What makes up a zero waste dishwashing routine? Everyone’s process will look a bit different given a host of factors, so as always, a low waste journey is about finding what works for you.
Here are some general things to keep in mind:
Dishwashing vs. Handwashing: Which uses more water?
If you have an efficient dishwasher, washing your dishwasher-safe items by hand will save a TON of water.
This won’t be possible for everyone of course if your home or apartment does not have a dishwasher (been there… and am there!) but if you do have one, opt for the dishwasher for all of your dishwasher-safe dinnerware and tableware.
Use up what you have first!
While there is definitely a temptation to want to immediately skip ahead to using the zero waste swap, using up what you have first is the lowest waste way to make these eco switches. (Or, if you really want to make the swap now, find someone that you can give your existing stuff to who you know will really use it up!)
Find what is reasonable within your budget.
Zero waste dishwashing detergent and soap can be expensive. Obviously, there are reasons for the cost — sourcing ingredients sustainably is not as cheap as unethical extraction and exploitation — but if you simply cannot always use zero waste products, don’t be hard on yourself. There are many other ways to get involved with this movement.
Consider cost per load.
Sometimes, zero waste options look more expensive upfront when they’re actually cheaper in the long run. This is not always true, but it is something to keep in mind as you evaluate prices. This post includes a “Cost Per Load” for dishwashing detergents so that you can compare the options apples to apples. Cost per load is a bit more difficult to calculate for the soap bars, but remember that these don’t contain any water and are highly concentrated, so they’ll last a while!
Look at the ingredients.
Many low waste brands also consider the safety and sustainability of their ingredients, but in general, here are ingredients to watch out for and avoid in dishwashing soap and detergent. To find third-party safety reviews on bigger dishwashing brands, check out Environmental Working Group’s ratings.
Note that this guide includes affiliate links which means we may earn a small commission on purchases made through some of these links that helps us keep creating free resources. As always, brands featured here meet high standards for sustainability.
Zero Waste Dishwashing Sets
Just getting started out with zero waste dishwashing? These sets have you covered with dishwashing soaps, brushes, towels, and more!
With four different package sizes, you can get what you need for your own dishwashing routine from Plantish’s Etsy Shop! The brushes are made from all-natural materials and the palm-oil free dish soap is made with coconut and olive oil.
Price: $22 – $90 depending on bundle size
This set from online zero waste marketplace EarthHero has everything you need for a good clean. The kit includes a castile dish soap bar handmade in their own factory in Chicago, a reclaimed wooden dish soap bar, a bamboo dish scrubber, and a copper scour pad (note: would be preferred if the pad was made from recycled copper).
Zero Waste Dish Detergent
As discussed above, if you have an efficient dishwasher, that will be the lower waste option when it comes to water usage! Here are some package-light options for dishwashing detergent.
Blueland’s dishwasher tablets meet the highest standards for sustainability and safety. They are certified for Platinum Material Health by Cradle to Cradle and have also earned the coveted EWG Verified seal. The non-toxic dishwashing detergent arrives naked (i.e. no plastic film) in a reusable steel tin and then you can purchase refill packs in plastic-free packaging.
Price: $20 for Dish Soap Starter Set | $18 for Dishwasher Starter Set
Cost Per Load: $0.27 – $0.35 per load for refills
If you love the convenience of pods, but not their environmental impact, check out Dropps. These unscented pods are free of fragrance, dyes, chlorine, phosphates, and phthalates, and the pod membrane is made from Polyvinyl alcohol, which is water-soluble. (Editor’s note: I’ve used these in the past and they work great!)
Price: Subscription: $17.50 – $35; Buy Once: $25 – $50
Cost Per Load: $0.19 – $0.39 depending on package size
If you prefer a detergent powder, look no further than the MamaSuds powder from Fill More Waste Less, a Black woman-owned zero waste shop. The powder earned an A rating from EWG and is 100% biodegradable. You can choose from 8 oz or 16 oz refills and get them delivered in a compostable bag or your own jar!
Price: $3.60 – $7.20
Cost Per Load: $0.45 – $0.55 if you use 1 oz. per load
Zero Waste Dish Soap
Soap bars are often a preference in the zero waste community because they are super concentrated (making them lighter and more efficient to transport) and easy to get package-free.
How do you use dish soap bars?
- You can put the bar on a soap dish, wet your brush, and then rub your brush on the soap.
- If you prefer a liquid option, you could break a small piece of the soap bar and let it dissolve in water in a reusable soap dispenser.
If you prefer to not use easier to for everyone, as they can sometimes leave residues on dishes and aren’t always as convenient. However, if this is your preferred method, here are some options!
This plastic-free, nearly package-free dishwashing soap is sulfate-, paraben-, fragrance, and palm-oil free. Made from powerful plant-derived ingredients, this vegan soap works surprisingly well on dishes or kitchen counters. (I have used this soap and it really worked for me!)
Price: $14 for 5.9 oz bar
Influenced by the smells of her Thai culture, Unearth Malee owner Marie makes organic palm oil-free soaps with Asian-inspired scents. Marie’s dishwashing soap is crafted using organic olive oil and organic coconut oil, and is scented with essential oils like Thai Lime.
Price: $10 for 5 oz.
Not only is Meliora’s non-toxic, zero waste dish soap MADE SAFE® Certified, but the company is a B-Corp, demonstrating their overall commitment to environmental and social responsibility. The woman-owned company produces all of its cleaning products in their own factory in Chicago and also donate 2% of sales to environmental nonprofits.
Price: $9.99 for one; $28.50 for three
Use code CONSCIOUSLIFE for 10% off at EarthHero
Another castile dish soap bar option on EarthHero is Bestowed Essentials. The package-free bars are handmade in the U.S. in a facility that uses solar power and the company has partnered with Ocean Blue Project to collects and recycles 1 pound of beach trash for every order.
Zero Waste Dish Brushes
Most dish brushes are cheaply made from synthetic and non-recyclable materials that have to be tossed out at the end of their (short) life. These dish brushes, though, have replaceable heads so that you don’t have to discard them each time the brush wears out and are made from natural materials so that you can compost them when they are at the end of their (longer) life.
Tip: Once you’re done using the brush, pat it dry with a towel and keep it out of the water to give it the longest life possible!
This dishwashing brush, made from untreated beechwood, Tampico fiber, and steel is another zero waste alternative to plastic sponges. The brush heads are replaceable and can be composted when worn out. The wooden handle can also be composted and the metal parts are recyclable.
Price: $10 – $12.50
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