A few weeks ago we looked at what the environmental impact was from doing the dishes. This week takes a more personal look and we investigate health effects of dish wash liquid. Dish washing liquid contains  many different chemicals designed to foam, de-grease, preserve, fragrance, lather and decrease surface tension. Many of these chemicals have an effect on human health and well being. Read on to learn more about the health effects of dish wash liquid. 


A few weeks ago we talked about the unacceptable toll we place on our water ways and aquatic life every time we wash the dishes. However, often the unseen environmental costs are not enough for people to make permanent changes. Because of this, many people need to see that there is a direct impact in their own lives before they adopt change. Luckily for the fish there are plenty of reasons why we should ditch the washing up liquid in favour of a more natural alternative.

For a long time we have have understood that cleanliness is linked to health. And while to a large degree that statement still holds true, we are also starting to see that the very products that we use daily to help keep our homes clean and therefore healthy, actually have the ability to harm us. Unfortunately, unless you have an allergy to a certain product, the effects of cleaning products on our health are often unseen. Most people are unaware of the damage they are doing. However there are some serious health effects of dish wash liquid and other household cleaning products that we should not ignore.

Chemical Exposure:

My research into the chemical toll of cleaning products found many companies claim that the chemicals in their products only cause concern after prolonged and continuous use. This appears to be the case with most of the chemicals I have researched. However, the problem with that statement is, that the same chemicals that can be found in our dish washing detergent often turn up in our laundry detergent, our shampoo, our body wash, our dishwasher tablets, the spray for your kitchen bench……. The list truly goes on and on. When you stop to think about how frequently we expose ourselves to these chemicals every single day, it is staggering. I think it would be fair to say that over the course of the day, week, month and years, it adds up to ‘prolonged and continuous use’.

Think of how often you stop to wash a dish or cup during the course of a day or a week. It is little wonder that the health effects of dish wash liquid are plentiful due to the level of exposure.


It would be acceptable to assume that a product sold to clean a dish that you prepare or eat food in, would be ‘safe’ for us. However, that appears not to be the case. Many of the individual ingredients found in dish washing detergent can have a detrimental effect on our health over time. One of the issues with dish washing liquid is that the chemicals get absorbed through the skin. This means that they do not get filtered through the liver. Consequently, they are directly delivered to the bloodstream. Depending on the structure of a molecule, the cells that make up your skin can prevent it passing through. However oily, non-polar substances will be absorbed by the cells simply on contact.(source)  Surfactants found in dish washing detergents are one such substance and can readily be absorbed by the skin. Many of these surfactants have been linked to cancer, skin irritation, dizziness, headaches and breaks in the DNA chain.

Health Effects of Dish Wash Liquid

There is a plethora of chemicals lurking in our washing up liquid. They are there to perform a myriad of functions such as; surfactants, foaming agents, fragrance, preservatives, hand softeners and colour.  “There is approximately 8.6 million kilograms of hand dishwashing detergent consumed every year in NZ.” (source) That is a lot of chemicals being flushed down our drains and absorbed through our skin, every single year. And yet so many of us are unaware of the health effects of dish wash liquid that we blindly use every single day. In case you need more convincing to change the way you clean, below is a closer look into just a few of the nasties that can be found in your washing up liquid.

  • “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS): SLS is a detergent and a surfactant used to break down surface tension allowing the shampoo to become a more effective cleanser. SLS is also linked to Nitrosamines a potent carcinogen that causes your body to absorb nitrates, another known carcinogen. Over 40,000 studies in PubMed science library include information on the toxicity of this chemical.
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES): SLES is a concern as it can become contaminated with Dioxane. Whether or not Dioxane is present is dependent upon the manufacturing process. Dioxane is a suspected carcinogen. Because the liver has a difficult time metabolizing this effectively, it remains in the body for an extended period of time.
  • Propylene Glycol: 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. It is linked to liver abnormalities and kidney damage.
  • Methylisothiazolinone: According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep site, this widely used preservative is associated with allergic reactions and lab studies on brain cells of mammals suggest that it may also be neurotoxic. Methylisothiazolinone can be very irritating. For this reason, it is mostly used in rinse-off products. The concentrations in leave-on products are restricted to a minimal amount to lessen the risk of a negative reaction.
  • 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 are manmade chemicals used in a variety of products such as personal care products, food packaging, plastic medical devices, jar lids and plastic tubes. Phthalates can negatively affect estrogen and testosterone levels.
  • Triclosan: Triclosan was introduced to the marketplace in 1972, although it was originally developed and registered as a pesticide in 1969. Triclosan is a commonly found antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal ingredient in numerous products such as soaps, toothpastes, cosmetics, deodorants, first aid products, kitchen ware, clothing, office and school products, air filters, anti-microbial sponges, paints and coolers.

Manufacturers of a number of triclosan-containing toothpaste and soap products claim that the active ingredient continues to work for as long as 12 hours after use. Thus, consumers are exposed to triclosan for much longer than the time it takes to wash their dishes or brush their teeth.”

This list is an excerpt from an article written by Elisha McFarlandis the founder of My Health Maven. It goes on to talk about how dish washing liquid fares in the Environmental Working Group’s rating system for health effects and how to find safe products. You can read the whole article here.


This list only covers some of the chemicals found in dish detergent, there are many more to be found. There are countless blog posts, medical and journal articles available that outline the health effects of dish wash liquid and the environment costs of the continued use of these products. It is time we took a hard look at the products we use on a daily basis in our homes and start to make better, informed decisions that will safeguard our personal health and that of the planet.

Since I have now put you off using dish wash liquid for good, I want to share with you a recipe that you can make that is safer for you and kinder on the environment. This recipe is courtesy of  Mommypotamus. You can read her take on washing up soap and how to make your own here.

I urge you to begin to look at the products you regularly use in your home and start to look at the ingredients that you are exposing yourself and your family to. There are safer, healthier and better alternatives out there. If you are interested in adopting a more natural approach to home care, then I would suggest checking out my Transform Your Home Challenge series of natural cleaning guides. This series contains all the information, techniques and recipes you will ever need to ditch the toxic synthetic chemicals permanently from your home. And even better, they come in an instantly downloadable format so you can begin the transformation of your home today. To find out more, or to download your copy, click on the image below.

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