Last year I bought a 32-ounce bottle of Biokleen dish soap for $4.79.  It lured me in with its seductive lemon-thyme scent but disappointed me with its lackluster performance in the kitchen.  Dishes came out greasy unless I used a LOT of the stuff, and I am not obsessive about dirt and grime.  I squeezed the last drop out of that bottle in less than six weeks. 

Six weeks for a bigger-than-average bottle?  This is what prompted me to pick up the $1.50 25-ounce bottle of generic, conventional dishwashing liquid.  It lasted from October to February–over 19 weeks!  In that time period, I would have had to buy at least two more bottles of Biokleen–and toss them in the recycling bin when they were empty.

I soon became obsessed with finding an affordable eco-friendly dish soap that worked as well as conventional soap.  Unfortunately, I never found any eco-friendly brand that could last nearly as long as the cheap generic stuff.  I hesitate recommending spending more (sometimes up to ten times more) on eco-friendly soaps when they don’t work as well and require more plastic bottles to be produced and then recycled or thrown away.  Plus, as I discussed last Friday, I’m now not even sure that eco-friendly dish soap is any better than conventional soap.

Here is a list of the soaps I tried.  I’ve included the bottle size, the price at my stores, and how long they lasted for me.  I cook a lot and don’t have a dishwasher, so I rely on dish soap for all of my dish-cleaning needs.  Your results will vary depending on how many dishes you wash, how often you wash them, and how liberally you use the soap (obviously).    I then calculated how much I’d have to spend a year with each particular brand.  Lastly, I figured out how many bottles I’d toss out in a year’s time.

Dish soap Size of bottle Cost per bottle Cost
er ounce
How long it lasts Cost per year Bottles per year
Bulk 25 oz. $3.10 $.124 7 weeks $23.02 0
Generic 25 oz. $1.50 $.06 19 weeks $4.11 2.7
Planet 25 oz. $2.99 $.119 11 weeks $14.13 4.7
Trader Joe’s 25 oz. $2.50 $.10 8 weeks $16.25 6.5
Biokleen 32 oz. $4.79 $.149 6 weeks $41.51 8.7
Ultra Dishmate 25 oz. $3.59 $.144 6 weeks $31.11 8.7
7th Generation 25 oz. $3.29 $.132 6 weeks $28.51 8.7

After all this experimenting, I never came up with the perfect solution to my dish soap dilemma.  But here are three possible conclusions to my year-long dishwashing odyssey: 

  1.  Use bulk dish soap.  One of my neighborhood stores, New Seasons, sells “eco-friendly” dish soap in bulk, so I can go in and refill the same bottle again and again.  The upside is, I would never have to recycle another plastic bottle.  The downside is, I went through 25 ounces in seven weeks, so I’d be using much more “eco-friendly” soap than conventional soap.  If there’s no clear environmental advantage to “eco-friendly” soap, as I discussed on Friday, then this is not a great solution for the planet.  It would also cost me five times as much as generic soap and take more effort.

2. Use Planet.  If you don’t have bulk dish soap available to you, the second best green bargain is Planet dishwashing liquid, which lasted over ten weeks–the most concentrated of all the eco-friendly soaps I tried.  It still doesn’t last as long as conventional dishwashing liquid, so you’ll spend more and go through more plastic bottles than you would with the generic kind.

  1. 3. Just use regular old conventional dish soap.  A 25-ounce bottle lasted almost twice as long as my eco-pick, Planet.  With environmental disadvantages to both plant-based and petroleum-based soaps, it wouldn’t be terrible to choose the soap that’s the most concentrated and creates the least amount of waste.  Many mainstream dish soaps are phosphate-free–check the labels.  Plus, it’s the cheapest option by far.  Generic soap would cost me just over $4.00 a year.  Compare that to Biokleen, which would cost ten times as much and waste almost three times as many plastic bottles.

A few months ago I found sustainable laundry detergent that worked well and even cost less than regular brands.  Why is it so hard to find dishwashing liquid that does the same?  What are your experiences with eco-friendly soaps?  Did I miss a great one in my review?

I never found the perfect dish soap that works for me, but I did come up with three options that might be better for the Earth without putting a huge dent in my budget.  For more tips, head on over to Rocks in My Dryer.

This Friday I’ll discuss some alternatives to liquid dish soap that will keep your dishes sparkling and the environment somewhat content.