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Do Natural Dishwasher Detergents Actually Work?

Over the last couple of months, dish washing in our house has become an experiment of sorts. One of the last household items to go natural in our home was our dishwasher detergent. I was having difficulty finding one that REALLY worked. And you, Dear Reader, gets to benefit from my trial (and error).

The Round-Up:

Palmolive Eco+ – liquid in lemon splash

Planet – powder

Seventh Generation– powder and liquid

Method– Smarty Dish Detergent tabs in pink grapefruit (20 count unwrapped in tub)

Ecover-tabs (25 count individually wrapped in clear plastic)

Let me start by saying, I’m not a fan of powder dishwasher detergent and avoid it. My favorite are tabs because I know the right amount is being used and there is no mess. Liquid falls in the middle.

The Palmolive Eco+ ($2.99 at Fred Meyer/Kroger’s) is basically a greenwashed product. The only ecological benefit of these dishwasher detergent is that it is free of phosphates. IMO, it didn’t clean nearly as well as I expected. This will not be used in our home in the future.

I didn’t like the Planet ($4.59 at Fred Meyer/Kroger’s) powder AT ALL. My dishes came out with residue and most had to be rewashed. It was a trying few weeks. I will not use Planet again.

The Ecover ($3.99 at Whole Foods) tablets worked okay. The tablets had a tendency to crumble somewhat when taken out of their wrap. They would fall in a decent cleaning range, but definitely far from what I experienced with traditional cleaners. While the outer package is cardboard and therefore recyclable, each tablet is individually wrapped. While the wrappers are said to be recyclable, they aren’t in my area and I suspect in most areas. I would use these tabs again if my number one or two choices weren’t available.

My favorites are the Method tabs and Seventh Generation Liquid. Both these products provided a great clean with no noticeable difference from traditional cleaners.

As for what they are made of, Method’s website proclaims “Instead of the nasty phosphates and bleach that make up conventional dishwasher detergent, smarty dish is made from super effective ingredients so green that one of them won a presidential green chemistry award (yes, that really is an award). The blend of mineral cleaning salts, anti-spotting agents and enzymes give smarty dish some serious kick, while the biodegradable and non-toxic ingredients mean no harmful residues or fumes to worry about in your home… and happy fish after they rinse down the drain. The formula is DfE-recognized, with packaging made from 25% recycled plastic. What’s more, smarty dish is specially formulated to be effective yet gentle on glass and flatware to prevent etching.”

Seventh Generation claims, “Non-toxic, No Chlorine bleach or phosphates, No dyes, No NTA or EDTA, Safe for septic & greywater systems, Not tested on animals, Kosher certified.”

The Method ($4.99 at Target) tablets come in a small, squarish, plastic container with a snap close lid. The container is made from 25% recycled plastic and I find it a useful tub to reuse around the house. I would love to see refill packages that use less material since we have no need for a new plastic container every month. Smarty Dish is available in (YUMMY) pink grapefruit and go naked (sans perfume and color). The tablets kept their shape well, without crumble. There was little residue left in the container once the tabs were used.

The Seventh Generation ($4.59 at Fred Meyer/Kroger’s) liquid comes in the traditional plastic squeeze bottle with snap cap. Once emptied the bottle can be rinsed and sent out with recycling (at least in my area, check with your local curbside pick up). I have to monitor the kids on their dish nights to be sure they don’t overuse the liquid cleanser.


  1. Thank you so much for this review of dishwashing detergents! I’ve been suffering through so many different brands and so far I’m disappointed with all of them. I can’t wait to try the Method tabs!

  2. I am new to dishwashers, but we use seventh gen. powder or ecover, and they both work really well.

  3. Trader Joe’s “Next to Godliness” dishwasher powder works well too.

  4. I too just discovered my new eco dishwasher detergent, the Bright Green brand from Safeway. I wasn’t happy with other eco detergents’ stinky perfume or oily residue. I’ve been using Cascade powder, and I like this even better. I don’t know enough about the ingredients to be sure it is totally eco, but it seems to be. The carton is recycled and recyclable, no phosphates, no VOCs, no dyes, no fragrance. I love it, but if there is something bad in it, please tell me what to look for in the ingredients!

  5. Thank very much for the great info. I have been meaning to research re a green dishwasher detergent. You have saved me the effort..Thanks..

  6. I haven’t tried the Trader Joe brand, though I do LOVE the Next to Godliness hand soap. We will have to check it out… TJ’s is a bit further away for us so it’s not part of our regular shopping trips.

