When you switch to a zero waste lifestyle, you quickly realize that the sea of single-use plastic bottles above and below your kitchen sink will need to go. Like any change, this can feel intimidating! Fortunately, there are so many plastic-free and zero waste dish soap options out there. You’ll easily find the best zero waste dish soap for your lifestyle and budget!
This post is all about plastic-free and zero waste dish soaps you use to clean dishes by hand. Looking for something else?
Conventional dish soaps have a few issues that make them not quite as sustainable as we’d like.
Single-use plastic packaging
Heavy shipping weight from water requires more fuel
Incorporation of fragrance & other irritants
From an environmental standpoint, regular liquid dish soaps contribute to plastic pollution.
Since they are mostly made of water and water is heavy, that extra weight increases the fuel required to ship it across the country (or the world).
You can reduce your carbon emissions by opting for concentrated personal care products including cleaning concentrates, bar soap, and even biodegradable pods!
If you’re trying to live a non-toxic lifestyle, many conventional dish soaps have harmful chemicals like synthetic fragrances and synthetic dyes that can cause irritation to our bodies and potentially harm the environment.
There are so many zero waste dish soap options made with simple, natural ingredients and essential oils.
Move beyond the bottle. There are so many ways to clean your dirty dishes without plastic! In this post, I’m going to break it down into 3 main types of zero-waste dish soap to make it easy to find one that works for your cleaning routine.
1. Liquid dish soap
This is the easiest switch for most beginners on their zero waste journey because it’s the closest to the regular liquid dish soap you’ve likely used your whole life!
I know what you’re thinking though…how on earth can you get liquid dish soap without the plastic?
A. Refill liquid dish soap at the bulk store
Check your local bulk refill store for liquid dish soap. This is an easy way to keep using liquid dish soap while reducing your plastic waste and supporting a local business.
We recently switched to this model and I have to say…it’s just so easy.
I simply bring an empty bottle to my local co-op, refill it with some Azure Standard dish soap, and then use that bottle to refill an old plastic dish soap bottle I’ve been using for a long time.
This approach is easy, inexpensive, and requires almost no habit change.
Don’t have a bulk store in your area? You can order Dr. Bronner’s castile soap in bulk. This isn’t a plastic-free option, but a one-quart bottle of castile soap can make 320 ounces of liquid dish soap.
I’m a huge fan of using the cleaning powerhouse Sal Suds around the home! If you’re not familiar, Sal Suds is Dr. Bronner’s cleaning concentrate. It is even more condensed than their castile soap and is an excellent cleaner.
Just like all of Dr. Bronner’s products, Sal Suds is made without animal testing and Sal Suds is a truly multipurpose product. Sal Suds is ideal for folks with hard water. Read our complete Sal Suds review here!
Although it is a synthetic detergent, it is made of entirely biodegradable ingredients. You can use this as a dish soap concentrate and simply dilute it following the instructions below.
Simply squirt 1/2 – 1 1/2 tsp of Sal Suds in your sink of water. You can also add about half a cup of Sal Suds to a quart of water to make your own zero waste dishwashing liquid.
D. Buy liquid dish soap in recyclable metal packaging
This means that you can keep using liquid dish soap like before, but ditch the plastic. No dilution ratios, recipes, or plastic pollution. Easy.
Get the Roadmap to Sustainable Living!
Don’t overthink it! At its core, sustainable living is easy. People have been doing it for years. By following a few, tried-and-true strategies, you’ll be living an eco-friendly lifestyle in no time (even in this complicated world)!
A lot of companies like Puracy and Method sell dish soap refills in plastic pouches to cut down on the amount of plastic waste. Although I understand and appreciate the idea, this isn’t actually any better.
Many of the plastic pouches are made from plastic #7, which is a bioplastic that is supposedly biodegradable and recyclable. In reality, most facilities are not suited to process that type of packaging and they do not break down well in landfills.
If you had to buy dish soap in plastic, it would make more sense to buy a liquid soap refill in plastic #1 (PET) or #2 (HDPE), which have higher recycling rates.
Before we switched to dish soap blocks, we bought bulk dish soap refills at Costco (since discontinued) or even large containers of Seventh Generation at our local Grocery Outlet.
For us, that was an affordable baby step to reduce our plastic usage before we were ready for something else!
This is perhaps the trendiest dish soap option. I know…dish soap is trendy? Yep! Lots of people are trying to live more sustainably and zero waste dish soap bars are so unusual, that they draw a lot of attention!
Since dish soap bars require no plastic packaging at all and they ship with way less water than liquid soaps, they may be the best zero waste dish soap out there! Just be sure to purchase a bamboo soap shelf to keep your dish soap block from dissolving in water.
They’re also way easier to use than you’d expect.
What is a dish soap block?
A dish soap block is basically a hard bar of soap made specifically for dishwashing. They’re completely plastic-free and there are many vegan and palm oil-free options out there, too.
Just like any other bar soap, they use lye (sodium hydroxide) to saponify oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and more.
