The 8 Best Eco-Friendly Dish Soaps of 2021

A few drops for a squeaky and sustainable clean

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Choosing an eco-friendly dish soap is an easy step you can take towards protecting our waterways. We’ve put together this list of some top-rated, widely available environmentally-responsible soaps to help you make this simple, positive transition. In general, we’ve chosen dish soaps that are chlorine and phosphate-free to protect the environment, and naturally scented or fragrance-free for those with sensitive noses and/or skin. Most brands are also available in scented form.

We’ve also considered the rating (where available) by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) who ranks products based on the toxicity of their chemical ingredients. As you’ll discover if you spend time on the research, it is difficult to find a quality detergent whose ingredients are all “A’s” so keep that in mind as you choose your favorites.

If the first one you try isn’t a good fit, move on to the next until you find what’s right for you. Here are the best eco-friendly dish soaps:

The Rundown
This soap is affordable, cruelty-free, and safe for sensitive skin.
Effective, plant-based cleaning for half the price by a U.S. women-owned company.
Reduce your carbon footprint and eliminate plastic waste by switching to this bar.
This affordable, cruelty-free brand can take care of your toughest loads of dishes.
A fair-trade soap with truly natural ingredients safe for your dishes and the environment.
Cut plastic waste by 90% with 80% paper-based packaging.
Reduce plastic consumption and carbon footprint easily with this simple concentrate.
Most environmentally-conscious ingredients available on the market today.

Best Overall: Puracy Natural Dish Soap

Puracy Natural Dish Soap

To earn Treehugger's Best Overall spot, a dish soap must be free of harmful chemicals and affordable. Puracy Natural Green Tea & Lime Dish Soap Refill fits the bill. The entire Puracy line of home cleaning products was originally developed by two couples from Austin, Texas who wanted safe alternatives for their newborn daughters. With help from physicians, each product was developed for those with sensitive skin and allergies. This fresh smelling dish soap is plant-based, cruelty-free, and has never been tested on animals.

You can buy the refill size and reuse the same dispenser over and over. Buying the concentrated 64-ounce refill size, which covers more than 600 average sinks of dishes in hard water, saves you 20% of the cost over the smaller-volume size. Because this product comes in a #7 recyclable pouch made of nylon and polypropylene plastic, you’ll also save 90 percent of the plastic, water and energy used for several smaller plastic containers.   

The vegan coconut-based formula contains no sulfates, triclosan, parabens, phosphates, SLS, SLES, MEA, DEA, TEA, petrochemicals, dyes, or caustics. It is available in a nearly identical formula scented instead with organic lemongrass or citrus and sea salt. Although the formula contains sodium lauroamphoacetate that is concerning in high concentrations, EWG gives it an “A” grade overall when compared to other detergents.

You can also feel good about your purchase because Puracy pays it forward with each purchase by making donations to local children and families in need. Puracy is also made in the United States and has a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Best Budget: ECOS Dishmate Dish Soap Free & Clear

ECOS Dishmate Dish Soap Free & Clear

Earth Friendly ECOS Hypoallergenic Dishmate Free & Clear Dish Soap is trying to make it easy for you to leave behind traditional dish soaps. It is plant-based, 100% biodegradable and free of chlorine and petroleum-based ingredients all for just a few pennies more per ounce.

This brand is made of just eight ingredients. That's unusually low for dish soap. ECO’s surfactant, sodium coco sulfate, a main soapy ingredient of detergents whose job is to break up stains and suspend the dirt in the water to be rinsed away, is made from anionic coconut kernel oil. It’s considered a safer alternative to sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate.

These ingredient choices and Earth Friendly’s Zero Waste manufacturing principals have earned ECOS the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice Certification and an “A” grade from EWG. Made in the United States, the company is based in California and is majority women-owned.

Best Bar: No Tox Life Vegan Dish Block

No Tox Life Vegan Dish Washing Block

Although liquid dish soaps are the most popular, when it comes to the environment and energy savings, using a dish soap bar (or washing block) is an even better choice than liquids. That’s because most liquid soaps are packaged in plastic and contain a high percentage of water, and the increased weight and volume uses more fossil fuels to transport. One 5.9-ounce bar is about equivalent to about three standard 25-ounce plastic bottles.

Although there are a number of quality dishwashing bars out there, No Tox Life Vegan Dish Washing Block earned a spot on our list because of its gentle ingredients that earn it an “A” from EWG. It's made with seven ingredients and water. It does contain soapbark (Quillaja saponaria), which can be irritating to the eyes and may trigger asthma symptoms for some. This biodegradable, septic-safe soap is vegan and free from fragrance, dyes, sulfate, parabens, and palm oil.