    Nor have we heard of the Bright Green brand at Safeway… but we have a Safeway close by, I will have to check it out.

    Nature Moms Blog has a couple recipes for homemade dishwasher detergent… I haven’t gotten that adventurous yet! http://www.naturemoms.com/natural-dishwasher-soap-recipe.html

  7. I tried the bright green dishwasher detergent. In the past, with products like Cascade Total, I have not had to rinse my dishes, thus saving lots of water. I could just scrape the big stuff off and stick the dishes and pots straight in.
    Bright green requires me to wash my dishes first. If I have to wash them, then what is the point of my dishwasher?

  8. LizO, I feel your pain! That was one of my biggest complaints and with Method Smarty dish and Seventh Generation Liquid I don’t have to prewash… just scrape the crud off.

  9. I found your website in attempt to see if others had as much trouble with Palmolive eco as we did. It leaves horrible residue and we had to rewash everything by hand….so much for eco-friendly. I’m excited to try your suggestions of Method and 7th Generation. Thanks!

  10. I have tried all you mentioned as well as bioKleen. My fav by far, washing scrambled eggs off of a stainless steel pan, and greasy residue off everything is Shaklee’s Dishwashing Powder from their Get Clean line. Bummer that you have to order it online, but one bag lasts me almost 2 months. I’m telling you, you can’t find a better detergent, I won’t use anything else!

  11. I’m still really happy with the Bright Green Safeway brand eco dishwasher powder. There is no plastic packaging to add to the landfill like with tablets. I don’t put chunks of food in the dishwasher, so I don’t know about how it compares cleaning crud off. And rinsing off your dishes lets you use the shortest cycle, saving you money.

  12. I tried the Bright Green sold in Safeway. It left large uneven spots. It looks like dishes and glasses were etched. Spots Look real bad and can not be easily removed even by scrubbing. I will never use it again.

  13. I just tried Bright Green- in my opinion, it is the WORST I have ever tried. Especially on my flatware- there’s a horrible film that is almost impossible to get off. The rest of the dishes look filmy and spotty and horrible- worse than when I put them in. I think the plastic of my favorite vegetable peeler is ruined- in appearance anyway. I tried washing it w/ regular dish soap (hand wash kind) and it didn’t improve. I tried adding baking soda to the next load, thinking it might help the detergent out w/ our hard water- no difference. I can’t bring myself to throw it away, so I think I’ll buy some other detergent and just add a tiny bit of the Bright Green until it is gone.

  14. Thank you so much for your post…

    I totally disagree on the 7th Generation Liquid, tho. I have a brand new dishwasher which cleans like a DREAM with those cascade packets. But I started experimenting because I can’t stand thinking I’m eating all that residue.

    Anyway, 7th Gen liquid leaves a film on all my glassware (I have glass plates and cups). It’s terrible. Doesn’t remove lipstick marks either (GROSS!) even when on a heavy wash cycle which doesn’t exactly help me save water.

    Also tried the Trader Joe’s liquid and that’s even worse. Total, complete crap.

  15. Has anyone had a bunch of residue on their dishes after using the Method dishwashing tablets in grapefruit? I used them a few times and the third time my dishes came out looking all white, my kids plastic cups looked ruined, major residue. I have never had a problem like this with other conventional tablets.

  16. It is horrible that products are being marketed as “ECO” friendly but still has bleach and other harmful chemicals in it!! (AND they don’t even WORK)

    I’m glad i found a company that actually provides great cleaning and personal care products with no chemicals or phosphates!

  17. We try very hard (too hard) to use green cleaning products, but some of them just don’t cut it. We’ve been switching back and forth between plain old Cascade dishwasher detergent (which works great but kills the environment) and the safeway-brand Bright Green Dishwasher Gel Detergent. And every time we try Bright Green, the dishes come out dirty. We are through… we’ve tried and tried and tried… but they need to go back to the drawing board. And we hope they do. But, let’s face it, a lot of these ‘green’ products just don’t get your stuff clean. These companies need to hold themselves to significantly higher standards of quality, and not just market products that half-work, if they want to retain customers. (And it kills me to say this… I am an obsessed greenie… but I am so fed up!!!)

  18. I recently purchased Bright Green Dishwasher Powder Detergent.

    It has ruined my flatware. Admittedly, it’s not expensive flatware, but I’ve had it for years and no other diswasher detergent ever turned it black. Bright Green did. I cannot get it back to its silver color, no matter what I try.

