What’s the best natural dish soap? Does anything really work, or does it always just feel like you’re smearing grease around a p This guide will answer these questions, and we hope it will make choosing a natural dish soap less confusing.
Admittedly, even the best natural dish soap brands have a hard time competing with the conventional brands. The trouble with being that tough on grease is that this usually also means the product is tough on the health of whoever uses the stuff–and on the aquatic life in the bodies of water where the soap ends up!
The other bad news is that many dish soaps marketed as “natural” nevertheless contain chemicals of concern. And while you do wash most of the product off of your dishes, some residue remains, which of course can be ingested. If you have little kids who like to “help” wash dishes, you’ll want to make sure you choose a dish soap that is truly non-toxic.
That said, I am more lenient on ingredients in dishwashing soap than, say, skin cream. Anything that goes directly on the skin and is absorbed is of course more concerning than products that you wash out.
The Most Effective Natural Dish Soap
If you want jump straight to the most effective natural dish soap, try Sonett’s dishwashing liquid. My husband is pickier than I am, and this is his favorite.
Natural Dish Soap Brands That Are:
- Most Affordable (over time): healthybaby
- Most Eco-Friendly: Meliora
- Available in Target: 9 Elements
- EWG-Verified: Aspen Clean, healthybaby, Attitude
Common Dish Soap Ingredients
Below are the most common ingredients in dishwashing liquid, natural and otherwise!
- Surfactants. Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are common coconut-derived foaming agents. Both SLS and SLES produce bubbles in your dish soap, and are found in lots of “natural” brands. SLS is okay in my opinion, but SLES is not. (Here is where I explain the differences between sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate.) There are other newer coconut-derived surfactants, such as potassium cocoate, that have good safety profiles. A surfactant that should definitely be avoided is cocamidopropyl betaine, which is rated a 5 out of 10 on EWG’s hazard scale because of contamination concerns.
- Dyes. Even food-grade coloring is implicated in behavioral issues in kids, and colorants can be contaminated with heavy metals. The best natural dish soap brands are all colorless.
- Fragrance. Anything scented probably contains hormone-disrupting phthalates, unless the manufacturers specify that they only use essential oils. Even phthalate-free synthetic fragrances usually are petroleum-derived and contain undisclosed chemicals. To me, there is nothing worse than drinking from a cup that tastes perfumey from dish soap, so this doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all.
- Antibacterial ingredients. Thankfully, toxic triclosan has been mostly taken out of dish soaps. That said, any antibacterial ingredients should be avoided–soap and water is all you need to eliminate the bacteria on your dishes!
- Preservatives. Water-based products require preservativation to prevent bacterial growth, so you can expect that dish soap will contain preservatives. There are three preservatives in dish soap that will eliminate a product from making it into our Good Stuff category: benzisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, and methylchloroisothiazolinone–all of which are skin irritants and extremely toxic to aquatic life.
Dish-Washing Accessories I Can’t Live Without
Read on for our picks for the best natural dish soaps—and the brands I’d rather see you avoid.
9 Elements Liquid Dish Soap
This formula is different from the others because 9 Elements utilizes vinegar in their dish soap. None of their cleaning products contains more than nine ingredients, and scent comes from 100% essential oils.
Cost per ounce: $0.25
Aspen Clean Dish Soap
This EWG-verified dish soap comes in unscented, lavender/lemongrass, or eucalyptus/rosemary.
Cost per ounce: $0.66
Attitude Dishwashing Liquid
This affordable brand is surprisingly totally toxin-free and verified by EWG.
Cost per ounce: $0.38
Blueland Dish Soap Powder
This Earth-friendly formula comes to you as a powder, which you simply pour onto a wet sponge to create a thick foam. Your first order comes with a silicone shaker that never needs to be replaced.
Cost per ounce: $0.75, plus one-time cost of Forever Shaker
Branch Basics The Concentrate
I’m a big fan of Branch for their environmentally-friendly, refillable cleaning products. The Concentrate works surprisingly well for dishes! You just dilute with lots of water and put into a dish soap bottle. You’ll have to invest in the first bottle ($55), but I feel like it would last for a decade of dirty dishes.
Common Good Dish Soap
Common Good dish soap was previously on our Sneaky Stuff list, but they’ve changed their formula! This is now a safe dish soap option, with nontoxic surfactants and natural essential oils for fragrance.
Cost per ounce: $1.30
Earthley Dish Soap Bar
Another safe bar soap option, Earthley’s dish soap uses only essential oils for a fresh lemon-thyme scent. Because this is a soap, not a detergent, it may not work well in areas with hard water.
Cost per ounce: $2.50
Eco-Me Plant Extracts Dish Soap
I love Eco-Me dish soap–it actually works, doesn’t contain scary ingredients, and smells good. It’s also one of the more affordable dish soaps.