Its plastic-free packaging is made from recyclable paper. It also works well to safely clean walls and counters and removes laundry and carpet stains too. This soap works best in average water, making fluffy suds that cut grease well. Some users with soft water noted a residue (spots) on air-dried dishes, but towel drying solves that problem.

This brand is made in the United States by a mother-daughter team in small batches. If this bar works for you, you can save more by buying in larger quantities and sizes.

How to Use a Dish Soap Bar

Using a dish soap bar is easy. Just rub a sponge or soft brush gently across the bar and use directly on dishes or dissolve in the sink water. It might take some practice to get exactly the right amount for a typical load, but that’s the case for liquid soaps as well.

Best Bulk: Better Life Dish Soap Refill

Better Life Dish Soap Refill

Many brands can be purchased in larger quantities or in concentrated “pro” varieties to save you more money. The affordable, hypoallergenic Better Life Dish It Out Sulfate-free Unscented Dish Soap Refill is corn- and coconut-based and free of dyes, fragrances, alcohol, parabens, and sulfates. Its few mild ingredients—including soothing aloe and vitamin E—earn it an “A” from EWG.

They’ve found a way to cut grease well without irritating sulfates. Better Life is also a Leaping Bunny certified company, meaning it meets high standards for non-animal tested products.

Because of its natural ingredients that are free from harsh preservatives, only buy this dish soap in bulk if you do a lot of dishes. Some say Dish it Out can go bad after opening if it sits around for too long. If you prefer a little scent during your chores, try their lemon mint or pomegranate varieties.

Best for Camping: Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap

Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap

Because any soap you use while camping may be discharged directly to the water or soil without treatment, it’s important to choose a dish soap with only the mildest of ingredients. Campers have also been choosing Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap since the company was founded in 1948.

Its skin-softening plant-based ingredients haven’t changed much over the years and include vitamin E and palm kernel, olive, coconut, hemp seed, and jojoba seed oils. These simple ingredients have earned this dish soap an “A” from EWG as well as certifications from Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, Leaping Bunny, Vegan.org, and the Non-GMO Project. At least 70% of the ingredients have been certified Fair for Life by IMO.

Still family-owned and run, Dr. Bronner’s brand makes socially- and environmentally-responsible products based on their Cosmic Principles. Those principles include treating employees like family, using fair practices with suppliers, and treating the Earth like home.

If you shop online, you might notice that the unscented variety is sold with “baby” in the name. That’s because it’s mild enough for even the most sensitive skin. You can also try the scented options that include natural citrus, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, rose, tea tree, and almond.

TIP:

If you’re new to Castile soap, you’ll find that it has many uses beyond dishwashing and a wealth of benefits including affordability and eco-friendliness. It's a versatile addition to any camping trip or home.

Best Packaging: Cleancult Liquid Dish Soap Refill

Cleancult Liquid Dish Soap Refill

Cleancult Natural Liquid Dish Soap’s paper-based packaging reduces plastic waste by 90%. You’ll get 32 ounces of dish soap, in a simple quart-sized milk carton. Each is equipped with a plastic pouring spout and cap of biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA) derived from corn, soy, and sugarcane. PLA is recyclable in industrial compost facilities. Inside the carton is thin aluminum and polyethylene liner that make up 20% of the packaging.

It is accepted by most recycling centers that take #2 plastic. If that's not recyclable in your area, Cleancult offers a recycling program that allows you to send your cartons back to them so they’ll recycle it for you.

It’s not just the packaging that we like. Cleancult’s dish soap organic ingredients are simple, plant-based, and scented with essential oils, earning them Leaping Bunny certification. Because it doesn’t have typical surfactants, this dishwashing liquid doesn’t create a lot of suds, but that doesn’t affect its ability to clean. The coconut, olive oils, and aloe in this soap will keep your hands from drying out.

Available in grapefruit basil, blue sage, and lemongrass, most people find the scents are pleasant without being overpowering.

Best Dissolvable: etee Dish Soap Concentrate

etee Dish Soap Concentrate

Liquid dish soaps are about 90% water. Shipping that water across the country and around the world has a real environmental cost. Etee Dish Soap Concentrate eliminates the water and lets you add it at home instead. Even better, there are no plastic bottles involved. Their organic packaging can be reused and fully composted at home.

Made in Toronto, Canada, each 40 milliliter pod makes about 13 ounces of dish soap that can be stored in a canning jar or other refillable pump container. Available in unscented and citrus, the concentrate is made of just four plant-based ingredients. The citrus scent is made with essential oil ingredients.

"You cut the end off, squeeze the concentrated paste into a glass jar, and add water. It mixes quickly and thoroughly, and then you use it like any ordinary dish soap. It’s a fabulous way to cut down on the superfluous plastic waste that goes along most liquid dish detergents." ~ Treehugger Senior Writer Katherine Martinko

Best for the Dishwasher: Aspen Clean Natural Dishwasher Pods

Aspen Clean Dishwasher Pods

In general, dishwasher detergents contain more ingredients and more environmentally troublesome ingredients than dish soap. So you may have to work harder to find one that doesn’t contain harmful ethoxylates and sulfates.

