So you’ve found the zero waste movement, and you’ve heard about toxic chemicals, problematic microplastics, and endangered marine life – but where do you go from here?
Making the decision to switch to an eco-friendly, plastic-free, zero waste dishwasher detergent is an easy zero waste swap to make in your kitchen. It is low-effort but can have a big impact on your household waste. However, with so many products out there to choose from, how do you decide which company to support?
In this article, I will break down the difference between most commercial detergents and their impacts, and then show you some of the best non-toxic dishwasher detergents in pod, tablet, powder, and liquid form to make the decision as quick and easy for you as possible.
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Dishwashing vs. Handwashing – Which Is Better For The Environment?
Let’s start with the age-old question, is it eco-friendly to use a dishwasher in the first place?
As surprising as it may sound, using a dishwasher is more efficient and environmentally friendly than hand-washing dishes.
Even though dishwashers use electricity (which hands do not), dishwashers use less hot water and fewer gallons of water overall. Even propane and gas-powered dishwashers are more effective than people. Not utilizing the heat-to-dry setting improves efficiency even more.
The only exception to this is if you were to consistently run the dishwasher with a small load – so make sure you’re waiting until the dishwasher has a full load before running it.
Related Reading: Best Zero Waste Dish Soap (for handwashing)
Best Plastic-Free Dishwasher Tablets and Pods
While pods and tablets are a convenient way to dose your dishwasher, most typical detergent tablets and pods are covered in a plastic coating that contains PVA. This does not fully biodegrade in water, leaving micro and nanoplastics in the water that will eventually find their way into streams, rivers, lakes, and the ocean.
Opting for completely plastic-free tablets and pods will significantly reduce your environmental footprint while simultaneously preventing more plastic from polluting fish, animals, and people.
Here are some of the very best zero waste dishwasher tablets and pods that you can safely use in your kitchen.
You do not need to prewash your dishes when using Dropps eco-friendly dishwasher pods as they effortlessly power away stuck-on food and stubborn stains, and leave your glassware sparkling without the need for additional rinse aid.
Oxygen-based bleach is less aggressive than chlorine bleach but is still a very effective cleaner.
The pod membrane is composed of a water-soluble casing known as polyvinyl alcohol, which fully dissolves when it comes in contact with water. Inside, the mineral-based ingredients are earth-friendly. And the products are shipped in recyclable and compostable packaging.
Dropps is the only home cleaning partner of Oceana. They also fund solar projects to help offset energy costs and create clean energy, and their shipping is 100% carbon neutral.
If You Care dishwasher tablets are intelligently designed to be super concentrated with mineral and plant-derived (rapeseed and coconut) cleaning agents to effectively clean your dishes.
The eco friendly dishwasher tablets are non-toxic, biodegradable, and do not contain any phosphates or chlorine, so they will have a minimal impact on waterways and watersheds. No fragrances or dyes are added either.
If You Care was the first (and only) unbleached coffee filter manufacturer in North America for quite some time and led the eco-friendly charge to create healthy products that leave no waste behind. All of their cardboard box packaging is unbleached and recycled, and at end of use, it can be recycled again or biodegraded in your compost.
Grove is a certified B corp company that produces American-made eco-friendly products.
Grove Total Clean Detergent Packs are surprisingly powerful at removing grease and food stains and are packaged in infinitely recyclable tin-plated steel containers.
These packs are made from a biodegradable formula that is 91% plant-based. It does not contain any parabens, phthalates, phosphates, chlorine bleach, or dyes.
You may choose between scented or unscented packs. The scented packs are 100% natural, only using essential oils and plant extracts. Grove is 100% cruelty-free, prioritizes plant-based ingredients, and is committed to using sustainable packaging.
Beyond Clean uses 75% USDA-certified biobased content and is free from chlorine bleach, artificial dyes, fragrances, and phosphate. It’s also free of animal-based ingredients and does not test on animals.
The dish tablets work well, even in hard water conditions, and are safe for septic systems.
Beyond voluntarily participates in the Safer Choice Program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With this program, Beyond passes stringent criteria that ensure the products are safe for families to use.
Beyond is also part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s BioPreffered Program. This program simultaneously focuses on economic development and reduces reliance on petroleum products while increasing the use of renewable agricultural resources.
These delicious-smelling lavender + argan oil, and citrus + vanilla zero waste dishwasher tablets are plant and mineral-based cleansers that are also vegan and cruelty-free.
Love Home and Planet ensures all of their products are dermatologist tested, ethically sourced, recyclable, paraben-free, and dye-free.
They also participate in a voluntary carbon tax that supports recycling initiatives.
Cleancult Dishwasher Tablets come in scented lemongrass and are fully dissolvable, 100% biodegradable dishwashing tablets. The water-soluble film is fully biodegradable also, with no harmful chemicals.
The packaging is 100% recyclable, paper-based, and thoughtfully, sustainably shipped.
Cleancult does not test on animals; it is a plastic-free dishwasher detergent that only uses earth-safe, natural ingredients.
