What Ingredients Are In Dish Soap

By: The Cleancult Team

November 09, 2017

Ah, yes. The difficult and unwanted task of doing the dishes. It may seem harmless; a little bit of soap, a few sniffs of “tropical shea butter” or “caribbean breeze”, a little bibbidi bobbidi boo, some foam for cleanliness and then it’s all gone, never to be seen again; only clean dishes remain. Except...that’s not exactly the case. Unfortunately, something as innocent as dish soap can have potentially dangerous chemicals that may pose as hazards to human health and as contaminants to the environment. So, have you ever stopped to think...what actually is dish soap and what ingredients are in your dish soap or your dishwasher soap?


Even though many leading brand dish soap, like Palmolive, choose to make their ingredient list readily available, there are not many people that know the difference between SD Alcohol 3-A, Triclosan, and...fragrance. And, unlike us, they do not indicate if their ingredients are actually toxic or harmless.

So which of these ingredients are potentially harmful, which are safe, and which of them you can actually do without?

Some of the basic ingredients in dish soap include surfactants, preservatives, fragrances, colors as well as active or inactive ingredients. A more specific list of some of the chemicals that may be harmful and their possible side effects are (according to the EWG):

Cocamide DEA: Concerns include cancer, and aquatic toxicity.

DMDM Hydantoin: Concerns include chemical release (formaldehyde in this case), and irritation of the skin, eyes, or lungs.

Ethanolamine: Concerns include respiratory effects, general systemic/organ effects, chronic aquatic toxicity, nervous system effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage.

Formaldehyde: Concerns include cancer, general systemic/organ effects, respiratory effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage, acute aquatic toxicity.

Fragrance: Artificial fragrances can contain hundreds, even thousands of chemicals, including phthalates. Since fragrances are protected as a trade secret, the full ingredients do not have to be listed on the label. Fragrances are a major cause of allergic reactions. Phthalates, in turn, can negatively affect estrogen and testosterone levels.

Methylisothiazolinone: Concerns include allergic reactions, skin irritation, and may also be neurotoxic

Propylene Glycol: Concerns include liver abnormalities and kidney damage. Although this ingredient is used in anti-freeze for your car radiator, you can also find it in dish soap, moisturizers, hand sanitizers, baby products, conditioners and shampoos. MSDS sheets warn users to avoid skin contact, yet it remains in many cosmetics.

Sodium Borate: Concerns include developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage, respiratory effects.

Sodium Dodecylbenzene Sulfonate concerns include skin irritation.

Sodium Xylene Sulfonate concerns include irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.

Sulfuric Acid: Concerns include cancer, respiratory effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage.

Triclosan: Concerns include chronic aquatic toxicity, acute aquatic toxicity, general ecotoxicity, developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects, cancer, immune system effects, circulatory system effects, general systemic/organ effects, nervous system effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage, digestive system effects, damage to vision. Most of these ingredients can actually be found in leading brands of dishwashing soaps and detergents, like Dawn and Palmolive.

EWG Rating

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a rating system for chemicals and readily available products (such as dishwashing detergent) which goes from A (lowest concern = few/no known or suspected hazards to health or the environment) to F (highest concern = potentially significant hazards to health or the environment). The EWG tested 165 liquid dish detergents, including 42 varieties of Dawn liquid dish soap. Only 11.6% were rated A or B. The remaining 88.4% rated from C to F. All of the Dawn varieties were rated from C to F.

So next time you are shopping for dishwashing soaps and detergents, be very wary of the ingredients contain within the bottles. A couple of tips that we recommend to choose the safest dish soap are to research the company you intend to buy the products from, understand that some terms may actually be ambiguous (like using the word natural in their label does not necessarily mean that the product is completely naturally made), look for organic ingredients, and, if all else fails, consider making your own homemade dish soap, and while you’re on it why not try making your own homemade laundry detergent?