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Seeking a Natural Dishwasher Detergent that Isn’t a Miserable Failure

Looking for a natural dishwasher detergent but don’t want to waste your money? You’re in the right place! 

the best natural dishwasher detergents

The natural dishwasher detergent saga is as old as Kitchen Stewardship® itself.

Update 2020: I used the individual dishwasher packs for a few years, because doggone it, they really are convenient. But the more I read about microplastics, the more I worried. Those plastic coverings seem like they disappear, but it’s not like salt dissolving into water.

That plastic just becomes incredibly tiny but never really goes away.

The chemicals inside continue to leach into the water for thousands of years, and most likely, we actually ingest the micro particles of plastic. It’s just not something I could contribute to anymore. Now we only use powder. 

RELATED: Plastic-Free Dish Soap from Molly’s Suds (video review)

Testing Natural Dishwasher Detergents 

When I first started, I tried a number of homemade dishwasher detergents back in 2009. It certainly wasn’t an exhaustive list, but I went through a number of the “easy” recipes on the web that mostly didn’t entail sourcing and buying any new-to-me ingredients.

They were a disaster.

Piles of rejected dishes, sometimes nearly the entire load, and multitudes of plastic lids covered in white film just about sent my husband to the looney bin.

No more homemade dishwasher detergent experiments for us!

I did list out all the myriad of homemade dishwasher detergent recipes readers have shared with me over the years, in case folks are still willing to try.

Our dishwasher at the time was rather new, by the way, and typically did an admirable job with even the dirtiest dishes (we don’t pre-rinse if we can help it).

I set out to find a “natural” brand that worked and went through a couple before finding one that worked but was expensive. Then I was actually foolish enough to try a slight change on one of the homemade detergents, again. Another blogger had said it worked great for her, but it was another story of disaster at our house, hand-washing a load of dishes, and snake eyes from the husband.

Don’t feel guilty finishing your current brand of dishwasher detergent! Stay out of the kitchen while it’s in use so you don’t breathe in the chemicals in the air. It might be easiest to wait to run it until your family retreats to their nightly relax spots. 

Just be mindful to open it when it’s done so you don’t have wet dishes sitting closed up overnight because that can lead to mold issues…

Biokleen

Finally, I got a chance to try another brand that was more frugal, and it had me singing alleluias all day long. Biokleen was my baby for about 18 months…and then it suddenly stopped working.

Our dishes all had white film on them again, our glassware never looked clean, and I started to question whether Biokleen had changed their formula. The company assured me that they hadn’t, and I heard from readers on both sides: some claimed it still worked great for them and told me to work on reducing “buildup” in my dishwasher, and others agreed that Biokleen had (new) not-cleaning-the-dishes issues.

Biokleen got me in trouble with my husband. He was going to unload the dishwasher until he learned what I’d done. “Why did you try that one again? I think if you’re going to experiment, you should unload the dishwasher.”

It’s only fair.

I unloaded to find less than acceptable utensils, shadows of ranch dressing dollops on glass plates, and, you know it, white film on all the plastic lids, of which there must have been at least 57. The glass drinking glasses had issues that gave us both shudders of deja vu.

“Remember, that’s how all our glasses used to look all the time. I hope this didn’t permanently affect our dishwasher!” poor hubby cried. I told him I’d test out a special new “clean your dishwasher technique” I picked up from an appliance repairman. What the poor guy has to put up with around here!

Bottom line: Biokleen is still the worst natural detergent I’ve tried. Now what do I do with the rest of the tub?

My rating: Don’t Bother with Biokleen 

I tried tackling buildup with some of the ideas in comments at this post, but nothing helped. Right around that time, we sold our house, so I was excited to get to start over with a new dishwasher.

Guess what? Biokleen still didn’t work satisfactorily. It was as much of a disaster in the new house as the old. Time to strike out anew! Update (3/2014): My mother also had splendid luck with Biokleen’s powder. She has softened well water and I’ve had fairly hard city water in both houses; she pre-rinses thoroughly and I refuse to. But I thought I should be fair to Biokleen and let you know that maybe it will work with some water! Although she did tell me that when people started having trouble (me) she still had an old one and switched to Ecover powder with great success rather than risk the new one, even though the company says they didn’t reformulate. I would love to hear YOUR experiences in the comments!

