Buying Guide: Dish Detergent

Your dish detergent needs to be a true workhorse—effectively cleaning grease and grime while making an unpleasant task as tolerable as possible. And, of course, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that it’s actually safer for you and the environment. Most soaps used for hand washing dishes are liquid, so they contain water. When a product contains water, it must use a preservative to prevent the growth of microorganisms. If a brand lists water as an ingredient but not a preservative (usually methylisothizolinone or phenoxyethanol), something is amiss.


(Don’t forget to check their Liquid Soaps Dilutions Cheat Sheet.)


What to look for:

It may seem counterintuitive, but look for the preservative—except in powdered products, which don’t contain water. It’s better to know that there is about .1% of a preservative (a common amount for this type of product) than have it be a mystery, or have companies implying that they aren’t using preservatives at all when that isn’t the case.

EWG has a Guide to Healthy Cleaning that can help you to make purchasing decisions. But, bear in mind that the lack of disclosure doesn’t always impact scoring, so a company hiding preservatives might score better than one that is being honest about it (such as Seventh Generation, which has a commendable ingredient disclosure policy).

Dish soaps and powders shouldn’t contain:


Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient linked to hormone disruption and increased bacteria resistance. Regular (i.e. not “antibacterial”) soap and hot water kills bacteria and germs without this unnecessary toxic chemical.

Ethoxylated ingredients

(such as sodium laureth sulfate, PEG 400, nonoxynol-12, poloxamer 124 and ammonium C12-15 pareth sufate)

Ethoxylated ingredients are common in cleaning and cosmetics products. They often contain 1,4-dioxane, a contaminant that is not listed on ingredient labels. Unless a company has ensured that 1,4-dioxane has been stripped from the finished product, there is a very good chance that it contains this carcinogen.


Some dyes have been linked to health problems and bioaccumulation (meaning they hang around in the environment).

Undisclosed fragrances

Essential oil scents are pleasant—we certainly enjoy them in our products. But undisclosed fragrances could be hiding other toxic ingredients, including allergens and hormone disruptors.

Undisclosed surfactants, or cleaning agents

Surfactants are not necessarily a problem; there are several safer surfactant ingredients. The issue is with the nondisclosure of these “cleaning agents.” Everyone deserves to know what a company is using in order to make informed purchases.

Up For a DIY Challenge?
Consider making your own dish detergent:

Here are recipes for dish soap from Mommypotamus and dishwasher detergent from My Healthy Green Family.