Home Decor

How To Wash Your Dishes—Without Using Plastic 

Even if it’s ‘recyclable,’ most plastic ends up in the landfill—or in the environment.

A closeup of hands holding a white ceramic dish under running water coming from a faucet holding a wood scrub brush that scrubs the dish over a sink filled with soapy water

Next time you’re out grocery shopping, take a look at the home cleaning aisle. What you’ll see, for the most part, is a whole lot of plastic. Shelves upon shelves of plastic jugs, cartons and spray bottles—most of which will serve their purpose for a couple of months before they are pitched, likely ending up in a landfill or littering the environment.

The plastics industry has spent a lot of money convincing us we need these plastic products to “enable our modern way of life.” But the fact is, you can keep your entire home sparkling clean without using any plastic at all. Here’s how you can make the switch to a plastic-free dishwashing routine.

The problem with plastic

Plastic pollution

Even if plastic packaging can be put in the blue bin, it doesn’t necessarily get recycled. In fact, of the seven billion tonnes of plastic waste produced to date, less than 10 percent has been recycled. Canada only recycles nine percent of plastic waste.

“It’s not that economical to recycle plastic,” says Karen Wirsig, Senior Program Manager for Plastics at Environmental Defence, a national environmental charity. “Partly because virgin material (polymers that come straight from oil and gas) is pretty cheap.”

Recycling plastic, on the other hand, is pricey and complicated. After plastic waste is collected, it must be cleaned and carefully sorted—different types can’t be processed together. Then plastic is melted down and formed into pellets. But there’s a limit to what you can do with these pellets and who will buy them. Because plastic degrades every time it is melted, it is usually “downcycled” into something with lower standards. (Food-grade water bottles are turned into garments or park benches—not new water bottles.) As long as the cost of oil is low enough, it’s easier and cheaper for manufacturers to buy virgin plastic.

Related: Stuck On Plastic Wrap? Here Are Some Eco-Friendly Alternatives

So what happens to the remaining billions of tonnes of plastic waste? It goes to landfill, gets incinerated, or winds up in the environment. Every year, at least 14 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean. It’s estimated that plastic now makes up 80 percent of all marine debris—harming and killing hundreds of marine species through ingestion and entanglement.

As plastic breaks down over time, it eventually turns into microplastics—particles smaller than 5 mm. Microplastics have been found in tap water, ocean water, air and even human placentas. Even plant-based plastic breaks down into microplastics, behaving the same way in nature.

The climate change connection

It may not be obvious that all those jugs of dish soap and bottles of cleaning products contribute to climate change—but plastic creates greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its life cycle. That’s because plastic starts off as a fossil fuel.

As crude oil or natural gas is refined into plastic, every step of the process creates emissions—extracting and refining fossil fuels, processing them into petrochemicals, manufacturing plastic, transporting virgin plastic, manufacturing it into products, and finally shipping those plastic products around the world. The emissions associated with the production, use and disposal of plastics is forecast to grow to 19 percent of the global carbon budget by 2040.

According to the International Energy Association, the demand for plastics has nearly doubled since 2000, outpacing bulk materials like steel, aluminum and cement. The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada estimates 70,000 products Canadians use every day are made from chemistry and plastics.

The demand for plastic is projected to increase even more—and big oil is banking on it. With the demand for gasoline declining as people switch to electric vehicles, the oil and gas sector is shifting its attention to petrochemicals—the ethylene and propylene used to manufacture plastic. According to the IEA, petrochemicals are set to account for more than a third of the growth in oil demand by 2030, and nearly half by 2050. They say petrochemicals will consume an additional 56 billion cubic metres of natural gas by 2030—equivalent to about half of Canada’s total gas consumption today.

Handwashing dishes without plastic

A block of Marseille olive oil soap on a wood soap dish with a dish scrubber to the side

(Photo: Green Bohème)

Solid dish soap

Bar soap is a staple for hands and bodies, and now it’s gaining popularity for washing dishes. It’s super easy to use—simply rub your dish cloth, sponge, or scrub brush over the soap block and get scrubbing. The rich lather is gentle on skin, yet tough on grease and caked-on food. Because it’s so concentrated, solid dish soap can even be used to treat laundry stains, spot-clean carpets, and de-grease ovens. One block replaces about three containers of liquid dish detergent.

These options are all natural, vegan, and free of parabens, phosphates, and palm oil.

The Bare Home Solid Dish Soap, $20 for a 260-g bar, the Bare Home

The Dish Block Solid Dish Soap, $13 for a 170-g bar, No Tox Life

Make Nice Company Solid Dish Soap, $15 for a 240-g bar, Make Nice Company

Savon de Marseille Solid Dish Soap, $14 for a 300-g bar, Green Bohème

A refillable white bottle of blue land dish powder pouring onto a sponge that is washing a plate over a sink

(Photo: Blueland)

Dish soap powder

Most dish detergent powders are for the dishwasher, but a couple of innovative companies have come out with dish powder made for handwashing, which turns into a thick foam when you add water.