Grab Green is a small business started by an eco-conscious mother of two who wanted the best for her daughters. Her philosophy: “You Shouldn’t Have To Sacrifice Effective For Non-Toxic.”
Grab Green now offers naturally effective plastic-free dishwasher tabs that are septic safe, derived from plants, free of scents and dyes, and do not include phosphates, phthalates, chlorine, masking agents, or any harmful toxins.
All of their products are responsibly sourced with high-quality ingredients that are made in the United States and never tested on animals. The EPA has certified that their formulation is effective and naturally derived.
These incredibly effective pods by Molly’s Suds are made with earth and plant-derived ingredients that are safe for use on porcelain, pots, pans, stainless steel, and even baby bottles. None of the products contains ethoxylated.
It is safe for septic tanks, compatible with all types of dishwashers, and fully biodegradable, so it does not contribute to the microplastic pollution crisis.
These zero waste dishwasher pods by Public Goods were specially designed to destroy dirt, grease, grime, stains, and water spots while protecting wildlife, humans, and aquatic life.
These baby-safe zero waste dishwasher pods, made in Illinois, USA, do not contain chlorine, bleach, petroleum, parabens, aluminum, animal byproducts, formaldehyde, dyes, or phosphates.
Best Zero Waste Dishwasher Powder Detergents
Powder detergents are one of the most eco-friendly types of detergents because they are ultra-concentrated and don’t contain any water.
Not only does it reduce weight and bulk in transportation, but it also allows packages to be smaller and, therefore, more economical and environmentally friendly. Here are the best plastic-free dishwasher powder detergents on the market.
This concentrated plastic free dish detergent powder from Etee powerfully cleans dirty dishes without creating any plastic waste. It only takes a single teaspoon to complete an entire large dishwasher cycle effectively.
The packaging is completely biodegradable and can go right in your compost bin, and the waste free dishwasher detergent is safe for septic systems and people with its non-toxic ingredients.
It does not contain any palm oil, plastic, harsh chemicals, or parabens. It does not test on animals either.
Packages contain 36 teaspoons, enough to last you at least a month!
Nellie’s dishwasher powder packs a punch! It’s a biodegradable, septic-safe, plant-based, low waste dishwasher detergent that is phosphate free and environmentally friendly.
I love that Nellie’s offers their powder in four sizes; a fifty-load pouch, a one-hundred-load tin, a five-hundred-load bucket, and a 1,100-load bucket.
Their largest bucket allows you to purchase over three years worth of cleaning all at once if you do one load of dishes every single day!
Seventh Generation, a Vermont-based company, offers a plant-based enzyme formula that effectively cuts right through grease, stains, and stuck-on food without using harmful chlorine bleach or phosphates.
This plastic free dishwasher powder is available in several scent options, all of which smell amazing (you can also opt to go scent free if you’d like).
Seventh Generation is a fantastic corporation to support because it is Certified B for better worker care, better community care, and better environmental protection.
Butter Me Up Organics offers handcrafted organic zero-waste dishwasher soap that is shipped in brown craft bags, most of which are upcycled.
Their no waste dishwasher soap is created and packaged in California, and shipped through Etsy with a zero carbon footprint.
Butter Me Up Organics says, “Don’t put anything on your body that you wouldn’t put in it,” which means that all of their products, even this dish soap, are completely edible.
The powder no waste dishwasher detergent is cruelty-free and does not contain phthalates, parabens, sulfates, synthetic dyes, or fragrances.
Ecover Zero Dishwasher Powder is fragrance-free, with zero dyes, chlorine, or phosphate added.
It is a plant-based formulation with mineral ingredients, packaged in recycled cardboard, and completely biodegradable, meaning it is a zero-waste product.
Ecover never tests on animals, so this is a completely cruelty-free and vegan-friendly dishwashing product too.
Best Environmentally-Friendly Dishwasher Liquid
Dishwasher liquid may not be as eco-friendly as powder, but that does not take away from the power that it holds as an ethical, green solution that is healthier for you, your family, your home, your pets, and your local environment. I know that it can be overwhelming to sift through all of the zero-waste dishwasher detergents, so here are the two best products.
Seventh Generation Dishwasher Detergent uses plant-based enzymes to cut right through extra greasy food stains, so your dishes come out spotless without leaving a mark on the environment.
Leaping Bunny certified it to be cruelty-free, the USDA certified it to be Biobased, and the EPA says it is Safer Choice Certified.
This zero waste dishwasher soap does not contain phosphates, synthetic fragrances, or formaldehyde, and it’s packaged in a post-consumer recycled and recyclable plastic bottle.
Love Home and Planet dishwasher gel is 100% vegan, cruelty-free, plant-based, gluten-free, and a powerful detergent that never leaves a trace of food on your plates or cutlery.
All extracts are ethically sourced, dermatologist tested, bottled in 100% recycled (and recyclable) bottles, and do not contain any parabens or dyes.
What’s Wrong With Conventional Dishwasher Detergents?
Traditional Detergents Are Harmful to The Environment
When you use dishwasher detergent, it goes down the drain and into waterways, one way or another. It doesn’t matter if you are attached to city sewer systems, your own septic tank, or dump your grey water into an RV dump station; it dumps back into the water.
