Is Dawn Dish Soap Bad for the Environment?

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At TheRoundup we always ask you to get in touch with any environmental questions you might have, and one reader from Ohio did just that when she contacted us and asked "is Dawn dish soap bad for the environment?"

We all know that Dawn effectively removes grease, but at what cost to the planet? And are there any other health concerns that you need to be aware of?

Dawn isn't known as an eco-friendly dish soap, but it markets itself as a brand that cares about recycling, sustainability, and protecting wildlife.

But the truth is that like most traditional dish soaps, it probably does more harm than good...

What is Dawn Dish Soap?

Dawn dish soap is a well-known domestic product that is used for washing dishes. It is a liquid soap that is available in various colors and scents.

It is also available in different formulations, including those that are designed for specific needs such as dishes that have baked-on food. Dawn dish washing liquid is known for its ability to remove grease and other types of stains. It is also effective at removing dirt and grime.

The manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, states that Dawn dish soap is safe for use on all kinds of dishes, including those that are made of delicate materials such as china and glass.

Dawn Dish Soap Ingredients

Dawn dish soap's ingredient label, and its own website, both list the ingredients as follows:

Water; Sodium Lauryl Sulfate; Sodium Laureth Sulfate; C10-16 Alkyldime-Thylamine Oxide; Alcohol Denat.; Ppg-26; Sodium Chloride; Sodium Hydroxide; Pei-14 Peg-24/Ppg-16 Copolymer; Phenoxyethanol; Fragrances; Methylisothiazo-Linone; Colorants Blue 1, Yellow 5, Red 33; C9-11 Pareth-8; Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer; Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate; Chloroxylenol; Phenoxy-Isopropanol; Glycerin; Sodium Cumene-Sulfonate; Propylene Glycol; Terpineol.

Source: Dawn Website

Is Dawn Dish Soap Safe?

The environmental working group has analyzed the ingredients in Dawn dish detergent and awarded it a D rating. This is the second-worst score possible and is classed as High Concern - Likely hazards to health or the environment.

The following ingredients were found to be of particular concern:

  • Methylisothiazolinone - This ingredient, which acts as a preservative is rated as having high concern for "acute aquatic toxicity" which, in simple terms, means it is hazardous to fish and marine life.
  • Pei-14 Peg-24/Ppg-16 Copolymer - Used in Dawn dish soap as a cleaning agent, but concerns around this chemical include links to cancer, organ effects, skin irritation, and damage to your vision.
  • Fragrances - There is concern that the term "fragrances" is an unspecified ingredient. It may have links to skin irritation and allergies, as well as being a further cause of acute aquatic toxicity.
  • Blue #1 - Used as a colorant, but has concerns regarding effects on the nervous system, skin irritation, and cancer.
  • Yellow #5 - Used as a colorant, but has concerns regarding general system and organ effects, and cancer.

These are just the most concerning ingredients that rated D in the environmental working group analysis. There were a further 9 ingredients that rated C, and which are still a cause for concern. You can get more details and see the full report here.

Is Dawn Environmentally Friendly?

Considering the above analysis of some of the key ingredients of Dawn dish soap, we would have to conclude that no, Dawn is not an environmentally friendly product.

It contains one or more ingredients that are potential groundwater contaminants. They can pollute the water system and can harm fish or marine life.

Is Dawn Dish Soap Toxic?

Yes, Dawn soap does contain toxic ingredients. Refer back to that term "acute aquatic toxicity" again - the clue's in the name!

What's more, some of those other ingredients are potentially harmful to human health as well as the environment.

It may well be effective at tackling those dirty dishes, but like many regular household cleaning products, it does contain some very harsh sounding chemicals.

Is Dawn Dish Soap Biodegradable?

Dawn claims to be using "biodegradable surfactants" in its dish detergent. But that is just one component of the product, not all of it.

Dawn soap also uses plastic packaging, which certainly isn't biodegradable. A percentage of the packaging is recycled plastic to be fair, and they do claim that by 2025 they will switch to entirely recycled or recyclable packaging.

But at this stage, that hasn't happened.

As a result, you certainly cannot call Dawn dish soap biodegradable just because one element of it happens to be so. This smacks of greenwashing to me.

Does Dawn Really Help Save Wildlife?

Actually using Dawn dish soap does not help wildlife. In fact, it harms wildlife by polluting the water cycle.

However, it is true that Dawn as a company has donated over $4.5 million to wildlife charity partners since 2006.

The organizations it works with are International Bird Rescue, The Marine Mammal Center, and PG Good Everyday. The exact amounts donated to each cause are not revealed on the P&G website.

Dawn dish soap has been used to clean birds covered as a result of an oil spill because to be fair it does do a good job of removing oil.

You may have seen their oil spill commercial telling you all about how they sent 7000 bottles to help birds caught up in the crude oil spilled by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

The irony here of course is that some of Dawn's key ingredients are actually petroleum-based. So they are using petrol to clean off oil, which in turn increases the country's demand for - yes - petrol!

How Safe are Regular Dish Soaps?

I don't want it to seem like I'm picking on Dawn soap particularly here. We're only focusing on this brand because we're answering a specific question.

The truth is that most regular dish soaps and dishwashing detergents contain very similar ingredients, and are just as bad or (in some cases) even worse than Dawn.

Eco-Friendly Substitutes for Detergents and Soaps

Yes indeed, there are many dish soaps that are more eco-friendly than Dawn. You can find plant-based dish soap made from all-natural ingredients.

Brands like honest dish soap, Ecos Dishmate dish liquid, and Ivory soap all claim to be environmentally friendly, but which ones really are? Our roundup will give you the answers you need.

Can Bar Soap be Used to Clean Dishes?

Yes, you can use bar soap, water, baking soda, and essential oils to create your own homemade eco-friendly dish soap.

We're working on a step-by-step guide to show you exactly how to do this, so watch this space - it'll be ready soon!

In the meantime, you can learn how to make your own eco-friendly bar soap at home.

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Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.
Arabella Ruiz
Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.

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