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A Big Soapy Greenwash From Dawn Dish Soap

As I washed dishes in a house we rented with friends in Maine this summer, I pondered the dish soap (yes, I know many of you are avid label readers, too– what else is there to do when you wash dishes?).

It was Dawn dish soap, and on the label it had a picture of a mallard duck flying. It read, “Rescuing Wildlife for 25 years.” As I searched the label, I found no information about exactly what wildlife they were supposedly saving. Not even a link to a website for more information.

Apparently, us consumers are just supposed to see the wildlife, sigh, and think happy thoughts as we buy Dawn soap to use on our dishes. When in reality, Dawn dish soap is poisoning the very wildlife it is supposedly saving.

How? Dawn antibacterial dish soap contains the chemical Tricolsan, which is in everything from toothpaste, to hand soap, and many, many other household and personal care items, is toxic to both humans and the environment (according the Environmental Working Group).

The chemical bioaccumulates in humans as well as animals, and can cause problems with the functioning of the thyroid, and (according the the Environmental Working Group):

“Triclosan may also disrupt other critical hormone systems. A recent lab study found the chemical to exert both estrogenic and androgenic effects on human breast cancer cells (Gee 2008). Studies of fish suggest that triclosan may have weak androgenic (Foran 2000) or anti-estrogenic effects (Matsumura 2005), while a metabolite of triclosan may have estrogenic effects (Ishibashi 2004).”

This is yet another example of a chemical that may be contributing to the early onset of puberty in our children, or the increasing rate of breast cancer in our country.

But back to wildlife, and Dawn soap. Tricolsan is poisoning waterways, and effecting aquatic life there. According to Healthy Child, Healthy World:

“Since wastewater treatment plants fail to remove triclosan from the water and the compound is highly stable for long periods of time, a huge amount of triclosan is emitted into waterways. In a U.S. Geological Survey study of 95 different organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, triclosan is one of the most frequently detected compounds, and in some of the highest concentrations.”

Once in the waterways, triclosan is toxic to aquatic life such as algae, invertebrates and fish. And as those organisms travel up the food web, I am sure even that lovely mallard duck depicted on the Dawn soap is affected.

A greenwash, pure and simple.

(I did find a link on Dawn’s website about how they are saving wildlife. Apparently, they donate bottles of their products to help clean up after oil spills. This is a great effort, and I applaud it. But I do think if the company is truly interested in saving wildlife, it will make its products less toxic for all humans, wildlife and waterways of the world.)


  1. I think Dawn is usually the soap of choice when it comes to cleaning animals after an oil-spill. Although it’s full of chemicals, it removes the oil residue the best without irritating the animals. It’s either use something gentler and leave oil on the wildlife which can kill them or use a soap that’s got some chemicals but will clean them.

    Unfortunately it’s a lose-lose situation. With Triclosan it’s always a lose situation though. :-(

  2. Amy Dagliano says:

    So is there a dish soap that cleans dishes just as well, but without Triclosan? That isn’t $9 a bottle… If so, I’d love suggestions.

    • Jane Bouttell says:

      I accidentally put my daughter’s dishwasher through a wash cycle (stick pans and all) without ANY dish soap. Everything came out sparkling clean. Seems very hot water is just as effective as detergents of any sort.

  3. The irony here is that their soap (and most other dish soap) is made with petroleum distillates. So in a way, the oil spills are their fault to begin with…

  4. Liquid Dawn is in fact used to clean wildlife after oil spills. The Exxon Valdez accident left water fowl soaked with oil and Dawn really was used to save their lives. I don’t think that Triclosan was in the formula used at that time. Interesting, though. I’ll need to look in to this further as I was under the impression that Triclosan was only in certain formulations and not the entire line. Not that it should be excused in any case – Triclosan is not only damaging to the environment, but is harmful to human immune systems as well (I’ll hop back on my Hygiene Hypothesis rage). Thanks for posting this.

  5. Lol @ Nimic’s comment. so unfortunately true.

    and to Amy: we buy Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap in a gallon (24.99 where we live) and dilute dilute dilute. it doesn’t cut grease… at all. or remove stains. and for this reason, we rinse EVERYTHING right when we’re finished eating, only use glassware, and soak anything that does have food stuck to it. we also use steel wool. in this way, we are depending more on the tools and pre-soaking to remove food than on the soap. 25 bucks seem steep to you? how about this: I’ve had my first gallon since december of last year. I also bought a separate gallon for bath use, and that one I’ve had even longer. of course, I don’t shower that often. :]

  6. wightdeath says:

    yeah you can use planet dish soap its like 4 bucks

  7. Triclosan is NOT present in regular, blue Dawn. THAT’s the one used for the oil spills. It IS safe, has worked for decades, AND kills fleas on your pet! Can’t beat that!

  8. Triclosan should not effect the ability of your soap to clean. It is used as an anti-bacterial agent. You need to look for a soap with a natural de-greaser such as Di Limonene (clear liquid from the peel of orange) Cuts grease

  9. M Figgis says:

    I volunteer in a wildlife hospital (not IBRRC) and we frown upon added antibacterials, not just for the environmental effects, but because of the antibiotic resistance potential. So I’m dismayed whenever any product adds this ingredient. I’ve never used any of these antibacterial products personally. I use health-food-store castille type soaps or biodegradables.

    That said, as others have mentioned above, regular Dawn has been used for at least 30 years by various wildlife groups involved in oil spills, including IBRRC (International Bird Rescue Research Center – ibrrc.org). It’s the best thing they’ve found to clean the oil without harming the birds skin or feathers. It’s a wretched fate for these birds, so Dawn can lay claim to that tremendous benefit.

    I’m trained to do rescue in oil spills and it’s all a horrible mixed bag in terms of the mess we’ve created on this planet. You need oil-based vehicles to get to the oil spill to conduct rescues! We’ve created a trash heap on the land and under the ocean, I agree that additional assaults (like unnecessary chemicals) are the last products we should be giving our money to.


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