Colorful and fragrant liquids producing white foamy bubbles create the stereotypical image for the ideal liquid dish soap. Yet this sensory appeal does not reflect cleaning power and can even mask hazardous ingredients that are dangerous to people and to the planet.
Household cleaning products are not mandated to list components, however health conscious and environmentally aware individuals have discovered a plethora of caustic elements lurking in the pretty mix. Phosphates were once very prevalent in dish soaps, however as of 2010 they have been banned in California and other states. An overabundance of phosphates in waste water encourages algae growth, resulting in oxygen depletion and imbalance in the ecosystem.
Combining petroleum-based compounds, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and Diethanolamine (DEA), creates carcinogenic nitrosamines. Rich lather and consistent texture are the perceived benefits of these ingredients, at quite a cost to those exposed to the toxic cocktail.
Preservatives may be added to extend shelf life, such as DMDM Hydantoin, which can release the known carcinogen, formaldehyde. Germ killing chemicals can have serious side effects, such as the creation of chloroform from Triclosan being mixed with chlorinated water and exposed to sunlight. The central nervous system is the target of this cancer causing gas, harming the liver, kidneys, and jeopardizing pregnancies. A powerful pesticide, anti-bacterial, anti-viral wonder cleaner, is sodium hypochlorite also known as chlorine bleach. Often promoted as a desirable element of dish soaps, it actually pollutes the environment, can severely harm the skin, eyes, and lungs, is a strong oxidizer, and can create very harmful, even toxic, gases when combined with other cleaning compounds.
Commercial efforts to extend shelf life can result in harmful mutation and amalgamation of chemicals as they just sit together for a lengthy period of time. Remembering that the objective is to effectively clean dishes, we can strip away many of the ingredients which are dangerous and appeal to the senses only.
Homemade detergent can be made by combining borax, baking soda, salt and citric acid, found among other places, in lemon drink mixes. White vinegar is a natural, versatile and innocuous cleaning agent, and there are a number of commercial, environmentally friendly dish soaps on store shelves today. Aloe vera, tea tree oil, essential oil fragrances, and herbs will appear in the voluntarily disclosed ingredients list printed on popular eco sensitive products. Phosphates and nitrates will be absent from the natural dish soap recipes, as will be artificial fragrances and sudsing agents.
This does not compromise grease cutting and cleaning effectiveness, however it may be necessary to pay special attention when rinsing. Chemical cleansers and antibacterials may be quick acting, yet natural immunity can be compromised by powerful, man-made agents introduced into the water supply. Sanitizing is important, especially in large commercial establishments, yet a proper level of cleanliness can be achieved without jeopardizing the health of people and the natural world.