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Dishwasher Detergent

Ranking the ethical and environmental record of 18 dishwasher detergents.

Finding the most eco-friendly dishwasher tablets, powder, pods, and liquids. We also look at animal testing, microplastics, toxic chemicals, and highlight the ethics of Finish and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping 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.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying dishwasher detergent:

  • Is it a refill product? If you want to cut out unnecessary packaging and plastic then choosing a dishwasher detergent refill product is a good way to go.

  • Is it palm oil free, or using only the highest certifications? 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.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

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. The best companies will have clear policies against the use of triclosan, parabens or phthalates.

  • Is it using animal testing? Although animal testing for finished household products is banned in the UK, lots of companies still use ingredients that were tested on animals by suppliers. If you want avoid animal testing, we’d advise only buying from companies that ensure ingredients they source aren’t tested on animals.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 100) Ratings Categories

Fill Refill dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Ideal Manufacturing Ltd

SESI dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: SESI Food and Household Refill LLP

Greenscents dishwasher powder

Company Profile: International Greenscents Ltd

Miniml dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: The Friendly Chemical Co Ltd

Bio-D dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Bio-D Company

Smol dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Smol Limited

Sonett dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Sonett GmbH

ecoleaf dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd (t/a Suma Wholefoods)

Splosh dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Splosh Limited

Sodasan dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Sodasan Wasch- und Reinigungsmittel GmbH

Astonish dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: The London Oil Refining Co Ltd

ATTITUDE dishwashing detergent

Company Profile: 9055-7588 Québec Inc

Finish dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC

Clean n Fresh dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: McBride plc

Ecover dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Ecover (UK) Limited

Method Dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Method Products Ltd

Ecozone dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Ecozone (UK) Ltd

Fairy dishwasher detergent

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company

Our Analysis

Which is the most eco friendly dishwasher detergent? Tablets, pods, powder or liquid?

If you use a dishwasher, the most difficult decision may be less about finding an eco brand and more around product type.

Pods, tablets, powder and liquid are all different routes to the same end – clean dishes. How has it got so complicated, and why do we need so many options?

The answer is all of these forms of dishwasher detergent have their pluses and minuses. Some are better for minimising transport CO2 emissions, some better for recycling, and some are safer when it comes to pollution and toxics.

Powder and then tablets seem to be the best options, and there are refill options for both of these formats. Powders avoid the issue of the PVA wrapping. If we were to recommend avoiding any, it would probably be pods.

Different dishwasher detergent options tabs pods

Dishwasher Tablets

Tablets are popular among leading brands but also smaller eco ones. Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Ecover,
Ecozone, Finish, OceanSaver, Smol, Sodasan, Sonnet and Splosh all use tablet form.

Tablets are compact, resulting in less carbon emissions from transportation. They’re convenient to use and store.

However, tablets tend to be more expensive than liquids or powders and they often come individually wrapped.
The wrapping of most tablets and pods, including the eco kind, is usually made from polyvinyl alcohol (PVA or PVOH), a synthetic polymer made from fossil fuels. Debates appear to be ongoing about how biodegradable PVA is. See the pods section below for more on this.

It appears that dishwasher tablets require a significantly thinner PVA wrapping in comparison with pods, which require a much bulkier casing to contain liquids.

Dishwasher pods – are they bad for the environment?

Pods, also known as packs or liquitabs, are compact, saving on CO2 emissions through transportation and saving space in your cupboard. They’re also generally mess-free. However, like tablets, pods often involve a lot of packaging and are more expensive than alternatives.

The PVA that pods are encased in is promoted as 100% water-soluble and biodegradable. A study from March 2021 into PVA used on dishwasher pods stated that it is biodegradable and “there is no concern for persistence or accumulation in the environment.”

But a preliminary study by Arizona State University into the PVA used on dishwasher pods published in April 2021 suggested that "about 4% of the PVA from detergent pods is discharged undigested in treated water, while 65% ends up in sludge” that may end up in landfill, applied to agricultural land or incinerated. The study's author suggests it could harm aquatic ecosystems.