Just a Powder Dishwashing Soap

This formula relies on good old baking soda for scrubbing powder, and D-limonene for degreasing. It’s formulated with skin-conditioning agents xylitol and Vitamin B5. The stainless steel shaker has a revolving lid, and comes filled with 120 g of dishwashing powder

Just a Powder dishwashing soap (with shaker), $19.79 for 100 g, (refills $11.31), Etsy

Blueland Dish Soap Starter Set

The formula is made with plant-based and planet-friendly ingredients, without petroleum, artificial dyes, artificial fragrance, parabens, ammonia or phthalates. It has been independently tested by third-party labs to perform well on dishware, glassware, silver and porcelain. The starter set comes with a silicone Forever Shaker.

Blueland Dish Soap Starter Set (with shaker), $20 USD for 454 g, Blueland

Concentrated dish soap

Grab Green’s Dissolvable Foaming Dish Soap Tablets

This concentrated dish soap is made with plant and mineral-based ingredients. It’s biodegradable and made without parabens, phthalates, phosphates, formaldehyde, synthetic dyes, ammonia, chlorine bleach or other harsh chemicals. Tablets are packaged in water-dissolvable paper, made from FSC-certified wood fibres and printed with eco-friendly ink. It’slightly scented with tangerine and lemongrass essential oils. All Grab Green products are Leaping Bunny certified—meaning they’re made without animal products or animal testing. To use, drop tablets in a 16-oz soap bottle (with a foaming pump) and add water.

Foaming Dish Soap Tablets, $3.75 USD for 25 g (enough for one soap bottle), Grab Green

Etee Dish Soap Concentrate

Made in Toronto, this concentrated dish soap comes in biodegradable beeswax pods. Rip open the pod and pour the solution into a soap dispenser and add water. Put the lid on, give it a good shake, and let it sit for an hour before using. The plant-based formula is free from SLS, phthalates, sulphites, sulphates, synthetics, colours and artificial fragrance. Each 40 mL pod makes 13 oz/400 mL of liquid dish soap.

Etee Dish Soap Concentrate, $24.95 for three 40-mL pods, Simply Natural Canada

Liquid dish soap refills and bulk options

With a growing number of refill stores across the country, there’s no need to buy a plastic bottle of dish soap every time you run out. Just bring a refillable jar to a refill store and fill it back up.

Any refillable soap dispenser will work, like this glass jar soap pump from Simons. Or, turn any Mason jar into a soap dispenser with a soap pump lid from reCAP Mason Jars. These lids are dishwasher safe, stain-resistant, freezer proof, and won’t conk out on you like some soap pumps do. (I have one, and it’s fantastic.)

If you don’t have a refill store near you, you can still cut back on plastic by buying dish soap in bulk.

A pair of hands refills an Attitude brand dish soap dispenser from a larger refill box sitting on a wood shelf against a tiled kitchen wall

(Photo: Amazon)

The Unscented Company Dish Soap

This made-in-Canada brand has become a familiar sight in many stores. Although this option isn’t entirely plastic free (the cardboard box’s lining is plastic), the giant 10-L box of dish soap replaces 13 plastic bottles. As the name suggests, it’s fragrance free, and is made without dyes or phosphates.

The Unscented Company Dish Soap (10 L refill), $40, Voila.

ATTITUDE Nature + Technology Dish Soap

If you prefer dish soap with a light scent, this brand comes in green apple and basil, coriander and olive, citrus zest, and pink grapefruit. The formula is ECOLOGO® Certified, meaning it is sustainable and biodegradable.

ATTITUDE Nature + Technology Dish Soap (4 L refill), $22, Amazon

Dish cloths and sponges

Swedish Dish Cloths

Made of cellulose fibres and recycled cotton, Swedish dish cloths are totally biodegradable and compostable. Although they’re called “dish cloths,” they can be used to clean surfaces all around your home. Because they are super absorbent, they can also replace paper towels to clean up spills. These cloths are long lasting and can be washed in the machine, boiled, or put on the top rack of the dishwasher to be disinfected. Here are some brands to try.

Kattinatt Swedish dishcloths, $7, Simply Natural Canada

Loofah Sponge by Goldrick Natural Living

Made from pure loofah plants, these sponges are completely biodegradable and compostable. The mesh-like texture creates more suds using less dish soap. They are tough enough to wipe off stuck-on food, but they don’t scratch non-stick pans or any other scratch-sensitive items. Lasts for about 40 days of daily use.