Rating Natural Dishwasher Detergents 

Through two dishwashers already in this house, here’s the scoop on the other “natural” dishwasher detergents we’ve tried, as well as the (surprising) results of EWG’s new household cleaners ratings list (ranked A through E, like grades in school).

I list the ingredients, too, which sound a lot less “natural” than many other things I read, but many of them are explained at EWG or here. I’m not sure if these detergents are really, truly natural and non-toxic, but I am certain they’re loads better than the conventional dishwasher detergent, which can be some of the most caustic cleaning agents you have and most harmful to the environment, too.

I did find that “short wash” wasn’t cutting it with the new dishwasher and the natural detergents. Sad to see that energy-saver as a thing of the past, but the “sensor” cycle is supposed to only run as much as it absolutely needs to, so I’m at least pleased with that.

Funny note: when we were shopping dishwashers, there was a Bosch company rep at the little store in our town. He gave his detergent recommendation, and when I asked about natural brands, he put on a permasmile, raised his eyebrows, and basically declined to comment – but his skeptic’s grin said it all. “No promises,” he said.

Seventh Generation Tablets

This was the first we tried because it was available and on sale at our local Meijer. It couldn’t get spoons with cod liver oil on them clean worth a darn, and even after we had our dishwasher professionally cleaned, all the bowls in the bottom rack were nasty, we had streaky glasses and very dirty spoons, especially anything with grease on it.

After getting a new dishwasher, we tried Seventh Generation again. It was passable, but it still had more rejected dishes than any of the others and is more expensive because of the tabs.

I actually called the company and told them I wasn’t happy, and they happily sent me a refund. Darn good customer service, I like that.

I’ve also tried the dishwasher gel as a sample, and I was unimpressed. Eh.

My rating: Don’t Bother

EWG rating: A, only for the “free and clear” unscented version

Ingredients: Citric acid, sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate (water softeners), sodium silicate (protection agent and alkalinity builder), polyaspartic acid (anti-filming agent), sodium magnesium silicate and ppg-10-laureth-7 (anti-spotting agents), sodium percarbonate (stain remover and water softener), sodium sulfate and sodium aluminosilicate (processing & flow aids), protease and amylase (enzyme soil removers). Trace materials are commonly present in cleaning product ingredients. The material that holds our powder formula is polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), a biodegradable polymer. No phosphates.

Tropical Traditions Dishwasher Detergent

Update 3/2021: It’s been discontinued! Bummer!

powdered dishwasher detergent smI tried this one out because it was on sale or I got free shipping (or both) and it seemed like a good deal in bulk.

Performance-wise, it’s doing okay. It’s better than 7th Generation for sure, but I feel like we get more silverware rejects with TT than with some others. Perhaps I’m just undershooting on the amounts.

I’ve read that the worst wear and tear on a dishwasher is using too much detergent, so it’s actually a good idea to keep track of how much it needs. Mark on your scoop what you try, and work it down until the dishes start to be unacceptably dirty, then mark that spot with a permanent marker. (I just haven’t quite taken the time and attention to do that officially.)

UPDATE 3/2014: I was shocked to re-read this review and see that I had rated TT”s detergent so neutrally. As I worked through the 5-pound tub, which seemed to take forever (I’m estimating about 150 loads with the quarter or third scoop that I use, about 0.55 ounces), it became one of my favorites to be sure. There will always be rejected utensils with tricky food substances on them, but overall Tropical Traditions powdered dish detergent works great, and even though it’s not rated at EWG, I trust that it’s natural quality for a few reasons: (1) the ingredients are pretty simple and (2) the company is known for having impeccably high standards. This is a great product – watch for free shipping (happens about once a month) or the 50% off sale on the tub (happens only 1-2 times a year).

My rating: Tied for first place

Not rated at EWG.

Ingredients: Sodium citrate, sodium carbonate, sodium percarbonate, surfactants, rinse agents, silicate.

BUY HERE at Tropical Traditions.

Ecover: Powdered Detergent

For budget reasons, I tend to prefer a powder over a tab. It’s not as easy, that’s for sure, but I like being able to use less and stretch the box.

