All Natural Dish Soap Review – Does it Work?

2 out of 5 leaves

2 out of 5 leaves

Dishes, dishes, dishes.  Washing dishes is one of those chores that is difficult to draw satisfaction from.  It seems as soon as the sink is finally emptied, a missed spoon or cup shows up from somewhere and the pile begins to grow again.  It can be especially defeating when you spend lots of time scrubbing a pot or pan to perfection, only to turn around and muck it up again with the next meal.  There are great dish soap products on the market, made by giant consumer products companies.  These soaps cut through the grease, and seem to lather forever.  But a green girl starts to wonder what kind of chemicals are in them, soaking into her hands day after day.  Could all-natural dish soap clean the plates just as well, without the synthetic chemicals?

The Good

  • Better for You – natural and mild surfactants are safe and non-toxic for you and your family
  • Better for the Earth – no synthetic chemicals going down the drain and into the waste stream
  • Ingredient list available – natural soaps tend to list their simple ingredients, non-natural soaps don’t (and one tends to wonder why not…)
  • Saves Money – natural soap costs less oz per oz vs the big name soap

The Bad

  • Must use more – need many repeat applications of soap to sponge to continue cleaning
  • Does not suds well – no big foamy bubbles to spread around
  • Does not rinse cleanly – prepare for water spots galore (if that matters to you)
  • Takes more time – greasy dishes have to be re-washed as they still have a slick residue after their first scrub

My Experience

A bottle of all natural dish soap I picked up at Sprouts


I’ve always used a big name dish soap from a big name company.  You know the one with the commercials all over daytime television with a nifty foamer pump.  It’s more expensive than the other brands, but it works great!  One little 10 oz package has 190 pumps in it.  I can do a whole sink full of dishes, including pots and pans, with one or two pumps.  We get away with doing dishes only twice a day at our house.  This means one little bottle of big name dish soap lasts more than 6 weeks!

One day at my favorite “farmer’s market” grocery store, an all natural dish soap caught my eye.  I thought it would be a great add to my Green Spring Cleaning product cache.  The natural ingredients were listed on the back: water, coconut derived surfactants (that’s the soapy part),  and grapefruit oil (for fragrance).  The price was comparable bottle for bottle, but the natural soap had 20 oz: twice as much as I get with my regular brand.  It also said it was ultra concentrated so I could use less.  Jackpot!  This bottle should be able to last at least 3 months!  Unfortunately, here’s where the happy review stops…

The first time I used the soap for dishes I was very disappointed.  I put a small squirt of the “ultra concentrated” soap on my wet scrubby sponge.  I gave the sponge a couple of squeezes but it did not lather!  I then put a very generous squirt of the soap on my sponge, and was able to work it into a weak lather – enough to get started anyway.  As I washed the dishes I noticed several things (all of which made me feel grumpy).  The lather was weak, and dissipated quickly.  I had to use gobs of soap – reapplying to my sponge every 4th or 5th dish to get the cleaning power I’m used to.  Even then, many of the greasier dishes had to have two washings, each with their own squirt of soap, to get truly clean.  Finally, the rinse water beads up on the dishes, instead of sheeting off like I’m used to.  This isn’t a big deal, but mildly annoying as we air dry our dishes, and those beads turn into little water spots everywhere.

Overall, the all natural dish soap did workMy dishes were clean.  But it took more work, and more time and way more soap to get the job done.    After watching how much soap I used over just a few days, I figure that the whole big bottle would be used up in about 3 weeks for our family (vs 6 weeks for the much smaller bottle of big name soap).  What to do…  I suppose there is a cost/benefit analysis here.  The price is actually more for the green product when you think about usage rate.  The green product also puts more, bigger packages into the waste stream (please recycle!!).  But the product is all natural and gets the job done eventually.  The big name product has unspecified chemicals in it.  But they are mostly rinsed off in the end.  And I’m sure they have been tested for toxicity as they are used on things that go in our mouths.  And the big name soap works great!

In the end, I decided to switch back to the big name soap for washing dishes.  Frankly it’s just superior in every way for greasy jobs.  I don’t like something as simple in life as soap giving me trouble and making me feel grumpy.  It’s just not worth it to me.  The natural soap, I will keep around for home cleaning jobs like boosting the power of natural scouring powder, or other times when a mild surfactant is all that’s necessary.  I also used it successfully on some breast pump parts that I had to use while on an overnight business trip (my toddler still likes her bedtime and wake-up nursings).  So if there comes a time when I am blessed with another little one, I would feel good about using the natural soap for all those bottles and pump parts that fill a working mama’s evenings.

Have you tried natural dish soap?  Was your experience similar to mine?  I’d love to hear any advice you have to improve my experience!

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26 Responses to All Natural Dish Soap Review – Does it Work?

  1. I use Seventh Generation natural liquid dishsoap – I find it to work well to cut through the grime, but I have been using it for a while and I am used to it. I am not sure if works as efficiently as the blue name brand stuff, but I am not complaining! Maybe that’s because I cheat and use a dishwasher 80% of the time 😉
    I agree with you though, if a natural product doesn’t help you get the job done, it’s usually not worth the money or hassle.

