Dishwasher Detergent

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 41 household cleaning brands.

We also look at animal testing, toxic chemicals, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Reckitt Benckiser and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying dishwasher detergent:

  • Is it vegan? Looking for vegan dishwasher detergents is a way to help protect the environment as well as animal rights.

  • Is it organic? Looking for organic is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty, artificial chemicals that are in so many household products. And thereby help the environment as well as yourself.

  • Is it palm oil free? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to massive deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably or avoid it completely.

Best Buys

All of our Best Buys are chlorine-free, and some are palm-oil free [S] or organic [O] too:

Recommended Buys

Dri Pak score well on the table if you want to make your own. 

Ecover is best of the widely available brands although since its takeover it has a boycott call against it for being owned by an animal testing company, SC Johnson.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying dishwasher detergent:

  • Does it contain toxics? The long and complex ingredients lists of household products often include toxic chemicals. These are bad for the environment as well as health.

  • Does it contain fragrance? Go for fragrance-free products or those free of synthetic fragrances because synthetic ones contain phthalates, a chemical which can disrupt the hormone system

  • Is it using animal testing? Although animal testing for finished household products has been banned in the UK, lots of companies still use ingredients that are tested on animals. Go for a company with a clear cruelty-free policy. 

Companies to avoid

Not only does Reckitt Benckiser score near the bottom of our table, one of its disinfectants is said to have caused over 100 deaths in South Korea between 2001 and 2011. Avoid its dishwasher detergent brand:

  • Finish

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Sodasan dishwasher detergent [O,A]

Company Profile: Sodasan Wasch- und Reinigungsmittel GmbH
16

Bio-D dishwasher powder [A]

Company Profile: Bio-D Company
15.5

Faith in Nature dishwasher detergent [A]

Company Profile: Faith in Nature Ltd
15.5

Earth Friendly Products Wave Dishwasher Detergent [A]

Company Profile: Earth Friendly Products
15

Ecozone dishwasher tablets [A]

Company Profile: Ecozone (UK) Ltd
14.5

Sonett dishwasher tablets [A,S]

Company Profile: Sonett GmbH
13.5

Lilly's Eco Clean dishwasher tablets

Company Profile: Lilly's Eco Clean Ltd
13

ATTITUDE dishwashing eco-pouches [A]

Company Profile: Bio Spectra
12.5

Astonish dishwasher tablets [A]

Company Profile: The London Oil Refining Co Ltd
12

Simply dishwasher detergent [A]

Company Profile: Enpac Ltd
12

Dri Pak cleaning ingredients [A]

Company Profile: Dri-Pak Ltd
11.5

ACDO dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: ACDOCO
9

Morning Fresh Dishwasher

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC
8.5

Ecover dishwasher tablets

Company Profile: Ecover NV
7.5

Planet Clean dishwasher tablets

Company Profile: McBride plc
7.5

Cascade dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company
5

Fairy dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company
5

Finish dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC
4.5

Palmolive dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Colgate-Palmolive Co
3.5

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

Although still seen by some as a luxury product, dishwashers are becoming increasingly common in UK households, helping to solve the age old argument of who does the dishes … and replacing it with the equally vexing problem of who stacks the dishwasher.

Phosphates

The biggest development since we covered dishwasher detergent back in 2012 is that phosphates are no longer an issue. Phosphates (and phosphonates) are water softeners, but their release into waterways can lead to algal blooms that stifle fish and other aquatic life.

These issues came to public attention in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when lakes and rivers in the US turned bright green with algae. Public pressure mounted to remove them. In subsequent decades, various US states – and some countries – passed regulations to limit their use. The European Union followed suit in 2013 in laundry detergents.

Since 2017, the EU severely limited the amount of phosphates permitted in household dishwasher detergent to no more than 0.3 grams per standard dose.[1] Commercial dishwasher detergents are not covered by the ban.

Of course, some manufacturers, like Ecover and Bio-D (see our Q&A with Bio-D), have been phosphate-free from when they started making dishwasher detergent because they were aware of the issues. They did not wait for the EU ban.

Chlorine

In terms of pollution in the home, the chemicals present in dishwasher detergents can enter the body via two primary routes; inhalation of the steam released when a dishwasher is opened after a cycle, or residue left on the ostensibly clean dishes following washing.

According to Pat Thomas writing in the Ecologist“some automatic dishwashing detergents contain dry chlorine that is activated when mixed with the water in the dishwasher. This means that when you open the dishwasher, chlorine fumes are released in the steam that leaks out. These can cause eye irritation and difficulty breathing, especially for those with respiratory problems.”

The chlorine-free dishwasher detergents in our guide are:

  • Astonish
  • ATTITUDE
  • Bio-D
  • Earth Friendly, Ecover
  • Faith in Nature
  • Lilly’s Eco Clean
  • Ecozone
  • Simply
  • Sonett
  • Sodasan.

Most automatic dishwashing detergents are either irritants or corrosives. They are made with strong petroleum-based detergents and a strong alkali. Skin irritation or burns may occur following exposure to dissolved detergents. Hence the corrosive symbols on the packets.

