Washing-up Liquid

Finding an ethical, eco-friendly, cruelty free or vegan washing up liquid. Ranking the ethical and environmental record of 24 washing-up brands.

We look at refills, concentrates, organics, palm oil, animal testing, toxic chemicals, supermarket own-brands, highlight the ethics of Ecover and Method 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 washing up liquid:

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

  • Is it plastic free? Several companies now offer completely plastic-free products which are well worth a try.

  • 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 washing-up liquid:

  • Does it contain toxics? The long and complex list of ingredients in household products often includes toxic chemicals. These are bad for the environment as well as health. The best companies will have clear policies against the use of toxic chemicals such as 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.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

Finding ethical and eco-friendly washing-up liquids is not easy. The biggest issues are plastic packaging, polluting, toxic or unsustainable ingredients and animal testing.

We look at reducing the environmental impact, innovations that have the potential to eliminate the need for plastic packaging all together, and organic and vegan washing liquids.

Eco friendly washing-up liquid

Plastic packaging

As household cleaners go, your washing-up liquid is called into action more than most. The mainstream industry's stubborn preference for small single-use plastic bottles is obvious in any UK supermarket, with consumers encouraged to buy small quantities of cheap washing-up liquid regularly rather than promoting sustainable solutions.

For washing-up products, we noted five main innovations for conscious consumers: refills, bulk buying, concentrates, alternative products and making your own.

Shelf in shop with refill bottles of detergent

Liquid refill stations and products

Using refill stations, or purchasing refill products, significantly reduces the plastic impact of your washing-up purchases. Once a fringe ethical phenomenon, more and more shops and companies are now offering refills.

And it’s not just health food shops, alternative supermarkets and zero waste stores. In the months before the Covid-19 pandemic, three mainstream supermarkets (M&S, Asda and Sainsbury's) launched refill station trials. Although these appear to have been limited to Ecover products and have yet to be rolled out nationwide, it is a hopeful sign of things to come.

We’ve also seen a boom in consumer interest in refill-focused companies, with several subscriber requests prompting the addition of Splosh, SESI, Fill Refill and Miniml to this shopping guide.

SESI, Fill Refill and Miniml have wide networks of refill stations, and Fill Refill and Miniml sell directly to consumers too. Splosh send concentrated refill pouches (which you can return to them for recycling) in the post. All of these companies were awarded a positive Company Ethos mark for their focus on refills.

Bulk-buying washing up liquid

Many other companies included in this guide also offered bulk sizes (2 litres to 20 litres) to consumers: ATTITUDE, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Eco-max, Ecover, Faith in Nature, Greenscents, and Sonett. Although the plastic impact of bulk purchasing is lower than buying individual bottles, only Faith in Nature and Greenscents containers can be returned for reuse.

You can also look for bulk containers made from recycled plastics such as Bio-D’s 5 litre bottles or other innovative solutions such as Greenscents’ biopolymer bottles made from sugar cane waste.

A recent Which? report (May 2021) stated that large bottles of household cleaning products used 47% less plastic and needed less space to be transported.

Both refills and bulk purchases offer much more suds for your sterling. Most 20 litre bottles of washing-up liquid cost between £30 and £45 (£1.50-£2.25 per litre) and 5 litre bottles range from around £10.50-£14 (£2.10-£2.80 per litre). For comparison, a litre bottle of Fairy washing-up liquid costs £2.23 from Tesco.

However, the most ethical bulk washing-up products covered in this guide, produced by Greenscents, which are certified as organic, vegan and cruelty-free, cost significantly more.

Environmental impact of concentrated washing up liquids

The main ingredient in all washing-up liquids is water. Refilling with a concentrated solution that you dilute at home significantly reduces the amount of water being unnecessarily transported around and therefore cuts down on carbon emissions. Plus, they use less packaging.

Which? magazine recently assessed (May 2021) the environmental impact of different household cleaning products and found that concentrated products used 75% less plastic packaging and 97% less water. The report also found that refill pouches, like those sold by Splosh, used 85% less plastic.

The following companies sold dilutable concentrated washing-up liquid: Splosh (1.2 litre concentrated refill pouches) and Bide (also has 100% recycled or compostable packaging).

Plastic-free alternatives

Even when bought in bulk or at a refill station, in its liquid form, washing-up detergent necessitates a reliance on plastic packaging to some extent.

Promisingly, we have found a number of alternative products that offer a completely plastic-free solution to your dishwashing needs.

EcoLiving, ecovibe, Planet Detox and Bide all offer washing-up soap bars which circumnavigate the need for plastic packaging. You can either apply the soap directly to your dishes, or rub the bar with a cloth, sponge or brush until soapy. Although these products don’t come cheap, starting at £5.65 per bar, they offer a really interesting solution to the issue of plastics.

Planet Detox also offered a washing-up powder which was simply sprinkled into your washing-up bowl as you fill your sink.

We have awarded a whole positive Product Sustainability mark to these four companies for offering innovative plastic-free products.

It should be noted that there are a number of other dishwashing soap bar brands available online.

Polluting Chemicals

Given that washing-up liquid finds its way down into the drains and eventually into our waterways, you might think it self-evident that these products should not contain substances that could harm the environment. But most mainstream washing-up liquids contain petrochemical surfactants, whose biodegradability is questionable, and synthetic fragrances.