    My glassware is ruined as well. The first time I washed them with this garbage they came out with a milky, powdery residue. I attempted to wash them two more times, without the soap, and they came out the same. I’ve used scrubbers, I’ve used toothpase, I’ve even tried a mild cleanser. . .the glassware is RUINED. It’s disgusting and embarrassing. I hate using them but they are all I have.

    The topper to this is my cookware. This stuff is my pride and joy and cost me a bundle. I have a set of All Clad professional cookware that I saved my money for almost a year to purchase. It is completely ruined by this awful dishwasher soap. RUINED. No matter how much I scrub, no matter what I use, the stains and discolorations from this soap will not come off. Do you have any idea how much All Clad cookware costs? I bought this years ago. I am now a senior on a fixed income and there is absolutely no way that I can replace any of the items this soap ruined.

    If it ruins aluminum and glass, how can it be safe for the environment? How can it be safe to eat off of the dishes it has ruined?

    This was my first green purchase and I swear I will never, ever buy another so-called green product as long as I live.

    • Pick up a bottle of “lemi shine” (available at Target) and run it in your dishwasher with all of your items that look like they are cosmetically ruined.

      I had a similar problem once and this stuff worked like a charm.

      worth a shot at least. good luck!

  19. Trader Joe’s liquid detergent is great!

  20. John Selden says:

    I have to disagree somewhat with the review. The Seventh Generation product was somewhat disappointing to me. I switched to it from a traditional liquid detergent, and the Seventh Generation did not clean nearly as well. Any time I left food on the dishes, it did not get removed. Then I tried the Method tabs, and they work just great, as good as the old un-eco stuff. I’ll be sticking with Method.

  21. I,too,want to thank you for doing the research on the dishwasher detergents. I have recently started making my home “green and healthy” and am now starting to feel a little overwhelmed with ridding of the “unhealthy”products. I have decided to try the Method tabs. My question is-can I use white vinegar as the rinse aid with the tabs?

  22. I’ve been experimenting a little myself. First tried a half borax/half baking soda mix, which usually leaves a gritty residue. Then tried the Method tabs, which seem to work well. Lately I’ve been using half a Method tab plus a couple of tablespoons of the borax/soda mix, and that seems to work just as well. I just checked the load I ran last night, and everything looks very clean. We had a very sticky chicken & rice dish for supper, so I was wondering what I would find this morning.

    I’ve read about using vinegar as the rinse agent too, but I haven’t tried that yet. That will be the next test.

  23. i just spent a hour cleaning my dishwasher to get all fo the crud off of it.. i have been using palmolive eco, and more recently something from dolar general that states it is phosphoras free… it was gross and greasy..

    i also switch back and forth between green and less green products.. recently bought some non green due to a very good coupon. i have never tried method, but do like 7th generation…

  24. Okay! So I’ve used the Method pink grapefruit dishwasher tabs 3x with apple cider vinegar as the rinse aid and scraped,not rinsed,my dishes off before putting them in the dishwasher. EVERYTHING came out smelling like grapefruit and CLEAN. The only thing I have noticed thus far is the smell of vinegar in the dishwasher itself. Otherwise,I have no complaints at this time. Will keep you posted.

  25. I used Method, naked tablets. Loved the idea of not smelling any perfume on my dishes and smelling it while it is working in the dishwasher. BUT, now all of a sudden, I’m getting a powdery residue on my plastic things, and nonstick pans. What happened? Any suggestions?

  26. Edna, I don’t know why you have a powdery residue. As a suggestion, try hand washing your plastics and pans. I use Method’s dish liquid soap with my plastics and pots-n-pans and have no complaints…yet. Good-luck.

  27. I’ve put my sterling forks and spoons in the dishwasher for several decades, and never had a problem — making sure they were not touching any stainless. This morning, I found that my silver was covered with what at first looked like a foam coating– and it won’t wash off or come off with a lot of silver polish (2 brands) and elbow grease. (The silver is shiny after vigorous polishing, but still is significantly stained.) I started using Palmolive Eco recently, and suspect that it is at fault. And the flatware holder in my DW is not particularly close to the dispenser. The china and glassware in the same dishwasher load came out looking fine — not cloudy or stained. (I’ve never put my hollow-handle sterling knives in the dishwasher, nor do I let them soak, on the recommendation of older relatives, fearing that the glue will soften.)

  28. The Bright Green powder works well for me, but I recently ran a few loads with the Bright Green gel, and that was a different story. The gel doesn’t seem to get the dishes as clean, and it left my clear plastic veggie chopper cloudy. (Is it leaving a white film on everything?) So I’ve noticed quite a difference between the two, and I hope to find more of the Bright Green powder soon!


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