But Aspen Clean Unscented Dishwasher Packs is just one of two automatic dish detergents that have earned EWG’s highest honor of “Verified” for strict standards for health and transparency. That’s even better than an “A” grade.

Some of its ingredients are derived from coconut and palm kernel oil and chicory root. They also employ two enzymes, subtilisin, and amylase, to break up organic proteins on your dishes. Aspen Clean is 100% free of synthetic fragrances and dyes.

Final Verdict

When choosing a dish soap that is effective, affordable, and easy on your skin and our water resources, it’s hard to beat Puracy Natural Dish Soap (view at Puracy).

For a top quality, all purpose liquid soap that’s safe for camping, baby, laundry and so much more, choose Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap (view on Amazon).

FAQs

Why is it important to use eco-friendly dish soap? 

When we’re just trying to get the dishes done, we’re probably not thinking much about the environmental cost when the sink is drained. But what happens to the spent dishwater? 

It usually drains to your septic or a municipal treatment system. That’s where the dish soap and detergents you use become important. In a septic system, bacteria in your system break down what you send down the drain and water slowly drains out of your system into the surrounding soil. If you’re using antibacterial soap, that’s great for cleaning, but it's killing the “good” bacteria you’re counting on. Many of these same chemicals may be harmful to aquatic organisms in our streams, lakes and oceans.

The same is true for water sent to a municipal system. There it is treated with a number of chemicals (and plenty of bacteria) to remove the soap, solids, and floating organic materials. Once that water has been “treated” well enough to meet public standards, it is discharged to nearby streams, rivers or oceans. Because we often do dishes every day, we can make the biggest impact by choosing carefully the dish soap we use. You can check the ingredients of your go to dish soap to see how it stacks up. 

Some people also choose to avoid conventional dish soaps, because they want to minimize their sink contact with certain chemicals, particularly when washing dishes by hand.

For example, the phosphates in soaps have been linked to heart disease and osteoporosis while also disruptive to natural phosphate cycles in the environment as well as being toxic to marine animals. Phosphates are just one of many chemicals found in traditional detergents that people choose to avoid. Luckily, there are a range of quality eco-friendly alternatives on the market, including those above.

Do eco-friendly dish soaps really sanitize dishes?

Sanitizing your dishes means that you’re sufficiently killing bacteria and viruses. Although eco-friendly dish soaps don’t contain the toxic chemicals (like formaldehyde) that would allow them to claim to be “antibacterial,” when used properly and as directed, you can ensure that harmful bacteria and viruses are removed from your dishes. Most automatic dishwashers are designed to ensure your dishes are safely sanitized and many include a “sanitize” cycle. They often will use less water than hand washing, so if you have a dishwasher, use it.

When washing dishes by hand, proper dishwashing is a little like properly washing your hands. It’s the important combination of enough soap, sufficiently hot water, and enough contact time to achieve results. If you skimp on any one of these three elements, you may not effectively sanitize your dishes.

Often, your dish sponge contains more germs than your dirty dishes. So, start by soaking your sponge in a dilute vinegar solution between uses. Consider ditching the sponge and use a dish cloth that can be laundered after each use or try Squishful’s kitchen sponges.

Use the hottest water you can stand to both wash and rinse. You can either soak dishes in hot soapy water for at least five minutes or apply dish soap directly to your sponge and scrub directly on dishes (with your water off). Let them sit in the empty sink covered in soap for a couple of minutes before rinsing well with very hot water.  

Why is using a dishwasher more sustainable than hand washing?

It saves a lot of potable water: Hand washing one load of dishes can use 20 gallons of drinking water. You can improve that by using a water- and energy-efficient automatic dishwasher, which can use as little as 4.5 gallons.

Weigh the pros and cons and choose which is right for your household and lifestyle. But there are a lot of small things you can do to spend less time washing dishes.

Can I make my own homemade eco-friendly dish soap?

Yes! Before dish soaps were widely available at grocery stores, our grandmothers made their own from simple ingredients. Many have found success with those same recipes—or improved them by replacing harsher substances with essential oils. Try your hand at making your own lavender Castile dish soap.

Why Trust Treehugger?

Since the age of five, Lorraine Wilde has washed more dishes than she’d like to admit over the last 40 years. She has only the highest standards for what goes on her family’s skin and into our delicate water bodies.

Lorraine also holds a Master’s degree in environmental science and is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy, informed and environmentally-conscious choices to protect their families and our planet.

View Article Sources
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  2. "Nutrient Pollution: The Issue." Environmental Protection Agency.