Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble – dirty dishwashing liquids and the problem of “green-washing”

One would assume that “environmentally friendly” or “save for the planet” products would include safety and friendliness toward people but apparently not. Regretfully even “natural” or supposedly “organic” products contain toxins and it requires some vigilance as a consumer to avoid being lulled into a false sense of security by green packaging or claims. For example, most of us by now know to avoid Sodium Laurel Sulfate in shampoos, soaps and other skin products because it’s toxic. Beware of closely related cousins, however, like Sodium Laureth, which also contains two carcinogens.  Many products that now claim to be “SLS Free” contain the other SLS. The Mother Nature Network has a great post on this.

We were just dismayed to learn that we were blissfully washing bottle nipples and pacifiers in Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day liquid dish soap thinking that it’s 25% post-consumer plastic bottle and 97% naturally derived ingredients were acceptable. We were wrong – mea culpa for not checking the ingredients more closely. As it turns out that Mrs. Meyer’s liquid dish soap contains synthetic “fragrance” and toxic irritants such as Benzisothiazolinone. Seriously – I just almost went cross-eyed looking up these ingredients online. Who has time for this?!

It also contains sodium coco sulfate, which is simply a less purified version of sodium laurel sulfate. Both are coconut derivatives but go through the same process. Sodium coco sulfate hasn’t gone through as much testing and scrutiny and I’ve even found web sites that claim it’s safe enough. Here’s some more detailed chemistry on why that’s not true.

Out of pure frustration at the lack of suitable dish washing liquid readily available, I’m ordering good ol’ Dr. Bonner’s Organic Pure Castille Liquid Soap in Baby-Mild

A five year old could pronounce all ingredients and they are: Water, Saponified Coconut-Hemp-Olive Oils (with retained Glycerine), Aloe Vera, Olive Fatty Acids, Rosemary Extracts.

For the dishwasher, we’ve been using Seventh Generation Free & Clear Dishwasher Gel. The product claims:

  • Now contains enzymes for more cleaning power
  • Chlorine free
  • Phosphate free
  • Non-toxic
  • Plant-derived enzymes
  • Biodegradable formula
  • Scent derived from whole essential oils & botanical extracts (Lemon)
However, it’s ingredients also include methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone (synthetic preservatives), as well as well as PPG-10-Laureth-7 which is listed as having low to moderate toxicity. Sigh. It seems both Method Smarty Dish Dishwasher Tabs and Ecover Automatic Dishwashing Powder also contain a certain amount of synthetics but any of these three are better than the conventional options. By the way, I’m linking to Soap.com because the site has a 15% off coupon now for 1st and 2nd orders (codes are SOSOAP1 and SOSOAP2) + Free Shipping on orders of $25 or more. If anyone has a better recommendation for automatic dishwasher soap, please share!
POST SCRIPT: BabyGanics Dish Dazzler looks promising with a short list of natural (no, really) ingredients: Natural water softeners, Naturally derived water conditioners, Natural hydrogen peroxide source, Natural salts, Non toxic polymer and rinse aid, Non animal derived enzymes.
P.P.S. a friend from a new mom’s class I’m taking suggested Dapple automatic dishwasher gel, which is okay but has two concerning ingredients. The first is Acrylic Acid Polymer, which is classified as expected to be toxic or harmful according to Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. Is is listed as a moderate risk vis-a-vis Organ System Toxicity according to EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. The other ingredient is Lauramine Oxide, typically found in hair products, which is a mild irritant according to the International Journal of Toxicology. However, the safety of Lauramine and Stearamine Oxides have been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The CIR Expert Panel evaluated scientific data and concluded that Lauramine Oxide and Stearamine Oxide were safe as cosmetic ingredients for rinse-off products under the present conditions of use. For use in leave-on products, the CIR Expert Panel concluded that Lauramine Oxide should be limited to 3.7% and Stearamine Oxide to 5%. How much does Dapple use? No idea. I’m sticking with the ingredient list a 5 year old can read and using BabyGanics.

89 thoughts on “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble – dirty dishwashing liquids and the problem of “green-washing”

  1. We have the Dr. Bronners, no need to pay shipping on it, we got ours at Whole Foods. I use it (very dilute) with tea tree oil and lavender oil as an alternative to the icky bum wipes out there. We can’t deal with re-useable wipes (no laundry) so I use those square cotton makeup remover pads. For the diaper bag we still use the least-icky wipes I can find because you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. The recipe for the wipe solution is on this page:
    My granola-crunching earth mama friend has been using a recipe like this for the last 16 months for her son, with good results.
    Also, I keep another squeeze bottle of plain water for a quick rinse after the dilute soap…

    • Chrliegrl, if you are using square cotton makeup remover pads and homemade wipe solution on your little one’s bum, then bless you. Mine has dishtowel-sized blow outs and I still haven’t figured out to how to make coffee for myself so we use Earth’s Best Chlorine-Free Wipes. Liberally. I do keep some organic wash cloths on hand to dry off, wipe eyes, etc. but certainly if one has no laundry, that’s more of a challenge.

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