UPDATED: September 2016
As a family of four, we go through a lot of dish soap, and my kids love to “help” wash dishes.
As with many products, natural dish soap often is as effective as the ones that are a startling orange color and full of magical chemicals that make your dishes sparkle. The trouble with being tough on grease is that this usually also means tough on the health of whoever uses the stuff–and on the aquatic life of the rivers and streams where it ends up.
As you will see below under “The Sneaky Stuff,” the vast majority of “natural” dish soaps contain a ton of chemicals, just like their conventional counterparts. And while you do wash most of the product off of your dishes, some residue probably remains. And if your kids are using the soap, you’ll want to make sure it’s truly non-toxic before they get it all over their hands.
If you want to avoid just smearing grease around pans, I suggest you try Better Life’s natural dish soap. I’ve found it to be the most effective of the natural bunch.
Common Dish Soap Ingredients
Here’s some of the Bad Stuff you’ll find in most dishwashing liquid:
- Surfactants. Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are common foaming agents, usually derived from coconut. Both SLS and SLES produce bubbles in your dish soap, and are found in lots of “natural” brands. SLS is okay in my opinion (although not ideal), but SLES is not. (Here is where I explain the differences between sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate.). There are other newer coconut-derived surfactants, such as potassium cocoate, that have better safety profiles.
- Dyes. Food-grade coloring is implicated in behavioral issues in kids, so I’m okay with my dish soap being colorless.
- Fragrance. Anything scented probably contains hormone-disrupting phthalates, unless the manufacturers specify that they only use essential oils. Even phthalate-free synthetic fragrances usually are petroleum-derived and contain undisclosed chemicals.
- Antibacterial ingredients. You may see “triclosan” listed on the label, or it may just say “antibacterial agent” or something along those lines. This stuff is totally toxic (carcinogenic and hormone disrupting) and also contributes to the antibiotic-resistant “super bugs” that are becoming a real problem.
The good news is that if you want something that really does work (almost) as well as Dawn, there are several great brands now available. So without further ado…
The Good Stuff: Natural Dish Soap
This soap by the German company Sonett is my new favorite for hand dishwashing. It contains none of the usual toxic suspects found in conventional (and many natural) brands of dish soap, works well, and looks pretty on my sink. Done and done!
Because this is a bar soap (no plastic!), I was reluctant to try it at first. But given the dearth of truly safe options, I eventually agreed to test it out, and I was pleasantly surprised when it worked as well as the other natural soaps. The trick is to rinse the sponge well and often and then reload with soap. The ingredients list is incredibly safe–it’s 100% natural with nothing questionable (see all ingredients here).
Tandi’s bar soap is also a great choice for those of you dealing with eczema who are looking to rid your homes of all detergents, because this is soap, rather than detergent. A 3.5-ounce bar costs $6.
I love Eco-Me dish soap–it actually works, doesn’t contain scary ingredients (although it’s not 100% natural), and smells good.
Better Life is one of the few larger natural brands to not contain any synthetic fragrance. It also skips the SLS, SLES, and controversial preservatives. This soap is most effective if you put a generous amount on the sponge.
We are now carrying Better Life Dish Soap in our online store, where you can grab a bottle for $7.99.
Made Of’s Foaming Organic Baby Bottle & Dish Soap, like all All Made Of products, is tested for everything from heavy metals and 1,4-dioxane so you can have total peace of mind when washing your baby’s bottles and dishes.
A reader recently put this baby bottle wash on my radar, and I’m so glad she did. This simple ingredients list (just saponified organic coconut, olive, and jojoba oils, vegetable glycerin, organic aloe vera, and organic rosemary extract) is entirely clean. I don’t see why you couldn’t use this soap on all dishes, although I haven’t tried it so I cannot speak to how well it works. You can get a bottle on Amazon for $8.95.
A lot of you have asked about this brand. All of Attitude’s ingredients rank low risk on EWG’s database, but there are many synthetics (such as coco glucoside). Overall, while this one isn’t my top choice, it’s a good option. You can get Attitude Dishwashing Liquid in a two-pack on Amazon for about $12.
I Am Goddess makes one of the safest natural dish soaps out there, and it includes a few interesting ingredients, like apple cider vinegar and aloe vera. I have never used this so can’t attest to how it performs…if you have, please comment below!
The Best of the Worst
Because there aren’t that many dish soaps that we can call confidently Good Stuff, here are some that are what I will call Okay Stuff. If you can’t get any of the Good Stuff options, these are the best of the not-so-great.
- Whole Foods dish soaps have some not totally great ingredients, like cocamidopropylamine oxide, coco-betaine (rated a C by EWG), and sodium lauryl sulfate. Still, on the whole (pun!), Whole Foods’ soaps are better than other options. Choose the unscented variety when possible.
- Babyganics has ditched the SLES in their dish/bottle soap, which is great, and continue to change their formula every time I check for updates (so make sure you verify the ingredients yourself, as they may have changed again!). Sodium lauroamphoacetate is the newest surfactant, which seems safe enough although more studies are needed. They’ve added methylisothiazolinone as a preservative, which is definitely Bad Stuff, but in a small enough quantity that it’s not the end of the world. EWG score: C, but irrelevant because the ingredient list is outdated.
- Ecover’s liquid dish soap used to be on my Sneaky Stuff list (see below), but they’ve changed their formula and it no longer contains SLES or many of the other concerning ingredients in the older version. This dish soap DOES still contain SLS, so I’m not going to call it Good Stuff, but I would consider Ecover dish liquid Okay Stuff. Note that EWG hasn’t updated the list of ingredients, so their scores are inaccurate.
- Puracy is a newish brand, and I really WANTED to find out it was Good Stuff since I’ve been fielding lots of questions about this dish liquid. Unfortunately, I have some concerns with some of the ingredients in this one, including benzisothiazolinone, tetrasodium glutamate diacetate, and sodium lauromphoacetate (all of these and other ingredients get C’s from EWG). Still, nothing is overly concerning, so Puracy dish liquid is Okay Stuff.
Smearing Grease Around a Pan: Which Natural Dish Soap I Use
When we first made the switch to natural dish soap, my husband complained that doing the dinner dishes just felt like “smearing grease around a pan.” (I went with Seventh Generation, before I knew it that I had to read labels of the natural stuff, too!). Right now, I’m alternating between Better Life natural dish soap, Sonett natural dish soap, and Eco-Me natural dish soap–and they all are great. While I love the idea of a plastic-container-free soaps, and the Tandi’s soap we sell in our store has some die-hard fans, the truth is I just really like liquid dish soap.