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What we wash our dishes with matters. The soap we use matters. Dishwashing detergent uses powerful cleansing agents that break apart the food debris, removing oil and residues left behind. Have you ever had a really dirty pan? How relieved were you when the soap lifted that congealed mess right off the surface? Of course, there’s the joy of suds too. Those sudsing agents can help get dishes clean. Plus, there’s fragrance and colors – ever wonder what they do?


Although these products sit rather benignly beside the kitchen sink, glowing in the sunlight and giving off a fresh scent, dishwashing detergents contain chemicals that can be tough on your hands (ever get dry, red, or itchy hands after washing?). And that’s not the only thing they’re tough on. Common dish detergent can contain a potent mix of chemical solvents, preservatives, colorants and fragrance, linked to skin and lung irritation, cancer and endocrine disruption. Not only are they potentially harmful to human health, but they can be extremely tough on the organisms that live in the water and the aquatic environment overall.

At MADE SAFE, we think about all of the ingredients in the items we use daily. But we pay a lot of attention to what goes down the drain, directly impacting the water we ultimately drink and rely on for so much more. Given that dishwashing liquid is designed to wash away, it’s important it not only perform the job of washing effectively, but also be gentle as possible on the “away” – the environment, and ourselves.

Would you be willing to trade a little extra elbow grease for a product that does no harm? If you want to geek out over the chemicals, here are a few things that are commonly found in dishwashing detergent.


Ingredients of Concern

Fragrance – Found in nearly all dishwashing detergents, the word “fragrance” itself is an umbrella term used on product labels that may contain anywhere from 1 to 1000 different ingredients! Many of these ingredients are outside the strict purpose of fragrance, though they can get lumped in, undisclosed. With dishwashing liquids, fragrance ingredients can be known allergens with some classified as “asthmagens” and others identified as toxic air pollutants like the chemical Acetophenone (CAS# 98-86-02). Other fragrance ingredients can be endocrine disrupting phthalates, toxic to human health, or concerning Acrylates copolymers. There can even be chemicals like styrene, pyridine and other carcinogenic materials common to the “fragrance” mix. Because companies are not required to disclose fragrance components, it’s impossible to know what’s getting into your air or heading down the drain – unless a product has independent, third-party vetting.

Harmful Preservatives – Preservatives, as the name suggests, are used to “preserve” products for long periods of time, preventing the growth of microorganisms and resulting expiration dates. They can come in many forms, but a few examples are the isothiazolinone preservatives such as metholisoiathiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone which can be skin sensitizers. The latter is restricted in Canada and both are quite toxic to aquatic life. Preservatives are designed to kill things, so it’s not surprising that many conventional preservatives have been linked to a range of toxicity issues. Preservation of products is important – especially when water is present in the formulation. However, overly harsh preservation to make something shelf-stable for years on end has a consequence we might want to reconsider.

Harsh Surfactants – Lathering agents are added to products to create foam and bubbles and to wash away dirt and oil. Consumers love the action of surfactants, but what you may not know is that many surfactants can be problematic for the environment – especially aquatic life. That’s why when MADE SAFE certifies a product containing a surfactant, we zero in on biodegradability and toxicity to aquatic life. Common examples of problematic conventional surfactants include lauramine oxide which is believed to be harmful to aquatic life in both the short and long term as well as sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate. These foaming ingredients have been found to cause contact irritation in users and are also harmful to aquatic life.

Colorants – Because dish detergent isn’t naturally blue, green or yellow, colors are added for aesthetic effect. Some are not great for humans but… since you aren’t really eating these do we really care? On the other hand, some dyes are known to be carcinogenic, many can be persistent in the environment and some are even pesticides. One example of a persistent chemical is Brilliant Blue #9. We have to ask: Do we really need to put that into the environment? 

Contaminants – These are ingredients that are not intentionally added to a product, but can still be found in the finished product due to factors such as processing or sourcing. An example of a contaminant commonly found in detergents and washes is 1,4 dioxane. Surfactants (a group of ingredients found in body washes to make them sudsy) can undergo a process called ethoxylation that can contaminate the final product with 1,4 dioxane in the process.1,4 dioxane has been identified as a known carcinogen. Due to its presence via contamination, 1,4 dioxane isn’t listed on the label. This makes it difficult to avoid. A good way to steer clear of 1,4 dioxane is by reading labels for the chemicals that tend to be contaminated with it: As a general rule that means avoiding polyethylene glycol compounds (PEGs) and ingredients that end in “-eth”. Ex: sodium laureth sulfate.


Tips for choosing better dishwashing liquid

That’s a lot of ingredients to avoid! When you’re shopping for an alternative to conventional dishwashing soap, here’s a short list to keep in mind:

  • Use products that disclose 100% of ingredients
  • Use products that contain fewer ingredients
  • Avoid products that contain perfumes and dyes
  • Avoid PEGs and ingredients ending in -eth
  • Look for the MADE SAFE seal.

Announcing Pure Natural dish soaps heading

Dish soap in use photoAt the end of the day, people are always asking us what MADE SAFE recommends in bottled dishwashing liquid and we haven’t had a solution.

That is… until now!  

We are beyond excited to introduce the first MADE SAFE Certified liquid dish soap. We’ve tested it and can say it works! Pure Natural Cleaners Dish Soap is made with soapberry fruit, wild-harvested from the Himalayan mountains, and formulated without any toxic synthetic chemical ingredients.