It’s possible that the thin coating of dishwasher chemicals left on kitchenware and cutlery can be ingested when the items are used.

Toxic chemicals

We have rated all the companies for their toxic chemicals policies. The companies which received a best rating had a policy because they had banned the use of parabens, phthalates and triclosan (see our feature on toxic chemicals for why we have chosen these chemicals) were:

Bio-D, Faith in Nature, Earth Friendly, Lilly’s Eco Clean.

Animal testing

In October 2015, the UK Government banned the testing of ‘finished’ household products on animals and introduced a ‘qualified ban’ on testing the ingredients on animals. But it’ll make little difference to animal welfare. This is because no animals have been used for testing ‘finished’ household products in the UK since 2010. It’s usually the ingredients not the ‘finished’ products that are tested on animals.  

Ethical Consumer rates all companies selling cosmetics on their animal testing policy. Companies will score a best rating if they have a policy not to test on animals, have a fixed cut-off date (a date after which none of their products or ingredients will have been tested on animals), and are not selling to markets, such as China, where animal testing of products is required by law.

Bio-D, Faith in Nature, Earth friendly, Ecozone, Lilly’s Eco Clean, Astonish, Simply and Ecover all received our best rating for animal testing.

Palm oil

Palm oil and palm oil derivatives have become an important component in many personal care products.

The new ‘PO’ column on our scoretables shows how all the companies rank on their palm oil policy and practice. You can see the expanded score table if you are a logged in subscriber by clicking on the orange ‘More Detail’ box. 

The only company which was palm oil free across all its products was Earth Friendly Products.

Synthetic Fragrances

Aside from changes designed to improve their effectiveness at washing, dishwasher detergents have also become increasingly fragranced in recent years – a trend reflected throughout the household cleaning industry.

Generally manufacturers aim for fresh, invigorating smells. Ironically the chemicals used to create these intensely natural and supposedly clean scents tend to have been derived from somewhat less appetizing petrochemicals.

Manufacturers aren’t legally obliged to specify which of these compounds are actually in the fragrances they use. What is known is that many of the chemicals used in this process are part of the phthalates group. 

Phthalate exposure has been linked to disruption of the hormone system including early puberty in girls, a risk factor for later-life breast cancer.

Several phthalates have been banned in the EU but not all, including diethyl phthalate (DEP) which is used in fragrances. Because the chemical constituents of ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ do not have to be listed on labels, one way to avoid phthalates altogether is to go for fragrance-free products or those free of synthetic fragrances.

Bio-D, Faith in Nature, Earth Friendly Products, Ecozone, Sonett, Sodasan, Lilly’s Eco Clean do not use phthalates in any of their products.

Read our feature on the Ecover controversy over its use of synthetic biology. 

Eco labels

Two companies, Sonett and Sodasan, both had EcoCert and EcoGarantie labels. EcoCert is a French organic label originally applied to food products but more recently certifying the ingredients of cosmetics and household products. EcoGarantie is a Belgium-based trademark for ‘sustainable commodities’. According to the Austrian consumer label comparison website, www.bewusstkaufen.at, the EcoGarantie label appears to be weaker than the EcoCert label, which covers a wider range of criteria.

For dishwasher detergent, EcoCert prohibits Chlorine-based products or chlorinated derivatives, as well as Formalin, Ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid (EDTA), Genetically modified products, Ammonia-based products, Phosphate and phosphonate-based products.

EcoGarantie permits inorganic chlorine chemistry as long as biodegradable molecules are used, it respects the naturally active substances and allows a good management of the waste and of the energy consumption. Organic chlorine chemistry is prohibited.

Make your own

To avoid the long list of toxic chemicals that goes into many off-the-shelf detergents, you could make your own. Dri Pak sell ingredients like bicarbonate of soda and borax substitute if you want to make your own.

Handwashing: Wash your dishes in soap flakes with a dash of white vinegar. Or use washing soda or borax substitute (with gloves!).

Dishwashers: use 1 cup borax substitute and 1 cup of baking soda. Use 2tbsp per load. Use white vinegar in the rinse cycle.

Company Profile

The best selling dishwasher detergent, Finish, is owned by Reckitt Benckiser, a UK household giant and maker of Dettol and Durex.

In South Korea over 100 people are said to have died after using Oxy humidifier disinfectants made by Reckitt Benckiser between 2001 and 2011. A coalition of civic and consumer groups, as well as the families of the victims, initiated a boycott of the company’s products in April 2016. Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Reckitt knew about the possible danger of the chemical used in the disinfectants, ignored consumer complaints, and paid off university researchers to fabricate toxicity results in a study in its favour.

Reckitt apologised and agreed to pay £300 million in compensation. In January 2017, the former executive of Oxy Reckitt, Shin Hyun-woo, was found guilty of accidental homicide and falsely advertising the deadly product as being safe even for children, and was jailed for seven years. Three other research and development employees were also convicted and jailed. The current head of Reckitt Benckiser Korea and the group’s CEO remain in position.

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References

  1. EU Regulation No. 259/2012 14 March 2012