According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, "Pure PVA doesn’t easily break apart and must be diluted by degradable plant starches and proteins to even appear to dissolve. Think about what happens when you mix salt with water: Just because you can’t see all the tiny grains of salt in the water as they dissolve doesn’t mean the salt doesn’t still exist"

Hazard to children

Pods also contain highly concentrated caustic detergent – making them hazardous to children and animals should they be ingested. They are often colourful and look a bit like sweets.

A 2016 article in 'Emerging Medicine News' stated “The thin water-soluble packaging material is fun to touch but easily penetrated by a child's fingers, teeth, and saliva. [...] Unlike the old-fashioned granular and liquid detergents that usually produced only mild irritation, these newer products demand clinical respect and likely a bit more observation time.”

One study showed that in 2012-13, when pods were relatively new, over 17,000 children aged under 6 had been poisoned by the pods; 4.4% were hospitalised, and 7.5% experienced moderate or major medical outcomes.

Due to PVA use, and the risk they cause to health if accidentally ingested, plus the high price tag, pods seem like the least attractive option for dishwasher detergents.

Method offers dishwasher pods. Fairy and Finish sold ‘dishwasher tabs’ which appear to be a combination of a
tablet and a pod (a solid tablet with a liquid capsule on top).

white detergent powder with spoon

Dishwasher powder

Powder can be easily packaged in recycled cardboard boxes which can then be recycled again. However, powder is bulkier than tablets which results in higher transportation emissions, and it can be easy to overuse
as it doesn’t come in a pre-measured per-wash volume like tablets and pods.

Several brands opted to use powdered form: Fill Refill, SESI, Sodasan, Greenscents and Sonett offered powdered detergent.

Liquid detergents

Liquids are less messy than loose powders but it’s easy to use too much, and they’re probably the heaviest option of all detergent forms, being largely water, resulting in higher transport emissions. Another obvious drawback is the plastic bottles.

Plastic bottles are generally an awkward shape for shipping, resulting in further transportation emissions. And although plastic bottles are now widely collected for recycling in the UK, this doesn't remove the issue of microplastics causing environmental damage. Stories about UK plastic recycling ending up in incinerators or being dumped abroad also add to the argument that reduction and reuse are the only sensible ways forward.

Finish was the only company to sell detergent gel in a plastic bottle.

Dishwasher pouches - reducing plastic waste

Tablets, pods and powder can come in plastic pouches which are less recyclable than bottles – however they use much less plastic and take up less lorry space than bottles.

One Which? article stated that 30 plastic bottles require about the same amount of storage and shipping space as 840 pouches.

Refill options for powder and tablets

Companies in this guide that had a refill-focussed business model were marked up under the company ethos mark in the score table.

SESI: provide bulk tubs of powder to stockists for customers to refill from.

Miniml: refill from stockists.

Fill Refill: glass jar and bulk refills of powder in a paper bag.

Splosh: tablets come in a refillable tin.

How toxic is dishwasher detergent?

Chlorine bleaches

In terms of pollution and toxins 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.

Chlorine is sometimes used as a bleaching agent in dishwasher detergents. 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.”

Brands that stated that their dishwasher detergent didn’t contain chlorine included Method, SESI and Sodasan.


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. The ban was postponed by two years because of lobbying by phosphate manufacturers and dishwasher detergent producers.

Phosphates in waterways can cause algal blooms and plants that stifle aquatic life and can lead to ‘dead zones’. Some manufacturers, like Bio-D, have been phosphate-free since they started making dishwasher detergent.

Brands and harmful ingredients

We expect companies to show a good approach to harmful ingredients by restricting the use of harmful substances including triclosan, parabens, phthalates and formaldehyde. It also assesses their approach to microplastics and poorly biodegradable liquids polymers. 

The following brands scored a top score of 100% for their approach to harmful ingredients: Attitude, Bio D, Ecoleaf, Fill Refill, Miniml, Sesi and Sonnet. 

80% was received by Smol, which had good policies apart from the fact it used poorly-biodegradable liquid polymers in its dishwasher tablets, but said it was working to replace this. Clean n Fresh also scored 80.

Astonish and Splosh received 60 marks, and Sodasan received 40 marks.

The following received the worst rating possible, of zero marks: Ecozone, Fairy and Splosh. Ecover and Method also received 0 marks, because of their ownership by SC Johnson which has a poor approach to harmful substances. 