Ecover has proven itself to be a good brand for both tablets (see below) and powder. The powder pours directly out of the box, no scoop, so there’s a lot of discrepancy on how much we use, especially with two adults running the dishwasher.

More often than not, we’re pleased with the results. There are a few rejects here and there, but nothing that makes us want to throw the box out the window…

Update 3/2014: I mentioned that my mom was also using Ecover regularly (in her 30-year-old dishwasher that she’s nursing along because she doesn’t want to deal with the eccentricities of new machines). 😉 She shared this with me: “[When I ran out of Ecover recently] I had to resort to Cascade. It etched a couple of glasses [which had been washed in the same way countless times with Ecover] and then the spotting was awful. Any rinse aid was long gone before using the Cascade. I have put white vinegar into my rinse dispenser to help with the spotting…which it has. No more etching of glasses with Ecover.” Interesting! Anyone out there have etching problems with conventional detergents? Are they too harsh?

My rating: Tied for first place

EWG rating: B for both scented and unscented

Ingredients: Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda), Sodium Disilicate, Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Sulfate, Sodium Citrate, Polypeptides, Enzymes (non-genetically engineered), Sugar Surfactant, Sugar Based Bleach Activator, Sugar Cane (Saccharum Officinarum) Derivates, Fragrance

When I purchased mine to try, it wasn’t available at Amazon, but now it is, and you should also price check with Vitacost HERE. If it’s your first order with Vitacost, start with THIS LINK and you’ll get $10 off your first order. (If you see good deals on these products anywhere else on the web, let me know as I’d love to link to them too!)

Ecover: Tablets

Ecover’s tablets were a product sample directly from the company, and I’ve been extremely happy with them. They have probably about a 98% clean rate, which is pretty awesome considering the knockout Tetris games I play fitting as many dirty dishes in that thing as possible.

Tabs are kind of nice because they are premeasured – super quick, no guesswork, no training the husband on how to use them.

The convenience does come with a price, so you have to decide where your priorities lie.

My rating: Second place because of cost only

EWG rating: B (used to be a C; updated 3/2014)

Ingredients: Sodium Citrate, Sodium Carbonate Peroxide, Sodium Carbonate, Disodium Disilicate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Poly Asparaginate, Tetra Acetyl Ethylene Diamine (TAED), D-glucitol, Sorbitan Sesquioctanoate, Capryl Glucoside, Protease, Amylase, Glycerin, Fragrance, Limonene, Sodium Gluconate

Get them HERE at Amazon or HERE at Vitacost (watch for frequent sales) or start with THIS LINK if you’ve never shopped Vitacost before and you’ll get $10 off your first order.

Grab Green Tablets

A reader recommended Grab Green as a natural brand that worked, and it was just too easy to add it to an Amazon order, so I did. The reviews there are pretty glowing, too.

The tabs work slightly differently than Ecover’s, which you have to unwrap. These guys go directly into the soap dispenser, plastic and all, so technically, it’s a wee bit easier.

As far as where the plastic goes…that’s a mystery I don’t want to know.

I found GrabGreen to be a great brand and get the job done. I’d put these tabs and Ecover’s on the same level, at the top of my “most effective” list, but not so frugal.

My rating: Tied for second place

EWG rating: B, only for unscented or red pear with magnolia; other two scents were a C

Ingredients:

 

Soda Ash (Natural mineral water softener)
Sodium Metasilicate (Natural mineral aids cleaning)
Non-ionic Ethoxylate (Biodegradable cleaner + degreaser blend)
Sodium Sulfate (Mineral cleaning agent)
Sodium Citrate(Mineral derived from citrus used to aid cleaning)
Sodium Percarbonate (Made from natural soda ash, it uses oxygen to remove stains + adds alkalinity to assist cleaning)
Silica (Mineral based anti-caking agent)
Sodium Iminodisuccinate (Biodegradable water softener)
Sodium Polyaspartate (Biodegradable mineral rinse aid)
Organic enzyme blend (Breaks down protein + starch based stains)
**Fragrance contains essentials oils: thyme + violet leaf + sage

BUY on Amazon (I didn’t see this one at Vitacost – anywhere else you know of? Happy to add resources if you leave a note in the comments.)