Can I use my regular bar soap for dishwashing?
Unlike regular bar soap which is meant to hydrate and nourish your skin with oils, dish soap bars are specifically trying to remove oils and grime. They are not a good replacement for regular soap bars and vice versa!
Using regular bar soap may leave residue on your dishes.
There are some multi-purpose bar soaps that can be used for both bathing and cleaning, including Dr. Bronner’s bar soaps and Pre de Provence Artisanal French soaps.
How should I store my dish soap block?
Store your dish soap block on a soap dish to preserve them. If they sit in water, they will dissolve! A soap dish also makes them easier to move around.
We have this two-piece bamboo soap dish from Plantish and the top tray makes it way easier to move the bar around. I can hold it directly under running water and I never have to worry about unsticking the bar from the board.
I recommend choosing bamboo because bamboo can handles being in water very well unlike other woods that may crack and split after washing and drying. Plus, the bamboo won’t shatter like glass or ceramic!
There are two common approaches to washing dishes with dish soap blocks. For best results, use hot water.
Rub and scrub
Rub the dish block with your brush or wet sponge and then scrub your dish. Easy! This is great for cleaning up an item or two and not for washing a sink full of dishes.
Run water over your bar
If you need a sink full of water, hold the soap bar directly under the hot water as it runs to suds up your sink. We actually prefer to turn the sprayer on and as the tiny streams of hot water hit the bar, you’ll see it suds up.
Wash and rinse your dishes like normal.
Where can I buy dish soap bars?
If you’re lucky, you may have a zero waste store near you! If so, look for dish soap blocks next to the other soaps and cleaning products.
Most of us will need to purchase our blocks online and the following brands are a great place to start!
No Tox Life
Available in 2 sizes: 5.9 oz for about $15 or 21.5 oz for $30.51
We also shopped at Plantish Future for the soap dish and dish brushes from our pictures. We like that we can replace the head of the long dish brush when it wears down!
Can you use Dr. Bronner’s castile soap bar for dishwashing?
Did you know Dr. Bronner’s sells a bar version of their famous castile soap? Just like their liquid castile soap, you can use their bar soap for dishwashing, too! This is an easy way to step away from single-use plastic and save some money while you’re at it!
Use like a regular dish soap block (rub and scrub)
This is not a common item to find in grocery stores or bulk stores, and I only know of one company selling powdered dish soap – Blueland!
Don’t be confused with powdered dish detergent – that’s meant for your dishwasher. Powdered dish soap is meant for handwashing dishes in the kitchen sink.
How does powdered dish soap work?
Simply pour the powder into the water to create a sudsy cleaning solution!
Blueland offers a starter kit that includes a container for easy pouring and a refill pack of the dish soap powder packaged in compostable paper. When you need more soap refills, you’ll get another paper package that is lightweight and easy to compost.
There is no clear-cut answer that works for everyone!
From an environmental standpoint, I think the best zero waste dish soap is a dish soap block that comes free of plastic and fragrance. They require less fuel to ship as they aren’t weighed down with water. Since they are so condensed, one bar can last a long time!
If you’re on a tight budget, you might not feel like the prices of bar soaps are affordable and maybe you don’t have the time or resources to make your own.
In that situation, I would recommend you start by diluting liquid castile soap (remember, that’s about $1.30 to refill a 28 oz dish soap bottle). A quart-sized bottle of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap usually costs about $12-15 and will last a long time!
Although Dr. Bronner’s still requires a plastic bottle, that one bottle should last a long time, can be refilled at a bulk store, and is made from 100% post-consumer recycled PET plastic.
Personally, I find that refilling my liquid dish soap at a bulk store is the easiest option for me. This requires almost no habit change as I’m still cleaning with a liquid soap just like I have for years. Yet, I’m avoiding waste at the same time.
It might not be a perfect option for everyone, but it works great for me right now!
We currently refill an old Puracy bottle with Azure Standard dish soap I get at my local co-op. It smells great and works very well!
I find it so convenient to keep using liquid dish soap since I use it to clean my counters, stovetop, and in my stain-fighting scrub recipe!
We did try using a dish soap block so I could write about them knowledgeably in this post. We started with the bar from Silver Falls Sustainability Company and now have the bar from Plantish in our sink.
Although these dish soap bars work fine, they’ve been sitting unloved for a while since I started shopping at my local co-op.
Eventually…I want to make my own dish soap bars! I’ll be sure to share the recipe when I do.
Pro kitchen tip: Keep a small jar of our vanilla sugar scrub next to the sink to moisturize after a big cleaning session!
What’s your favorite zero waste dishwashing soap?
Do you prefer liquid, block, or powder? Have you tried another product that you like? Tell us in the comments!
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Rachael is a former teacher & farmers market manager who loves to help people reclaim old-fashioned skills in the modern world. You’ll learn about how to cook from scratch, how to preserve the harvest, live in alignment with the earth, and how to slow down so you can enjoy it!