Once it reaches a waterway, it wreaks havoc on marine life, aquatic fish, and all the land and sky creatures who drink and depend on these local waterways. Here are some of the most problematic ingredients and why they cause problems for the environment.
Most traditional dishwasher detergents contain phosphates. Phosphates are added to detergents to soften hard water and enhance how effectively the detergent cleans dishes and clothing.
Phosphates are nutrient-dense, and just as too much nitrogen is harmful, it causes big aquatic plants and algae to bloom. This process is called eutrophication, and it is damaging for the water because it lowers oxygen levels, blocks out sunlight with beneficial cleansing UV rays, and can off-gas algal toxins which harm humans and animals alike.
Not only do artificial fragrances take large amounts of resources and water to create, but they are detrimental to the environment even after their use as a detergent. Once artificial fragrances reach waterways, they directly kill fish and other aquatic species.
Almost all streams contain naturally occurring alkaline. In small amounts, it is good for life. However, most detergents use it in high concentrations that are hazardous to people, plants, and animals.
Pods for dish and laundry detergents contain PVA. While most manufacturers claim that they are completely biodegradable, they are not. These microplastics make their way into fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, which are consumed by other animals, and also people. I’ll talk about this in more detail below.
Their Packaging Is Designed Only With Profit In Mind
Takes 1,000 Years to Biodegrade (Or More)
Most plastic packaging takes up to one thousand years to degrade naturally. If George Washington used today’s modern detergent from a single-use plastic container as a twenty-year-old, that container would still have at least 730 years left to decompose.
Pollutes Oceans Due To Poor Waste Management
Eight million tons of plastic waste are intentionally dumped into the ocean each year, too. While poor waste management systems are a whole other issue, we should do our part to prevent this by avoiding plastic packaging whenever feasible.
Uses Lots of Fuel and Water
Plastic packaging is bulky and uses significant amounts of clean water and fuel to produce, more fuel to transport to the store, and then some more fuel to travel to your home.
The Product Is Unhealthy For People
PVA and Plastic Consumption
What about the microplastics left over from the PVA pods that don’t fully dissolve? It is estimated that the average person ingests a credit card worth of nano and microplastics every week. Plastic consumption leads to damage in fetuses, causes antibiotic resistance, and likely causes a slew of other issues we aren’t aware of yet.
Nearly all detergents use dyes, and these dyes are not naturally occurring. They contain several harmful ingredients, especially formaldehyde, which is a group one carcinogen, meaning that it is known to cause cancer. Dyes are also filled with endocrine disrupters that cause numerous hormonal issues for people.
Of course, dyes are used to intentionally make the detergent product more beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. Its bright color can be intriguing for little ones, children, and pets alike, who may want to test what it tastes like.
Detergents also use polysorbates, classified as levels one through four carcinogens. This means they range from “probably not cancer-causing, but that isn’t confirmed” to “we know this definitely causes cancer.”
NPEs Cause Fetal Development
Nonylphenol Ethoxylates NPEs cause disrupted physical function and fetal development. It also similarly harms aquatic wildlife. Most NPEs are banned in all other countries, just not here in the US, unfortunately.
Toxicity, Reactions, and Neurological Damages
Methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone cause inhalation toxicity, allergic reactions, and neurotoxicity.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is used to cut through grease, but it also cuts into skin cells (and the cells absorb them). It can cause rashes, too, especially on sensitive skin.
Dangerous Levels of Alkaline
Lastly, dishwasher detergents often contain alkalines up to a dangerous level of thirteen. Alkaline, in high concentrations, is corrosive to human skin and internal organs. Blood levels with too much alkaline (called alkalosis) cause significant, lasting damage to the lungs.
You will ingest this soap! Even if your dishwasher is a whiz at the rinse cycle, trace amounts of it will end up on your plate, in your food, and in your body. It is concentrated too, which is why the issues are exacerbated!
What Are Eco-Friendly Dish Washer Detergents Doing Better?
Eco-friendly dish detergent is better for several reasons, the most prominent being:
- The manufacturers pay workers fair wages.
- Ethically sourced ingredients are used.
- The ingredients are as eco-friendly as possible.
- The ingredients are far less harmful to people and animals.
- Zero waste dishwasher detergent packaging prioritizes human health and the environment over profit.
Environmentally safe dishwasher detergent is not always a perfect solution, but it is a viable option that is a large step in the right direction for protecting people, flora, fauna, and this beautiful planet we live upon. It is well worth the switch to further progress and protect what we love.
Final Thoughts About Zero Waste Dishwashing Detergent
Making the decision to switch to eco friendly dishwashing detergents makes a big difference to your family’s health, the environment, local wildlife, and the world in general, especially when you choose ethical companies that treat their employees well with fair wages.
It can be confusing to sort through all the information and products, so I hope you found this roundup helpful and were able to choose your next favorite green dishwashing detergent. Which one do you think is the best eco friendly dishwasher detergent? Let us know.
Enjoy, and thank you for doing your part!