    • Victoria says:

      Hey Jasmine! Do you also use a green dish washer soap? I only use my dishwasher a couple times a week because of high water costs in Los Angeles, and conservation guilt….

      • Rachel says:

        Just to let you know, everything I have read says that you use a lot less water when you use a dishwasher than when hand wash dishes. Might be something to look into!

  2. Tricia says:

    Thank you, very informative & helpful! =)

  3. 'Becca says:

    The problem is your dishwashing technique! Squirting soap on a wet sponge is always going to be a less effective use of soap than soaking dishes in a sink full of soapy water and washing with a cloth or sponge dunked in the water. The way I’ve seen most people do the sponge technique also uses a lot more water than soaking.

    I add about 1 Tbsp. of white vinegar to my dishwater to cut grease and reduce water spots. Soaking dishes helps to lift the grease (and stuck-on food) off so you don’t need to do as much scrubbing. I’ll mention though that my family doesn’t eat meat except fish, and I find that a large amount of fish grease or butter will totally kill my suds in the sink–so I rinse off as much of it as possible before putting the dishes in to soak, and I save those dishes for last or change the water after them. So animal fat is a little problematic, but the plant-based soaps take off plant oils just fine.

    I have used only plant-based dish soaps in my home for 15 years. All these brands are pretty good, in my experience:
    Dishmate from Earth Friendly Products (the one you tried)
    Kirkland Signature (Costco house brand–they make both a conventional and an earth-friendly one)
    Seventh Generation
    Sun & Earth
    Trader Joe’s.

    Most of them are not as bubbly as the petroleum distillate stuff, but it’s not the bubbles that do the cleaning, and I do get a lot of lather when I squirt the soap into the stream of running water filling the sink, even though I don’t use much soap. A few years ago I noticed a friend’s conventional dish soap with label bragging, “Super concentrated–a spoonful cleans a sinkful!” and I thought, “Really, a whole spoonful?! Seems like a lot!” so I measured the squirt of my soap that looked like enough to me–1/2 teaspoon for about 3 gallons of water.

    I never really thought about what chemicals might have been soaking into my hands from conventional dish soap; I was much more concerned about what we were swallowing from the residue left on the dishes.

    Now that we have a dishwasher, we use plant-based soap and white vinegar (as the rinse aid) for that, too, and have no complaints–and we do hardly any pre-rinsing, so it’s cutting the grease well. Bi-O-Kleen is the only brand of dishwasher soap we’ve tried.

  4. 'Becca says:

    Oh, I just realized you are comparing a conventional soap IN A FOAMER PUMP with Dishmate. Of course you get better suds on your sponge from a foamer! It’s mixing the soap with air and water for you. Try refilling an old foamer with 8 parts water to 1 part Dishmate and see how it does. I’ve never used a foamer for dish soap, but refilling the hand soap ones works wonderfully.

    • Victoria says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Becca! My mom always did the soak the dishes in the sink method, but the water always seemed to be pretty gross by the time she got to the end (which is where you need the real cleaning power for saved-for-last pots and pans). I always wondered how clean they actually were… Interestingly, the instructions on the back of the dishmate say to squirt on a sponge and squeeze sponge to lather just like I did. Because we live in LA, I wash mostly by hand to conserve water, and only run the water for a quick wetting, and then mass rinsing of all the soapy dishes at the same time. I only use about a sink full of water for the whole load of dishes.
      I understand what you mean about the foamer, but I’ve used a natural foaming soap for kids bathtime. My experience is that the natural based foam spreads well, but still is much less soapy, and has much less cleaning power than a conventional liquid soap. I feel pretty confident that the blue liquid (instead of foamer) would defeat the natural in the cleaning and suds category as well.
      Thanks for sharing the natural brands available, and I’m glad they work pretty good for you. In this case though, my personal choice is “works great” over “works pretty good” 😉

      • 'Becca says:

        That’s funny about the instructions! Now that you mention it, I think I have noticed that before on Dishmate; I don’t purposely read instructions of dish soap (because “I know how to use that”) but eventually I’ll be standing at the sink and end up reading the whole label because it’s there.

        When you say you’re washing by hand to conserve water, do you mean compared to a dishwasher? Most dishwashers use less water and energy than hand dishwashing:
        so unless your dishwasher is really old, it’s probably the better option. It’s one of the rare cases in which using a labor-saving device is better for the environment!

        If by “blue liquid” you mean Dawn, then yes, it does clean better esp. on greasy dishes than most other dish soaps. Would you consider keeping it on hand for your most difficult dishes and using the natural stuff for the easy ones? I did something like that when I had bought Nature Clean (the only plant-based brand I ever tried that I found was truly inadequate), but I admit it was kind of complicated.

