Photo: The dish on dishwasher soap

Decades after banning phosphates in laundry detergent, Canada bans phosphates in dishwasher soap (Credit: NJ Tech Teacher via Flickr)

Phosphates in laundry detergents during the '60s and '70s might have had our mothers seeing whiter whites, but they also turned our streams, rivers and lakes green.

Phosphates are minerals that can soften water, but they also act as fertilizers. They enter our waterways via laundry detergents, human and animal waste, phosphorus-rich bedrock, industrial effluents and fertilizer run-off.

Outright bans or limits on phosphate concentrations in laundry soap date back to the '70s when our waterways were choked with excessive aquatic plant growth or algal blooms. Canada was one of the first countries to ban phosphorus in laundry detergents!

Last year, Canada banned phosphates in dishwasher soap. Why did it take 30 years to ban phosphates in dishwasher soap? Once a luxury item, dishwashers are now a coveted item in most Canadian households. Did your home have a dishwasher in the '70s or '80s? (I can picture my dishpan hands as a child now.)

This CBC news story includes an interview with a consumer who attributed his not-so-shiny looking dishware and cutlery to the lack of phosphates in his dishwasher soap. So, what's a person to do?

When it comes to sourcing an eco-friendly yet effective dishwasher soap I suggest:

Read the ingredients

No ingredients on the label? Then it is best left on the shelf. Although companies are not required by law to disclose their ingredients, some do, and if you value transparency, you might choose to let it guide your purchasing decisions. For example, many contain dry chlorine, which, when dissolved in water, produces chlorine fumes that can cause eye irritation and breathing difficulty. Choose brands with natural plant-based ingredients and no chlorine.

Look for the Green Seal label

Certification guarantees that the product performs as well, if not better than, conventional products and that it's biodegradable. Green Seal products won't irritate your skin or eyes, and they won't make you sick if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Harmful ingredients like phthalates, heavy metals and optical brighteners are also banned. Makes you wonder what's in all that other stuff.

Make your own soap, sometimes

(Credit: Lee Jordan via Flickr)
My green cleaning recipes include one for All Purpose Powder (aka dishwasher soap), a 50:50 mixture of borax and washing soda. The problem is that it will leave a film on your dishes over time. It's best used every few loads or when you're in a pinch. My best tip of all — when it comes to your dishwasher — is to add white vinegar to your rinse agent dispenser. Works like magic.

Want a list of ranked eco-brands?

Author Adria Vasil lists and ranks six eco-brands on page 24 of her book Ecoholic Home. On a scale of one to five green thumbs, one means "you'd be better off with spit on a rag" and five means "a clean freak's dream." Pick up your copy at your local library or buy one for continual reference.

How have you managed to simplify and green up your household cleaning regime without sacrificing quality results?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

January 18, 2011

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Post a comment


Oct 31, 2016
11:20 AM

Since borax is a pesticide, should we be using something other than borax (suggested in your “All Purpose Powder” recipe) for homemade dishwasher soap?

Jul 17, 2015
6:39 AM

Nice idea for home made dishwasher soap! I will try it for sure because I do not believe in the common toxic detergents anyways! Minnie Lynwood

Jan 15, 2015
5:25 AM

I want to buy a dishwasher just because I work a lot and I have time for nothing! Thanks a lot for this article! our website

Mar 13, 2014
12:20 AM

Once i tried to make it at home but because of weak knowledge and improper ingredients i just felt to make it proper. Now i am using organic detergents made here in India and i am pretty happy with its results.

Jul 13, 2013
9:37 AM

our appliance technician said NOT to use vinegar as a rinse aid because it causes hoses to dry out and crack!!

May 23, 2013
2:15 PM

Several years ago I bought an enormous container of Pink Solution, touted as being wonderful for cleaning and safe for the environment. I have not had good results with it and wonder if you are familiar with it. Can you comment on it?

May 06, 2013
6:09 PM

Thank you very much very helpful

May 28, 2012
10:49 AM

Thank you for your advice. I've enjoyed your book and now blogs. I am starting a new business and am looking for 'cleaning solutions' that are easy on the environment and people but am required to have cleaning products that come with a DIN, a drug identification number, by Health Canada. This is not easy to find. Any suggestions?

Feb 22, 2012
1:13 PM

Hi Julie, I have the same information about borax and would not like to use it.I've found a good borax free recipe :

Jan 24, 2012
3:13 PM

Hi Lindsay, Just wondering about the safety of borax…there have been some articles recently about it being a poison. Are there any other alternatives for making dishwasher detergent? Thanks, Julie

Apr 02, 2011
7:18 PM

For homemade dishwasher powder, adding citric acid helps eliminate the yucky film. My recipe calls for 1/2 cup each washing soda and borax, 1/4 cup each kosher salt and citric acid. Vinegar in the rinse aid dispenser works a charm. Glasses are sparkly and no film…

Feb 01, 2011
1:19 PM

Dillion, Due to the expense of sourcing plant-based ingredients instead of cheap petroleum-based ingredients, you’re right, eco-options can cost more. To offset the cost, I suggest sourcing an eco-friendly option and then every few loads add your homemade recipe. Good luck! Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

Feb 01, 2011
8:18 AM

We have six people at the house. We have found and use a bio-degradable laundry soap, but have not found a cost affective dishwasher detergent. I know very well of the toxins we are putting down the drain every day. Paying 3 times the price for eco dish washer seems like to much.

Jan 19, 2011
1:41 PM

I did not know that phosphates had been allowed in Canadian dish washer soaps until recently. I have to buy soap today, I will now change brands and go for a more eco friendly brand. I am close to a lake so I do have to be careful.

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