Other Natural Dishwasher Detergents to Try

Up & Up

I was very surprised to see Target’s brand “Up & Up” dish packs listed as one of the few receiving a “B” rating at EWG; the “A” list is even smaller and the C-E are in the triple digits each just for dishwasher detergents.

If you’ve got a local Target, it might be worth a try as I’m guessing it will be less expensive than some of those listed here.

My Green Fills 

My Green Fills doesn’t only have safer ingredients, but they aim to create packaging that’s environmentally friendly. Now that’s something I can get behind. 

Ingredients: 

 

Sodium Metasilicate (Mineral-Based Cleaning Agent & Water Conditioner), Sodium Carbonate (Alkalizing Salt), Sodium Citrate (Water Conditioning Mineral), Sodium Polyacrylate (Eco-Friendly Soil Ant-Redeposition Agent), and Tetrasodium Salt (Hard Water Softener). 

They’ve got awesome bundle deals when you buy products together. I’ve got a special deal for you right here

Natural Rinse Aid

I use straight white vinegar in the “Jet Dry” compartment as the rinse aid. Whole New Mom posted that the vinegar may ruin the rubber parts, so I need to perhaps see what will happen if I don’t use it at all.

I’m not using Jet Dry – a chemical that’s supposed to stay on the things my family puts in their mouth? No, thank you, no research needed on that one. Not touching it.

What do you use in your dishwasher? Which brand do you think is the best natural dishwasher detergent?

I’m well known for honest, thorough product reviews…

reviewed and recommended
 

…and you can always tell a real family has run these products through the gauntlet.

When I review a type of item, I try to review a LOT of different brands! From over a dozen reusable sandwich bags to over 120 natural mineral sunscreens, I’m your girl for straight-up info about natural, real foodie items you’re considering buying.

Click here to see more product reviews and you’ll also love my resources page, with REAL products that have passed my rigorous testing enough to be “regulars” in the Kimball household, plus some other comprehensive reviews. Updated at least once a year to boot the losers and add new gems!

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

29 thoughts on “Seeking a Natural Dishwasher Detergent that Isn’t a Miserable Failure”

  1. Katie, Are you ready to take a new look at dishwashing detergents? Tropical Traditions doesn’t appear to be available any longer, and Biokleen still isn’t any better. Or…what are you using these days?

  2. Thank you for this post, I have referenced it several times to try to find a natural but effective dishwasher detergent. I would just like to mention here that while the Ecover tablets work really well, they come wrapped in a plastic wrapper. While the wrapper is recyclable, I will not buy them again as I feel this is really wasteful. I am disappointed that a company that claims to be creating earth-friendly products would include this in one of their products. I have just ordered the Ecover powder in bulk, however, and thanks to your blog post, I am confident it will be equally as effective.

  3. I just started using a small squirt of dish soap in my dishwasher. I think I am allergic to dishwasher deretgent. The liquid dish soap works great because the dishwasher gets so hot. It’s also wayyyy cheaper.

  4. Thanks so much for this article! Do you have any updates to it? Or do you think it’s still pretty accurate?

  5. hi katie! so after another year since your last update: 03/14, is tropical traditions still the best product in your opinion?

    also, above you recommended 1/4-1/3 a scoop at 150 loads per container AND the website recommends 1 whole scoop per load, which makes for about 50 loads per container and adds up to about $0.40 per load…i may be all washed up here, what are your 2015 thoughts??? thanks!

    1. Nicole,
      Still the same! I have a little line on my Trop Trad scoop, and it’s definitely around 1/4 scoop. Every DW will vary of course, but we don’t use a full scoop at ALL. I like to wait for a sale, too, or at least free shipping, so that changes the load cost a ton. 🙂 Katie

      1. thank you, katie! we have really bad hard water…currently i use the borax, soda, salt, citric acid and vinegar recipe and it is still just awful…so hubby is ready for us to switch 🙂 can you help me out on the best price on TT, right now it $19.99, can i get better or is this it? thank you, nicole’

        1. Nicole’, I’m pretty sure it goes on 40% off that every so often, but maybe only every 6 months? Worth getting on TT’s mailing list to watch for that OR you’ll save almost as much on a free shipping weekend, which happens once a month or so, since it’s so heavy. 🙂 Katie

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  7. Katie,

    Thanks for all the excellent research. I have been using Ecover unscented tablets with the addition of citric acid for years in a Bosch dishwasher with moderately hard water, as it is the best that I have found, yet I still have to pre wash the dishes, and only get poor results. I really want to find something that actually works. From your testing, I’m going to try the Tropical Traditions next. From comments from other posters it sounds like the Shaklee, and Better Life are worth testing to see if they work any better than the Tropical Traditions – have you tried either of those, or do you have an opinion on them, or plan on testing them? Thanks!