Surfactants and biodegradability

‘Surface-active agents’ (surfactants) are the main active ingredient in detergents. They work by keeping dirt suspended in the water. Surfactants can be made from plant oils such as coconut oil, or sugar, or can be synthesised from waste materials from the petroleum industry. EU law requires that surfactants used in domestic detergents must be aerobically biodegradable (it will biodegrade if oxygen is present) and break down by 60% within 28 days.

The main surfactant used by the detergent industry is LAS (Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate) which is derived from crude oil and is ‘ultimately biodegradable’ but not ‘anaerobically biodegradable’ (i.e., it will not biodegrade unless oxygen is present). 

Palm oil in dishwasher detergent

The highest rated brands in this guide for palm sourcing are Bio-D, Fill Refill, Miniml, SESI and Splosh. These received 80%, though not 100% because it didn't appear that they sourced most of their palm through 'segregated' or 'identity preserved' mechanisms which is the gold standard when it comes to more ethical palm sourcing. 

The brands with the worst approach to palm sourcing are Attitude, Ecozone, Fairy and Finish, all of which scored zero marks out of a possible 100.

For more information on palm oil and what ingredients to look out for see our separate palm oil page.

Is DIY dishwasher detergent an eco friendly option?

We don’t feel confident recommending any homemade dishwasher detergent recipes. Most recipes were posted on blogs and weren’t referenced or informed by science or chemicals experts.

On the one hand there’s the risk DIY detergents might not clean dishes very well. On the other, there’s a risk they may damage the dishes or the machine itself.

So, until a DIY detergent recipe emerges that’s backed up by results, it might be safer to pick an eco detergent brand.

The most animal-friendly dishwasher detergent

Six brands received the full marks for their overall approach to other animals. Brands that scored 100 for their approach to animals, which includes both its use of animal derived ingredients and the stringency of its policies against animal testing, are: Astonish, Bio-D, Fill Refill, SESI, Smol, and Splosh.

Vegan dishwasher detergent

Brands in this guide either marketed themselves or were certified as vegan, or confirmed they didn't use any animal derivatives in their products, include: Astonish, Bio-D, Fill Refill, Miniml, OceanSaver, SESI, Smol, Splosh

Cruelty free dishwasher detergent

Several brands received full marks for their policies that aim to reduce the risk of animal testing in their supply chains, including: Astonish, Attitude, Bio-D, Fill Refill, SESI, Smol, Splosh.

Animal-friendly brands owned by unethical parents

Ecozone is fully vegan and had stringent anti-animal testing policies, but is owned by a parent company that had investments in healthcare including "drug discovery", which is a sector known for likely risk of animal testing and use of animal derived ingredients, and this parent company didn't seem to have published policies around these issues.

Method and Ecover are vegan and have strong policies against animal testing, but they are owned by SC Johnson, which faces a boycott call by Naturewatch due to its involvement in animal testing. 

The poorest scorers in this guide regarding their approach to animals were Clean N Fresh and Fairy

Finish and Fairy dishwasher detergent

The least ethical dishwasher tablets, liquids and powders are unfortunately the most widely used. Finish is the best seller, and Fairy is the second most used dishwasher tablet in the UK and both score very badly. In terms of sales, no competitors really rival these two brands currently.

Fortunately, lots of new eco-brands have emerged to meet the demands of consumers who want clean dishes and a clean conscience. Our guide to dishwashers found that a growing number of households now have a dishwasher, and that they are often the more environmental choice for doing the dishes.

Companies behind the brands

Reckitt Benckiser owns Finish dishwasher detergent (and other big consumer brands including Bonjela and E45).

It has been criticised on numerous occasions for false marketing. One Financial Times article called Reckitt Benckiser an “expert at selling products that seem to deliver less than they promise.” The company falsely claimed some products eased joint pain and stiffness; falsely claimed a pharmaceutical product was safer for children than its competitors’ products; and, during coronavirus, was accused of falsely implying that its products offered better protection than its competitors.

In 2020, the company was fined after a worker’s arm was crushed in a bottling machine in the UK. It was also accused by Unite the Union of overworking staff. It's highest paid director received over £5m in 2023.

Want more information?

See detailed company information, ethical ratings and issues for all companies mentioned in this guide, by clicking on a brand name in the Score table.  

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