Dish Detergent: One Environmentally Preferable Product Not to Overlook

During tough economic times, even the most committed conscious consumer may begin to question which green goods are the most important to buy and why. One product I urge you to splurge on is environmentally preferable dishwashing detergent. The reason I'm such an advocate for this product is because conventional dishwashing detergent contains high levels of phosphorus. Phosphorus gives glasses their shine and helps to remove food particles, but its presence in our water can also cause an excessive growth of algae. Algal blooms rob the water of oxygen which fish need to survive. Plus, they smell bad.

I take this problem seriously since I live in Maryland, home to the famed Chesapeake Bay. The harsh fact is that every time someone in our region uses a conventional dishwashing detergent, they are contributing to the slow death of the Bay. If you live near a waterway (and many of us do), you can help keep it healthy by switching to a green dishwashing detergent. You'll be happy to know that Consumer Reports ranked dishwashing detergents in September of 2006 and found that four enzyme-containing, phosphate-free alternatives  Ecover's tablets and powder, Trader Joe's powder and Method Dish Cubes tablets all rated very good to excellent in overall quality. They are a little more expensive but that's primarily because environmentally preferable dishwashing detergents make up such a tiny share (approximately 1%) of the overall market.

Environmentalists were able to get phosphates removed from laundry detergents nationally in the mid-1990s after a number of states passed laws requiring manufacturers to reformulate their products. This patchwork state-by-state method is working again. The State of Washington was the first to pass a law banning the sale of household dishwashing detergents containing more than 0.5% phosphorus. The ban takes effect statewide in July of 2010. Other states, including Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Maryland have followed suit. Although The Soap and Detergent Association opposed this type of legislation in the past, their members (such as Proctor & Gamble) now understand that it's to their benefit to get one type of bill passed so that they can create one reformulated product for sale nationwide. So it looks like we're going to have (basically) phosphate-free automatic dishwashing detergents available nationally within the next two years. In the meantime, please make the personal change to green alternatives (I strongly prefer Ecover powder myself) and let us know your results.

UPDATE: Click here to read "Fresh Scent May Hide Toxic Scent: Innocuous-sounding 'perfume' in detergents, air fresheners made with dangerous chemicals" from the


Monique Tilford is the former Deputy Director at New American Dream

Tags: Chemical pollutants waterways, Green cleaning, Green dish soap, Water pollution

« Back to Blog



Connect with Us