Loofah Sponge by Goldrick Natural Living, $8, Simply Natural Canada

Redecker Copper Cloth

This scouring pad is made of copper threads, which are effective at scrubbing dishes yet soft enough to use on any pots or pans, including enamel. It’s double-layered for extra strength, and you can even wash it in the dishwasher. Once it has reached the end of its life, it can be recycled.

Redecker Copper Cloth, $14 for two, Maven and Grace

Andrée Jardin Natural Dishwashing Sponges

Made in France, these natural sponges are made of wood pulp cellulose and hard shell nuts and fruit pits to effectively wash dishes without scratching. They are fully biodegradable.

Natural dishwashing sponges $9 for two, Simons

Bare Home Cellulose and Loofah Sponge

This dual-action sponge has soft, plant-based cellulose on one side and natural loofah on the other. The two sides are hand-sewn with cotton thread rather than glued together with plastic glues or adhesives and are 100 percent compostable. To sanitize, simply boil or throw in the dishwasher.

Cellulose and Loofah Sponge, $10 for two, the Bare Home

Plantish Sponges

These reusable sponges are plant-based and compostable. The white side, made of wood pulp, is spongy and absorbent. The beige side, made of loofah, is scrubby and helps soap become sudsy. Loofah has been used by different cultures for centuries before plastic was mass-produced. It replaces traditional plastic sponges in dishwashing and general household cleaning.

$8 for two, Plantish

Plantish Pop-up Sponges

Made of 100 percent vegetable cellulose (wood pulp), these kitchen sponges look like Swedish dishcloths—until you add water. Then they expand into dish sponges. They come in three cute designs: a fox, a lemon, and a eucalyptus plant.

Pop-up Sponges, $12 for three, Plantish

Casa Agave Dish brushe on a block

(Photo: No Tox Life)

Scrub brushes

Instead of a plastic-handled scrub brush with plastic bristles, opt for a scrub brush made of wood or bamboo, and bristles made of natural fibres. Here are some great options that work well and can be used on any pot or pan without scratching. Best of all, they can be composted at the end of their life.

Casa Agave Dish Brush

This short-handled dish brush is made with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified bamboo that’s lightly coated with non-toxic wood protectant to keep it from cracking and splitting. The bristles are made of agave and palmyra fibres. It will last for up to three months.

Casa Agave Dish Brush by Earth and Daughter, $12, No Tox Life

Casa Agave Long Handle Dish Brush

Similar to the short-handled Casa Agave Dish Brush, this version has a long handle to make it easier to get into big pots or glassware. The best part: the brush head can be replaced with a new one. Once the bristles no longer work or the brush head starts to fall apart (it is biodegradable), compost it or bury it in the garden.

Casa Agave Long Handle Dish Brush by Earth & Daughter, $1, No Tox Life

Redecker Coconut Fibre Scrub Brush

This scrub brush can be used for just about anything—dishes, toilets and even your skin. The handle is made of untreated beechwood, and the bristles are made with coconut fibre. Because coconut fibre is naturally antifungal and antibacterial, simply rinse with warm water to clean and let it air dry.

Redecker Coconut Fibre Scrub Brush, $12, The Green Way

Plastic-free dishwasher detergent

Blueland Dishwasher Tablets

Instead of plastic or film, Blueland’s dishwasher tablets come in compostable paper. They’ve been independently tested and proven to lift food stains and cut through grease and grime. They are free from dyes, fragrances and other harmful ingredients.

Dishwasher Starter Set, $23 for 120 tablets, Blueland

Pure Dishwasher Tabs

These tablets are biodegradable and septic-safe, and they easily remove stains and grease without leaving a film on dishes. Each tablet is wrapped in a plant-based polymer that dissolves in water, so you do not need to unwrap—just toss it in the machine.

PURE Dishwasher Tabs, $0.46 per tab, the Keep Refillery

Attitude Dishwasher Tablets

Attitude’s dishwasher tablets are formulated with only plant and mineral-based ingredients, without phosphates. They use oxygen-based bleaching agents, vegetable-based surfactants, and enzymes to get dishes clean without leaving behind any unhealthy residue. Each tablet comes in a water-soluble package.

ATTITUDE Dishwasher Tablets, $11.95 for 26 tablets, Attitude Living

Biovert Dishwasher Tabs

These Canadian-made tablets are biodegradable, phosphate-free, and hypoallergenic — and they are really effective. The all-in-one formula contains a prewash agent to dissolve stains, a detergent to gently clean glassware and porcelain, and a rinse agent to prevent stains from forming on glassware.

Biovert Dishwasher Tabs, $11.49 for 30 tabs, Well.ca

While the products in this piece have been independently chosen, this article contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

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