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Washing Detergent Washing Detergent

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Natural Dishwashing Detergent – Green Your Dishwasher



Unlike laundry detergent, quite a few dishwashing detergent manufacturers still use phosphates in the manufacture of dishwasher detergent for their abilities to get spots off of dishes.  Traditional dishwasher detergents are still comprised of 9-30% phosphates; hardly a green dishwasher detergent.  Phosphates have long been banned or simply not used in laundry detergents because runoff containing phosphates encourages algal blooms in waterways.  This in turn chokes off entire ecosystems in lakes and rivers, and also affects ocean life.  Maryland is considering banning phosphate use entirely in order to clean up Chesapeake Bay.

Petroleum Use

Dishwashing liquids use a petroleum base in their formulation, and dishwashing detergents use petroleum in some ingredients, like artificial fragrances.  The less petroleum you can use in everyday products, the more oil use you are conserving.  If each household in the US used a vegetable based product rather than a petroleum based product for dishwashing liquid alone, 81,000 barrels of oil could be saved.  That’s going green!


Go Green Living Tips


Dishwashing Detergents for Machines


Buy Phosphate-Free

For years most makers of dishwashing detergent could not remove phosphates because their alternative, enzymes, were expensive and not easily produced.  Now they are available en masse, and you can now find no phosphate dishwashing detergents.  If you are in Canada, President’s Choice has just come out with PC Green's Phosphate-Free Automatic Dishwasher Detergent, which you can pick up at any major grocery store that sells PC products.  This product is also chlorine free.  

If you are having a hard time finding no-phosphate dishwasher detergent in your area, look for low phosphate use on the label. As with everything, this advertising can be deceptive, and a bit of research may be necessary on your part to determine whether or not the item is actually low in its phosphate use (0.5% to 2% is considered low phosphate use).

Dishwashing Liquid for Hand-Washing

You are already saving lots of energy and water by hand-washing your dishes.  If you want to take it further, kick it up to the Super Green me tip level.

Super Green Me Tips

Dishwashing Detergents for Machines


Buy All Natural

If no-phosphate alternatives are not available in your area, or you want to ensure that your detergent is using 100% natural, non-chlorine, and non-petroleum ingredients, the internet-order option comes into play.  See the product recommendation section for these.  They can be ordered off of many popular mail-order and sustainable living websites including Amazon and  

Homemade Dishwashing Detergent
Making your own green dishwasher detergent substitute at home is deceptively easy.  Here is a recipe for dishwasher detergent; one tablespoon of Washing Soda (baking soda processed for washing purposes) and one tablespoon of Borax, and you are done.  A bit of white vinegar for the rinse cycle, and you’ve just replaced your dishwasher detergent.  No phosphates, no chlorine, and zero petroleum; and of course no packaging or shipping costs, beyond what you spent for the Soda, Borax, and vinegar.  You can’t get much more environmentally friendly than that.

Dishwashing Soap for Hand Washing


Buy All Natural

Similarly, no-petroleum versions of dish soap are available online at Amazon and other popular mail-order sites.

Make Your Own

There are many recipes out there on the internet for making your own dish soap; this is just one of them.




In Canada, phosphate use is still legal.  You can buy President’s Choice Dishwashing Detergent at any major grocery story that is both Phosphate and Bleach Free.


Phosphate use is still widespread despite repeated calls for bans.  Couldn’t find any country specific recommendations for natural products to substitute.


Squeek is phosphate-free and works as per this article:


Ecover Ecological dishwasher detergent is available at any Whole Foods location.  Phosphate use is still legal, although some states have restrictions on the amount of use in products and some are looking to ban phosphate use altogether.  Virginia and Maryland will begin banning phosphate use in 2010.

Effectiveness / Result

The Facts

While it may be a struggle to find readily available eco friendly dishwasher detergent right now, the conclusion from this article is that you should be making your own, homemade dishwasher detergent due to the ease of doing so and the markedly reduced cost.  

Cost per wash works out to 3.5 cents – cost per wash for a conventional dishwashing detergent can run up to 20 cents per load.  This is the most sensible option as you both save money and guarantee an environmentally friendly load each time. 

In the Lake Champlain basin alone, it is estimated that 60 million tons of phosphates enter the basin every year from automatic dishwasher detergents alone. 

While usage statistics for the US are not readily available, European data are.  27% of all phosphorus use is accounted for through dishwasher detergent in the EU, the western EU in particular.  This is roughly 972,000 metric tons per year of phosphorus used in dishwasher detergents alone, so one has to imagine that the usage statistics are much higher. 


  • Phosphates in Detergents & Dishwashing Powder – Sweden
  • Study of impact of Dishwasher Detergent Phosphorus on municipal wastewater treatment plant in Montana
  • Role of Detergents in European Waters
Submitted by angelawest on Aug 4, 2008