We expected all household cleaning brands to have a clear policy against the use of three particularly nasty chemicals – triclosan, parabens and phthalates. In total eleven of the companies rated received our best rating for their toxic chemicals policy. They are: Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bentley Organic, Bide, Bio-D, ecoleaf (Suma), Faith In Nature, Fill Refill, Greenscents, Miniml, and SESI.

Synthetic fragrances

Synthetic fragrances are used in most mainstream detergents. The word ‘Fragrance’ or ‘Parfum’ on a label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients, potentially including hormone-disrupting phthalates, synthetic musks, and ethylene oxide. Fragrance mixes have also been associated with allergies, dermatitis and respiratory problems. Alternative products are commonly either fragrance-free or they use essential oils.

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.

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 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.

Antibacterial washing-up liquids are quite common in the mainstream brands, but they are no more effective against germs, including COVID-19, than standard washing-up liquid and may contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Palm oil in washing up liquid

Some of the brands we reviewed are completely palm oil free across all products. They were: Bide, Greenscents and Planet Detox, with Greenscents certified as palm oil free by the International Palm Oil Free Certification Trademark POFCAP.

Several others (Bio-D, Faith in Nature, Fill Refill, Miniml, SESI, Sodasan, 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: Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bentley Organic, Easy, EcoLiving, EcoVibe, Ecozone, and Prism (Eco-Max).

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

Person washing glass under tap

Vegan washing-up liquids

Almost all of the products in this guide are either marketed or certified as vegan washing-up liquids. Only Easy, Fairy (Proctor & Gamble) and Surcare (McBride) do not claim to be vegan, which begs the question, what makes a washing-up liquid not vegan?

Plant Based News highlights seven ingredients used in household cleaners that can be derived from animal products: Oleyl alcohols, tallow, lanolin, caprylic acid, animal lecithin, animal glycerol, and stearic acid.

We have awarded half a Product Sustainability mark to all products marketed as vegan and a whole mark to those whose vegan claims are certified by a third party. They are both marked with a [Vg] on the score table.

Cruelty free washing-up liquids

The other important animal rights consideration for ethical consumers is animal testing.

The following brands scored best ratings for their Animal Testing policy: Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bio-D, Bide, ecoleaf, Ecozone, Faith in Nature, Fill Refill, Greenscents, Miniml, Planet Detox, SESI and Sodasan.

Those whose entire product range was certified as cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny were Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Ecozone, Faith in Nature, Fill Refill and Greenscents.

Organic washing-up liquid

Only two products in this guide were certified as organic, Greenscents and Bentley Organics. They are marked on the score table with [O].

Several companies noted that they used some organic ingredients such as organic essential oils or coconut oil, a number of these even marketed their products as organic. Consumers should always look for formal certification from a third party such as the Soil Association to ensure all possible ingredients come from organic sources.

Make your own washing liquid

The other option for consumers looking to reduce their plastic waste and toxic ingredients is making your own washing-up liquid. If you haven’t tried before, it is well worth having a go.

DIY dishwashing recipes can be cheap, effective and ethical. There are a whole host of tried and tested recipes available online. Most of the more sophisticated (and effective) DIY recipes contain soda crystals, castile soap, white vinegar and glycerine which can all be purchased online or at specific high street shops. Be aware though that glycerine can be derived from palm oil, or animal fat.

In order to make the most eco-friendly washing-up liquid, look for ingredients that are palm oil free, vegan and certified as cruelty-free and organic if possible.

Bear in mind that your home-made concoctions won’t make as many suds as you are used to because they don’t contain the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulphate, but they will get your dishes clean.

How does doing the dishes by hand compare with a dishwasher? Take a look at our new dishwasher guide where we compare the carbon impact of handwashing and machine washing.

Supermarket own brand washing-up liquids

Supermarkets are a big player in the washing-up liquid market in the UK, with nearly a third of us using supermarket own brands in 2019.

Although we have not included the ethical ratings of supermarkets in this guide, given that our best scoring national supermarket (M&S) receives an Ethiscore of 6/20, it is safe to say that buying dishwashing products from the high scoring companies in this guide is a better ethical option, although the prices offered by supermarkets make them tempting!

Our latest ethical guide to supermarkets is available on our website.

Companies behind the brands

Ecover and Method were previously the best of the widely available brands but, since their takeover in 2018, their score has dropped from 11.5 to 4 and they have a boycott call against them for being owned by a non cruelty-free company, SC Johnson. We therefore felt unable to continue to recommend them as a brand to buy.

Although Ecover and Method have some good policies, SC Johnson got worst ratings for Palm Oil Sourcing, Environmental Reporting, Likely Use of Tax Avoidance Strategies, and Pollution & Toxics. SC Johnson had operations in five oppressive regimes, didn’t disclose director pay, and was involved in lobbying. It also openly admits to selling animal-tested products and is subject to a boycott call by Naturewatch Foundation of Ecover and Method brands.

In January 2021, Ecover had to issue a product recall for two batches of its 1.5 litre Zero% laundry liquid, which had been on sale since November 2020. They had been discovered to contain excessive levels of potassium hydroxide which could cause the bottle to leak, and can cause serious damage to the skin and eyes.

Read more about the take over and the boycott call.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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