        • Victoria says:

          Thanks for sharing the interesting article on dishwashing efficiency. I don’t have a lot of info on my dishwasher model because we’re in an older rental home, but there are a few hints that make me feel like I’m saving water by handwashing (in my case). 1 – I never have enough dishes to fill the dishwasher completely, unless they’ve been ignored all day long. 2 – we have to run on “heavy” to get the dishes clean (I think the washer is on it’s last leg). 3 – the washing cycle takes 45 min-1 hour, which seems like a long, long time to me. When I wash by hand, I do a quick rinse of the dish pile with the sprayer, then individually scrub each by hand with a soapy sponge, then rinse the whole lot at once with warm water. Then again, who am I to argue with German Scientists? 🙂
          I think my whole point is that overall, the soap I tried doesn’t work as well as the soap I usually use, and so I don’t want to use it anymore. Clean trumps green for me, in this case. I absolutely respect that other might make different choices. And I really do think it’s great that you’ve found some natural dish soaps that work for you! Do you have a recommendation for natural dish washer soap when I try out that Green Idea?

  5. Brettney says:

    I’m using the ultra dishmate right now but I’m using it with OXO cleaning items and which works really well at getting the dishes clean without issues or over use of the dish soap and supposedly doing a diluted vinegar rinse will prevent water spots.

  6. Nancy says:

    Too bad the natural product was not a total success. I, too, spend alot of time washing dishes, and whatever I can do to make it easier, is welcome. 🙂

  7. Sarah says:

    I have been using Seventh Generation for years and it seems to be better than most of the natural brands. I hated Dishmate because it left a greasy film on everything. Method and Mrs. Meyers work well and smell good too, though they are a bit more expensive. I have also heard that Mrs. Meyers isn’t quite as natural as it claims to be, but I always liked it.

  8. Rachel says:

    I have used the Green Works and the Seventh Generation and had no problems. But then I don’t really hand wash dishes unless they are to big to fit in the dishwasher. Usually I just use the dish soap for cleaning the sink or washing my hands. I have not used the Seventh Generation for very long, but I used a couple bottles of the Green Works and it seemed to be pretty sudsy. I have not used natural dishwasher detergent because the price difference is really big between the natural and the synthetic cleaners. Plus I am a REALLY lazy dishwasher and don’t tend to rinse my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. I would try a couple more brands before you write off the natural dish soap entirely!

  9. Michelle W says:

    I’m going to try my hand at attempting a green dishsoap that works. Like you, I hated the extra work, film, and over all greasiness of the “green” cleaners. If I come up with a blend that I like, would you (or anyone on this page, for that matter), be interested it trying it once I’m satisfied with it for myself? I’m just starting out, and am looking for brutal/honest product testers. lol

  10. Pingback: Homemade Bubbles Solution Review – Which Soap Works Best? | Green Idea Reviews

  11. Jutta says:

    I’ve been using green dish soaps for years now, and you are right, they are not as effective as the conventional ones. One thing I have to do is to increase the temperature of the water. Then I also have to use gloves to compensate for the hotter water. And as said before, soaking works.
    And yes, it uses much more water than the dishwasher, but I also reuse my dishwater for a variety of purposes, such as scrubbing the floors, flushing the toilets, and watering/fertilizing my plants outside. It really helped with creating fabulous tomatoes this year. My dish water hardly ever ends up down the drain.

  12. staci says:

    My method is the same as yours Victoria 🙂 Been doing it this way for years, it really does use less water. I’ll fill the dish tub with a just a few inches of water. That way, if it gets gross , I can replace it with fresh hot water without feeling *too* wasteful.

    In southern California, believe-you-me, any green product is much more expensive money-wise than “regular/toxic” products. Method (we get it at Target) is the best price for green dish soap.

    I’ve tried Seventh Generation Free & Clear, Trader Joe’s and Ecover and Method dish soaps:
    For me, they just don’t work as well as Dawn (reg. blue, no foamer) and, to add insult to injury, all dried my hands out terribly :/ It makes me sad, because the TJ’s and Method Sweet Water smell really, really good! *btw: Dawn is used by marine animal rescue people to wash the oil slicks off birds without disturbing their natural oils – pretty cool, I thought. I don’t get how that works, but it does.

    • Victoria says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts staci. I’m still using the Dawn – it just has superior cleaning power that I haven’t seen in a “green” product. I want dishwashing to be done as fast and easily as possible!

  13. Ash says:

    I really love Method products, their dish soap is wonderful. I don’t mind scrubbing a little more, I would much rather that than use chemical infested products.

  14. Erin F says:

    Just wanted to notify anyone re: Kirkland’s “environmentally friendly” dish washing (not the dishwasher) product – it is not as green as they make out. I had reason to contact them for the MSDS sheet and found out it is relabeled Sunlight ANTIBACTERIAL dish soap! The smell is way perfumey.

    It will clean your dishes, but don’t mistake it for a “greener” cleaner. It is no more green than Palmolive or Dawn.

  15. Alex says:

    I’m not big on the ‘natural’ stuff, mostly because I feel I’m being taken for a ride, $$$-wise. I use the biodegradable, phosphates-free Norchem dishsoap they have at Costco; for less than $1 a liter, it is quite the exceptional product.