The Cheapest, Most Concentrated Eco-Friendly Dishwashing Liquid

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.


  1. Thanks for sharing all your research! I’m always looking for a better, more economical product.

  2. I love Mrs.Meyers, either geranium or lemon verbena. It works remarkably well (I was a die-hard Dawn girl for years), it’s not the most expensive, but honestly it smells so good it’s worth the price to make the chore of washing dishes less miserable!

  3. Great study! I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of earth friendly dish soap to use when my current supply runs out!

  4. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  5. What a great post! Found you via Rocks In My Dryer. Glad I did!

  6. Costco is selling “environmently friendly” plant-based dish soap and laundry detergent now. I forget how much it costs, but it comes in a giant bottle and works pretty well.

  7. I like 7th Generation, but then, I have a dishwasher. In which I use 7th Generation dishwasher powder … it at least comes in a cardboard box. They do make liquid, but it of course comes in a plastic bottle. I will advise against using Planet diswasher powder as it was horrible … it didn’t clean my dishes and left a cloudy film on all of my glassware.

    I do wish I knew of a local (Chicago) bulk dispenser of liquid soaps. I like that Method offers a plastic bag refill for their hand soaps … why can’t that be the same for 7th Generation? Or only sell it like that to encourage everyone to buy a permanent dispenser for home.

  8. What’s the deal with downing on regular dish soap? If I remember correctly, someone in my science class in highschool did a study on grass and how it reacted to different chemicals. The grass that got dishsoapy water actually grew longer and lusher than her other samples. So I didn’t think dishsoap was that bad. I’m all for using the extra concentrated dishsoap and a pump dispenser so you use less in the long run.

  9. Gillie, I talked a bit about this on Friday’s post. Basically, plants DO like dish soap. Algae, in particular, likes to feast on the dish soap, resulting in algae bloom. This reduces water clarity and is bad for aquatic life. Then there’s the issue what the soap is made out of. Soaps are either petroleum-based or plant-based, and each kind has its environmental problems. On top of all this, there are the plastic bottles!

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is reduce the amount of dish soap I use. I will deal with that issue in next week’s WFMW post!

  10. That’s a lot of work you did to put this post together. You should get a job with Consumer Reports!

    I appreciate your work and the information.

    Also, if you’re interested, I’m giving away free bakeware on my blog. Comment or link to me to enter the contest and win 4 Handmade Pottery Apple Bakers valued at $36. Thanks!

  11. Hmmm. I thought the cheapeast most concentrated eco-friendly dishwashing liquid was dog spit.

    But, seriously my favorite, hands down, is Planet.

  12. The info below comes from Cook’s Illustrated’s ratings of regular and green dish detergents. They also rated 7th generation highly for effectiveness. I have been using TJ and have been disappointed in how much I have had to use. Maybe I’ll try Planet too.

    Method Go Naked Ultra Concentrated Dish Detergent

    This eco-friendly detergent comes in a sleek bottle, but we were impressed by the contents-this detergent won the wetting test and aced all of our scrubbing tests. (12 cents per ounce)

    Best Buy
    Ajax Lemon Super Degreaser

    At five cents per ounce, this was the most inexpensive detergent in our tests and it performed well in the cleaning tests.

    Here’s the link, but the page is only available to subscribers.

  13. Crunchy Chicken–I don’t have a dog, so I guess that method is out for me. Oh well!

    Betsy–Thanks for the article! Their technique for testing dish soap was very interesting. I didn’t try Method because it was much more expensive than the other ones I tried. According to that article, though, it is just $.12/ounce–about the same as Planet! I will have to look for it again.

    Another one I want to try is Whole Foods 365 brand. A 25 ounce bottle costs just $2.15. I finally decided to just publish this post without trying every single dish soap in the world!

  14. Thanks for all the great information. I just ran out of soap today – I’m going to see if I can find Planet – seems to be a favorite.

  15. Great research and information. TFS

  16. I’ve had good luck with Planet, too. One of the things I do like about the “eco-friendly” soaps is that I’m less likely to have to worry about them being “anti-bacterial.”

