Dishwasher Detergent

Ranking the ethical and environmental record of 17 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 Bide and Finish 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.

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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? 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 are tested on animals. 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 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

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, ecoleaf, Ecover,
Ecozone, Finish, 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), a synthetic polymer. 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 recent 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.

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 top scorers opted to use powdered form: Bide, Bio-D, Finish, Fill Refill, Miniml, SESI, Sodasan 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.

Although plastic bottles are now widely collected for recycling in the UK, recent revelations from Greenpeace about UK plastic recycling ending up in incinerators or being dumped abroad adds to the argument that reduction and reuse are the only sensible ways forward.

Plastic bottles are also generally an awkward shape for shipping, resulting in further transportation emissions.

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.

A recent 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 scored half a positive Company Ethos mark in the scoretable.

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

Miniml: order bulk refills of powder online or refill from stockists.

Fill Refill: glass jar and bulk refills of powder in a paper bag. Currently developing a dishwasher detergent product.

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 were Bide, Method, Fill Refill, SESI and Sodasan.

Phosphates

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 toxic chemicals

We expect companies to show a good approach to toxics by having a ban on the use of triclosan, parabens and phthalates.

Best rating: The following companies had clear statements against use of these three ingredients: Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bide, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Fill Refill, Miniml and SESI. Ecover and Method scored best ratings for Pollution and Toxics, but their parent company SC Johnson received a worst rating.

Middle rating: Several companies partially addressed the use of these chemicals, so scored a middle rating. Fairy (Procter & Gamble) didn’t use triclosan and stated that it was removing phthalates from products, but didn’t provide any timeline for phasing them out, and appeared to use parabens. Sonett lacked a clear statement but did not use synthetic fragrances (the main use of phthalates), or synthetic preservatives (the main use of parabens).

Worst rating: Four brands scored a worst rating for Pollution & Toxics. Ecozone informed us in an email in 2017 that it did not use these ingredients, however as this was several years ago and no information was published on the company website, it now scores a worst rating. Splosh, Reckitt Benckiser (Finish), and Smol didn’t make a clear statement banning these ingredients or saying that they did not use them.

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). The alternative surfactants used by companies such as Bio-D are plant-based and ‘readily’ biodegradable.

Palm oil in dishwasher detergent

Bide is the only brand of the dishwasher detergents we reviewed which is completely palm oil free across all its products.

Several others (Bio-D, Fill Refill, Miniml, SESI, Sodasan, Smol and Splosh) scored our best rating for stating that all of their palm ingredients, including derivatives, were certified by the RSPO.

Several small or medium companies scored a worst rating if they had no information on palm-based ingredients,
or if they only seemed to use certified palm in one brand but not another, or if they talked about palm oil but not
derivatives. For dishwasher detergents these brands were: Astonish, ATTITUDE, and Ecozone.

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

Polymers and plastics in detergents

As well as potential microplastics, there may be liquid polymers in your cleaners. Liquid polymers are not plastics, but they are also poorly biodegradable and remain for years in our ecosystem with unknown consequences.

Our rating for microplastics and liquid polymers for dishwasher detergents found the following:

Companies which lacked a clear policy around the use of microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers lost half a mark under the Pollution & Toxics category.

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.

Vegan dishwasher detergent

Most of the brands in this guide either marketed themselves or were certified as vegan.

Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Ecozone, Fill Refill, Sodasan and Sonett were all certified vegan and received a whole Product Sustainability mark.

Several brands stated that their dishwasher detergents contained no animal products and scored half a Product Sustainability mark. These were Bide, Ecover, Method, Miniml, SESI, Smol and Splosh.

No information was found to ensure the following brands were free from animal derived ingredients: Procter & Gamble (Fairy), Reckitt Benckiser (Finish).

Cruelty free dishwasher detergent

It is worth also examining the Animal Rights and Animal Testing ratings in the Ethiscores because even if a product is technically considered to be vegan the brand may have lost marks under Animal Testing for various reasons.

The following brands scored best ratings for Animal Testing: Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bide, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Ecozone, Fill Refill, Miniml, SESI, Sodasan and Smol.

The strongest were companies whose entire product range was assured by CrueltyFree International (Leaping Bunny). These were: Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Ecozone, Fill Refill, and Smol.

We have recently introduced an exemption for small companies so they don’t have to have a fixed cut-off date (FCO) for testing of ingredients to get a best rating. A FCO is a specific date, chosen by the company, from which none of its ingredients have been tested on animals. The exemption was given because creating an FCO can require resources that some smaller organisations may not have.

Dishwasher detergent brands

The least ethical dishwasher 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, since the last guide to dishwasher detergents in 2017, 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.

Since their sale to mainstream cleaning company SC Johnson in 2018, green cleaning pioneers Ecover and its sister brand Method both score badly.

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.

Bide is a new entry and has shot to the top of the Ethiscore table. It scored best in every category. Bide lacked a fixed cut-off date for animal testing but had a statement against animal testing and clarified how it ensured this: it only sources from one supplier, and that supplier is Leaping Bunny certified.

Bide works with employment charities to recruit people to work at home, such as Working Chance, which works with women who have convictions to find employment. Bide sees its home manufacturing roles as a way for people to get work experience to help them secure future employment (and earn a living wage in the meantime).

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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