Cost per ounce: $0.50
Healthybaby Baby Dish Soap
We love healthybaby’s dish soap system for babies. It is both EWG-verified and MADESAFE-certified. One bottle of concentrate makes 16 baby dish soaps.
Cost per ounce: $0.11, plus $45 one time cost for bottle, concentrate, and cloths
Meliora Natural Solid Dish Soap Puck
A plastic-free, surprisingly effective way to wash your dirty dishes, pots, and pans. I’ve found this works best with this long handled bamboo brush. You can even buy this puck without the paper packaging to make it an entirely waste-free product. Because this is a soap, not a detergent, it may not work well in areas with hard water.
Cost per ounce: $1.42
Poofy Organics Dish Soap
This dish soap uses a safe foaming agent (decyl polyglucose) and only essential oils for a pleasant scent.
Cost per ounce: $1.12
Sonett Dish Washing Liquid
This soap by the German company Sonett is my longtime favorite. It contains none of the usual toxic suspects found in conventional (and many natural) brands of dish soap, and works really well.
Cost per ounce: $0.50
Tandi’s Naturals Solid Natural Dish Soap
Because this is a bar soap (no plastic!), I was reluctant to try it at first. I was pleasantly surprised when it worked! The trick is to rinse the sponge well and often and then reload with soap. The ingredients list is incredibly safe–it’s 100% natural with nothing questionable (see all ingredients here).
Tandi’s bar soap is also a great choice for those of you dealing with eczema who are looking to rid your homes of all detergents, because this is soap, rather than detergent.
This bar will last much longer than liquid dish soaps. I concede that it’s not for everyone, but it is hands-down the most planet-friendly dish soap I’ve found. Because this is a soap, not a detergent, it may not work well in areas with hard water.
Cost per ounce: $1.71
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The following brands don’t make our Good Stuff list because of one or more ingredients that may be hazardous, but which are present only in small amounts. If you can’t get any of the Good Stuff options, these are acceptable.
Babyganics Foaming Dish & Bottle Soap
Babyganics has ditched the SLES in their dish/bottle soap, which is great. They continue to change their formula every time I check for updates, so make sure you verify the ingredients yourself. Sodium lauroamphoacetate is the newest surfactant, which seems safe enough, although more studies are needed. Babyganics has added methylisothiazolinone as a preservative, but in a small enough quantity that I’m still calling this Okay.
Cost per ounce: $1.26
Better Life Dish Soap
Better Life added methylisothiazolinone to their formula, which is why we no longer carry this dish soap in our store. I am still okay with using it in my own home, since this preservative is the only problematic ingredient. (And, it’s likely all I will be using for the next decade since Better Life failed to tell us they’d changed the formula and we were left sitting with hundreds of bottles!)
Cost per ounce: $0.38
Dropps Dishwashing Spray
I really like that this sprays on and is refillable and therefore planet friendly. Most ingredients in this spray are totally safe. We are calling it Okay Stuff only because of the 1,3-dioxolane-4-methanol, 2,2-dimethyl-, and even this is not an overly concerning.
Cost per ounce: $2.00
Ecover Dish Soap
Ecover’s liquid dish soap used to be on my Sneaky Stuff list, but they’ve changed their formula and it no longer contains SLES or many of the other concerning ingredients in the older version. Note that EWG hasn’t updated the list of ingredients, so their scores are inaccurate. Ecover dish soap is Okay Stuff instead of Good Stuff only because they use methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone as preservatives.
Cost per ounce: $0.48
Grove Co. Dish Soap
A lot of what is sold on via Grove Collaborative is decidedly Sneaky, but their dish soap is not bad. It isn’t quite Good Stuff because of benzisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone
Cost per ounce: $0.31
Puracy Natural Dish Soap
I have some concerns with some of the ingredients in Puracy’s soap, including benzisothiazolinone, tetrasodium glutamate diacetate, and sodium lauromphoacetate (all of these and other ingredients get C’s from EWG). Still, nothing is overly concerning, so Puracy dish soap is Okay Stuff.
Cost per ounce: $0.42
Seventh Generation Dish Liquid
Seventh Generation is totally transparent about their ingredients, so they get points for that. Another plus is that they test the SLS in their dish soap to ensure that it does not contain detectable levels of 1,4-dioxane. Unfortunately, their dish soap also contains methylisothiazonline, which is why we’ve put it in Okay Stuff.
Cost per ounce: $0.52
Dawn sucks, and while they don’t disclose all of their ingredients, you can find their MSDS on the P&G website. Depending on which formula you pick, you’ll find SLES, fragrance (probably with phthalates), artificial colorings, phenoxyethanol, and/or methylisothiazolinone.
