safer products in the cleaning product world! If you would like our recommendations for cleaning products during COVID, click here.
Watch Out For These Specific Ingredients in Dish Soap
- Fragrance or Perfume: Fragrance sounds wonderful, but it’s actually a “catchall” term used to hide ingredients brands don’t want you to know about. Fragrance can hide phthalates, a potent endocrine-disruptor.
- PEGs or Polyethylene Glycol: PEGs are used as penetration enhancers. They allow the other chemicals to penetrate more quickly into the skin. PEGs are typically followed by a number. The lower the number, the easier the penetration of other chemicals into the skin. However, the rub is the manufacturing process of PEG’s may use ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, which are known human carcinogens that may interfere with human development and can harm the nervous system.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate: This is a surfactant that helps the oils bind with the water in the formulation. Surfactants work to weaken the defense mechanisms of our skin and that can lead to issues. Not only does it irritate the skin, but it can also penetrate the skin and that is what makes it problematic to certain people.
- Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, & Benzisothiazolinone: These preservatives are very commonly found in dish soap in lots of bad and better brands. Rats exposed to these chemicals had neurological damage, but mostly they are very common skin allergens and are poisonous to aquatic life.
- DMDM Hydantoin (Quanternium-15): This is a preservative and antimicrobial agent preventing the growth of fungi, yeast, and harmful bacteria that can make people sick or give them rashes. The problem is it slowly releases small amounts of formaldehyde over time. Formaldehyde is cancer-causing.
- Polysorbates: This chemical starts out harmless, but then is processed with ethylene oxide. It’s usually followed by a number to demonstrate how much ethylene oxide it’s processed with. For instance, “polysorbate 20” means it’s treated with 20 parts of ethylene oxide, which is a chemical contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a human carcinogen. Animal studies have also demonstrated developmental and reproductive toxicity.
- Dipropylene Glycol: This is a type of alcohol used as a solvent, viscosity-decreasing agent, masking agent, and fragrance ingredient. It helps to dissolve the other ingredients evenly in a formulation without chemically altering other ingredients. Clinical tests have determined that the glycols produce mild to severe ocular (eye) irritation. Other glycols like propylene glycol are problematic, but this one is milder.
- Chemicals ending with -eth like Laureth-7: These chemicals may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane which is a human carcinogen.
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine: This is a detergent and surfactant. It is used to reduce static in the formulation and condition the skin & hair while increasing the foaming action of dish soap. This chemical earned “Allergen of the Year” in 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. It’s also a suspected environmental toxin.
- Coal Tar Dye & Petroleum in Pretty Colors: In the case of dish soap, it’s just silly that we need colors because they aren’t really worth the hassle. The issues will vary with the color but may include cancer, organ toxicity, and aquatic destruction.
Mamavation’s Investigation of Dish Soap
Not Our Favorite Dish Soaps
These brands were problematic in terms of ingredient transparency and/or using ingredients that are linked to cancer, other diseases, or environmental disruption which were mentioned above.
- Bon Ami Dishsoap
- Ajax Antibacterial Dishwashing Liquid
- Ajax Triple Action Dish Liquid Hand Soap
- Boulder Clean Natural Liquid Dish Soap
- Caldera Dish Soap
- Citra Solv Citra Dish Natural Dish Soap
- Dawn + Oxy Dish Soap
- Dawn Direct Foam Dishwashing Foam
- Dawn Simple Pleasures Dishwashing Liquid
- Dawn Ultra (Blue Bottle) Dishwashing Soap
- Dawn Ultra Concentrated Pure Essentials Dishwashing
- Kirkland Signature Environmentally Responsible Ultra Liquid Dish Soap
- Kirkland Signature Liquid Dishsoap
- Palmolive Ultra Dish Soap
Better Dish Soaps
These brands represented products that used better ingredients than the “not our favorite” brands, but still had ingredients of concern like surfactants, harsh preservatives and/or no fragrance disclosure. These brands had less of the chemicals we mentioned above.
- 365 Everyday Value Dish Soap
- 7th Generation Dish Washing Soap, Lavendar
- Babyganics Foaming Dish & Bottle Soap, Fragrance-Free
- Bee & Willow Home Dishsoap, Lavender & Eucalyptus
- biokleen Natural Dish Liquid, Lemon Thyme
- Country Save Dish Detergent
- Dapple Bottles & Dishes Liquid, Fragrance-Free
- Eco-Max Hypoallergenic Ultra Dish Wash
- Ecover Zero Dish Soap, Fragrance-Free
- Field Day Liquid Dish Detergent
- Grab Green Dish Soap
- Grove Collaborative Lemon, Ecalyptus & Mint Liquid Dish Soap
- Home Made Simple Dish Soap
- Ingredients Matter Liquid Dish Soap, Lemongrass
- JB Watkins Dish Soap
- Love Home & Planet Dish Liquid
- Martha Stewart Clean Dish-Hand Soap
- Meyers Clean Day Dish Soap
- Murchison-Hume Heirloom Dish Soap
- Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, Free & Clear
- Puracy Naural Dish Soap Lemongrass
- Sun & Earth Liquid Dishwashing, Unscented
- The Good Home Co. Dishsoap
- Total Home Earth Essentials Liquid Dish Soap, Fragrance-Free
Best Dish Soaps
These products represent the brands that are providing the least toxic option for your family. We recommend you purchase from these brands or at least try a new one today!
- Aspen Clean Dishwasher Pods
- AspenClean Dishsoap (Unscented)
- Attitude Little Leaves Bottle & Dishwasher Soap
- Aunt Fannie’s Microcosmic Probiotic Power Dish Soap
- Better Life Natural Dish Soap (Available in Fragrance-Free)
- Carolina Liquid Castile Soap
- Cleancult Natural Dish Soap
- Common Good Dishsoap – Unscented
- Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Liquid Cleaner
- Dr. Bronners Castile Soap
- Earth Friendly Products ECOS Dishmate Dish Soap, Free & Clear
- Earthy Natural Hand Dish Wash Liquid, Rosemary Mint
- Eco Olea Dish Liquid, Lemon Grass
- Eco-Me Dish Soap, Suzy
- Fit Organic Dish Liquid, Free and Clear
- Fountain City Soap Co Castile Soap
- MADE OF Foaming Dish & Bottle Soap, Fragrance-Free
- Meliora Plastic-Free Dishwashing Soap
- No-Tox Life Vegan Dish Washing Block
- Poofy Home Dishwashing Liquid, Citrus Punch
- Pure Haven Dishwashing Soap
- Quinn’s Pure Castile – Organic
- The Honest Co. Honest Dishsoap, White Grapefruit
- Trader Joe’s Liquid Dish Soap, Lavender Tea Tree
- Yaya Maria’s All-Natural Dish Soap, Lavender
- Young Living Thieves Dishsoap