    We have a new low-water, low-energy dishwasher (which sadly isn’t working yet). I’d be interested to know if it’s better functioning makes it better than washing by hand even if the dishsoap isn’t as environmentally friendly. I vaguely remember reading that a new dishwasher often uses less water than washing the same dishes by hand, but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

  17. I’ve been hooked on Dawn for years now but after reading this and the comments I’m ready to try something new. Wouldn’t want to be a dishsoap snob now would I. I’m thinking I’ll look at Mrs Meyers and Method because I know I have seen them in stores I shop in.

    As a total side note. While living in Mexico I was shocked to find that they use Ajax to clean dishes that have come in contact with eggs b/c it takes the smell out. Never seemed too healthy to me.

  18. I have not done any counting of weeks and haven’t really noted any of the factors above, so I guess I’m hoping these show up in your next study:) I’ve tried the new Clorox (green) line of dishwashing liquid and like it and I’ve tried the new Arm and Hammer plant based laundry detergent. The attracting factor is that they were priced closer to the conventional brands than some of the other green lines. Thanks for the informative post.

  19. It is horrible that products are being marketed as “ECO” friendly but still has bleach and other harmful chemicals in it!! (AND they don’t even WORK)

    I’m glad i found a company that actually provides great cleaning and personal care products with no chemicals or phosphates!

  20. What about Method brand from Target? Their products are mostly if not all environmentally friendly. I saw a review of their dish washing solution that was compared to major brands, generic brands, and also the spendy eco friendly brands and Method came out on top. Something to look into…

  21. Jaclyn, I have heard good things about Method, but I didn’t review it for two reasons mentioned above. 1. I was reviewing soaps I could buy at stores within walking distance of my house. I can’t walk to Target. (Or, I’ve never tried. I don’t think we have Targets in Portland; they are all in neighboring suburbs.) 2. The price of Method exceeded my limit. I think a 25-ounce bottle is $5. Of course, if it is super concentrated and lasts much longer than the others, it may indeed wind up being more cost effective. I know a lot of people love Method products!

  22. I use 7th Generation handwashing liquid (no dishwasher til we move next month) which we buy from our food coop. A few weeks ago hubby and I were in the kitchen and he looks over at the dishsoap and asks if I remember when we bought it. After a few minutes of being stumped we realized we had absolutely no idea. We used to go through Dawn like crazy but the 7th Generation seems to last forever and does an excellent job.

  23. Thanks for this excellent post!

    Biokleen works wonderfully for me – much better than Seventh Generation. Perhaps it’s a case of different types of water?
    I loved Mrs. Meyers but their scents give me bad headaches. I buy Biokleen in bulk from my local coop and I dilute it a bit in the bottle I use at the kitchen sink so it lasts longer. I haven’t done any calculations on how much it costs compared to grocery store brands, but I am glad not to be using new bottles.

  24. What a relief to know I’m not alone in this quest! Thank you for the post and also all the replies.

    Ecover is the brand I finally discovered that works best for me. It has a barely noticeable fresh lemon scent, contains aloe vera, cuts grease completely and leaves dishes very clean. A few drops wash a sinkful of dishes and it lasts for months and months. If I have something that needs extra scrubbing, I supplement with baking soda. It is safe for septic tanks (we live in the country), claims fast and complete biodegradability and minimum impact on aquatic life. It’s 32 oz plastic container is made of number 2 plastic (HDPE – high density polyethylene) and is recycled into a myriad of products including plastic containers.

  25. I love Melaleuca dish soap it lasts for months but you have to be a member to buy it and it has to be shipped to you.

  26. No offense — but you really did a disservice to green dish soap by choosing the shittiest possible brands. Dr. Bronners, Ecover, Mrs. Myers, and many others are available easily and do a much better job than dawn, ajax, generic stuff, whatever.

    To the fellow who wondered why regular detergent sucks? The companies suck. Look into how they test their products. For what it’s worth, ALL soap is bad for aquatic life. Algae bloom, however, is not bad for aquatic life. Many fish eat algae. Algae consumed nitrites and nitrates, which ARE bad for fish. But they get their oxygen when water passes over their gills. What do you think happens when there’s soap in the water?

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