Most Palmolive formulas contains sodium laureth sulfate, and they all contain synthetic fragrance and dyes. Palmolive does score a point for not using triclosan for their antibacterial soap (instead they use lactic acid). Palmolive’s “Eco” formula, and also the one they call “Pure + Clear” are the very definition of Sneaky Stuff! The Palmolive dish soap MSDS is available on the Colgate-Palmolive website.
Target’s Up & Up brand contains sodium laureth sulfate, fragrance, synthetic colors, methylchloroisothiazolinone, and methylisothiazolinone.
I could go on, but you get the point: stay away from Ajax, Ivory, Joy, and probably anything else that leaves your glasses suspiciously sparkly. And don’t be fooled by the “Free & Clear” version of these brands–they still contain SLES, methylisothiazolinone, and/or synthetic fragrance.
When it comes to dish soaps, there is a TON of Sneaky Stuff. What follows are the brands that you ask about most often.
365 dish soaps have moved from Okay Stuff to Sneaky Stuff, thanks to the addition of sodium laureth sulfate, cocamidopropyl betaine, and benzisothiazolinone.
Aunt Fannie’s dishwashing liquid contains cocamidopropyl betaine, although the rest of their line of cleaning products is Good Stuff!
When I wrote the first version of the dish soap safety review (back in 2010!), Biokleen was tight-lipped about the specific ingredients they use. (“Unfortunately, our surfactants are a proprietary blend and therefore we do not disclose that information to the public.”) Biokleen did assure me, however, that their detergent is free of both SLS and SLES and that they don’t use synthetic fragrances or dyes. They sent me their material safety data sheet (MSDS) and their surfactant blend is not considered hazardous or possibly carcinogenic. Given all of this information, I felt that Biokleen should be considered Good Stuff. Unfortunately, Biokleen recently changed their formula and, to their credit, chose to disclose all ingredients. These include cocamidopropyl betaine, lauramine oxide, and something called C10-16 alkyl glucoside, about which I can’t find any information.
Dapple dish soap uses alkyl polyglucoside as a surfactant, which is safe, but it also contains tetrasodium iminodisuccinate (a C on EWG), synthetic fragrance (although they specify that it’s “made from ingredients consistent with the guidelines of the Natural Products Association”), and benzisothiazolinone (definitely Bad Stuff). When we tried to get more info from Dapple on their fragrance, we got no response (via phone or email).
Earth Friendly Products used to list the ingredients in their ECOS Dishmate soap as just “water, salt, organic grapefruit oil, and 100% natural anionic coconut kernel oil-based surfactant.” They have recently started disclosing all of their ingredients, which include cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium coco-sulfate, cocamidopropylamine oxide, phenoxyethanol, and methylisothiazolinone. Super sneaky!
Grab Green changed their formula, and their dish liquid now contains sodium laureth sulfate and cocamidopropyl betaine.
Honest Company’s Honest Dish Soap has changed their ingredients for the better since the original version of this guide. But it still contains sodium benzoate, cocomidopropylamine oxide, phenoxyethanol, sodium coco-sulfate, and cocamidopropyl betaine.
J.R. Watkins foaming dish soap has a cool application process, but contains all the standard Sneaky ingredients, including synthetic fragrance.
Method dish soap uses synthetic fragrance and color (this one is free of phthalates), and also contains synthetic preservatives and methylisothiazolinone.
Mrs. Meyers Clean Day’s PR company sent me bottles of all of their dishwashing liquids, hoping to have it reviewed on this site. While I did in fact use all four bottles, I won’t buy or recommend Mrs. Meyers. They are indeed scented with essential oils, as the label claims, but they also contain synthetic fragrances (although a Mrs. Meyers rep assured me they are free of phthalates)–in addition to methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone.
Shaklee is a brand that we are asked about often. Unfortunately, their dishwashing liquid contains Poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl), .alpha.-sulfo-.omega.-hydroxy-, C10-16-alkyl ethers (yes, that’s one ingredient!), which may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane. It also contains tetrasodium EDTA and C10-16-alkyl glycosides, both of which EWG rate a C.
Trader Joe’s doesn’t disclose any specifics about their dish soap, but we know it has artificial colors.
What About Dishwasher Detergent?
We are working on a Safe Dishwasher Soap Guide, but for now, here’s what we’ve identified as the Good Stuff:
Berkley Green Fragrance-Free Dishwasher Gel$10.70 — or subscribe and save up to 10%
Sonett All Natural Dishwasher Tablets$16.99 — or subscribe and save up to 10%
MamaSuds Auto Dishwasher Powder$22.00 — or subscribe and save up to 5%
How to Make Natural Dish Soap
As usual, my readers are greener than I am, and many of them use homemade dishwashing liquid. Here is one insanely easy homemade dish soap recipe that a one reader swears by: Combine 2 parts castile soap (this my favorite) with 1 part warm water, plus a few drops of lemon oil. Shake before using.
Maia, Founder & CEO
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