    1. Hi John,
      Years ago I tested out Shaklee, and I don’t remember anything remarkable about it one way or the other. ??? It was in a different dishwasher/house than I’m in now though. Better Life is unfamiliar to me. Prewashing is totally unacceptable for me! 😉 Hope you find a winner…
      🙂 Katie

      1. Well, I went out and got the Better Life Automatic Magic and the Tropical Traditions Powdered Dish Detergent. Here are my results:

        I rate the Automatic Magic an F. At first it looked promising, as my dishes had a nice shiny look, and it cleaned most things well. It did not clean glasses used for green smoothies at all. I rate it an F though because the Automatic Magic leaves a thick gummy residue in the filter of my Bosch dishwasher, which needs to be cleaned out everyday, and it is difficult to get off. Not cleaning the residue off for a few days affected the performance of the machine. While the filter can be cleaned daily, I am concerned that the gummy residue is collecting in areas I cannot see, and may lead to performance problems or damage over time.

        I rate the Tropical Traditions Powdered Dish Detergent an A+. This stuff is amazing. I started with using 1 full scoop (2 oz.) as recommended on the bottle – which is way, way too much. I am now using 1/4 scoop per load, and everything gets clean with no pre washing. I have even put in extra dirty dishes that I never would have done before, and they get clean, even greasy plates and stuck on bits of rice.

        The prior 4 years I had used Ecover unscented tablets and I added citric acid with it. I rate Ecover a C-. I needed to prewash all my dishes. I called my dishwasher a dish dryer, because all the dishes had to be clean before loading.

        Before that I used BioKleen, which I rate an E, as it cleaned about the same as using nothing.

        Thanks to you Katie! I am glad I found your site and learned about the Tropical Traditions.

  8. Brittany via Facebook

    I loved this article! We use Ecover even since I have tried unsuccessfully to make detergent. And just like you I got those “snake eyes” from my hubby every time!

  9. SarahEileen via Facebook

    Even when we had a dishwasher, I preferred hand washing. I found that the dishwasher didn’t save me very much time, and it was more appropriate used as a drying rack. I try to clean the prep dishes as I go, and then wash serving dishes shortly after eating, so it doesn’t take very long. I can’t stand the noise of a dishwasher and it is so frustrating to waste the time, electricity, soap and water and then sometimes the dishes aren’t even clean.

  10. Kimberly via Facebook

    I have hard water and tried EVERYTHING! Then I found Automatic Magic made by Better Life in my natural foods store. It really is fantastic! Ingredients: Saponified vegetable oil (castile soap), purified water, sodium citrate (mineral), decyl glucoside (plant surfactant), sodium silicate (mineral), coco glucoside (plant surfactant), sapindus mukurossi peel extract, glycerin (vegetable), sodium carbonate (mineral), xanthan gum, sorbitan, natural enzymes, citric acid (pH adjustment). **Preservative Free**. No more white film, clean silverware, glasses are fantastic!

  11. Caitlin via Facebook

    I’m scared to read – I love my Biokleen! However, I just bought some borax, washing soda, and citric acid to start making my own.

  12. Kayla via Facebook

    instead of putting vinegar in the rinse aid compartment, we just put a glug or two right in the dishwasher (just open the door and dump) and it works great!

  13. so in the end or rather now, after all your research…it is now march 2014…i must know…what. do. i. use? please help???

  14. We use Planet powdered detergent, and it works GREAT for us! I don’t know how it rates as far as being all-natural. I want to try the Ecover, too.

  15. I use Method’s unscented tabs and I love them. Sad to say that I have no idea what EWG thinks about them. And I use Target’s brand of Jet Dry… 🙁

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