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Even if you have a dishwasher in your home, chances are that you need to hand-wash at least some of your dishes some of the time. I know in my house that not a day goes by without there being a bowlful or two of soapy water on the go. Since it’s such a regular chore, washing-up the dishes seems as good a place as any to make some sustainable and eco-friendly changes.
In this post, I have suggested a few products and tip to help make washing-up a little more eco-friendly, as well as places to buy them. I have used a lot of these products myself. You can find something to suit your preferences and budget. You might just need to shop outside of your local supermarket to get what you need.
Just how eco-friendly or sustainable is our washing-up liquid. In the EU, surfactants (detergents that cut grease) must meet the biodegration standards set in law so, there is some degree of eco-friendliness in all types of washing-up liquid. However, this is only really to make it safer for pouring down the drains. It does not extend to the sourcing of sustainable ingredients. Crude oil is an ingredient in many known brands including Fairy Liquid and is hardly a sustainable ingredient!
If you shop for your cleaning products in one of the big supermarkets, you are guaranteed to find at least their own branded version of an eco-friendly product. Most of these are free from crude oil and come in recyclable bottles. The brand Ecover is one that comes in 100% recycled packaging and refills are available at stations around the country.
I do buy Ecover in a pinch but there are ethical issues with both Ecover and Method brand products. Their parent company is SC Johnson, a US-based company known for testing products on animals. This clearly does not dictate the actions of Ecover generally but I can understand why people may choose to not buy these products to line the pockets of companies such as SC Johnson.
Should you venture to smaller local shops or online to buy your cleaning products, a great brand is Bio-D. I love their washing up liquid and it’s the one I buy now from my local health food shop where they have a refilling station. It comes in a couple of different fragrances (lavender is my favourite), it’s cruelty-free, recyclable and refillable. It’s also made in the UK and you can buy it in bulk to avoid over-use of plastic. You can buy it in most ethical online stores like Natural Collection and the Ethical Superstore [AFF]. They also do a range of products for dishwashers too.
Liquid soap alternatives
Washing-up detergent doesn’t just come in liquid form. Many smaller manufacturers are turning to a more zero-waste solution to eradicate the need for a plastic bottle all together. EcoLiving do a dish washing bar, available here and you can buy a powdered version too by Planet Detox from Peace with the Wild. These are a little more expensive and likely out of budget for some but used correctly, they do last for a long time.
It might be worth bearing in mind that the more eco-friendly the ingredients, the less the bubbles stick around for. As the bubbles fade, so does the grease-killing power. At least that’s what I find anyway. I’m not sure why exactly this is but if you do a lot of washing up you may find that you need to refresh the water a few times. I found with the powdered product that I was using much more than I needed to and it’s a little too expensive to be doing that.
If I had a dishwasher to do most of my dishes, I’d definitely use the powder for a smaller amount of handwashing I would need to do. Shop around too. Some of the websites I’ve listed do their own branded versions which are a little cheaper. You can also make your own if you are so inclined. I’m trying a few recipes out myself and I’ll share own as soon as I find one that works for me.
Tools of the trade
I have used the same cloths for washing up for years now. They are cotton (mostly) dish cloths that I bought from Tesco. I stick them on a boil wash and use them over and over. They may have gone a little grey over the years but I don’t plan on getting rid of them until they fall apart. I have also repurposed an old towel into dish cloths in the past.
For stuck-up messes, silicon scrubbers are a great solution. Although not plastic-free, they are relatively cheap and last for years meaning that waste is minimal. Teal Trunk do a great version available on Amazon.
You can also buy scrubbers made from coconut husk and loofah (yep, the back-scrubber thingys!). I find prices are really reasonable for these. The best one I have found yet is the washing-up pad by LoofCo, around £4.80 for a pack of two. It’s a sponge-like scrubber that helps generate more suds and gets things squeaky-clean. LoofCo also do a scraper, made from coconut husk which works a treat on burnt on messes. Check out the LoofCo range at Big Green Smile and Ethical Superstore [AFF].
Brushes and Sponges
If brushes are your thing, look for natural bristles, preferrably plant-based and biodegradeable rather than plastic. EcoLiving do wooden-handled brushes with replaceable heads. You can buy from their sister site, Boobalou. They also do silicon handles too which, yes are plastic, but will last for years if you take care of them properly. The heads are wooden and the bristles are plant-based and 100% biodegradeable.
Compostable sponge cloths are a thing too, (ecoLiving do them for £3.60 for a pack of 4) made from combination of cellulose and cotton. They are also washable. I haven’t tried them myself but I hear good things.
What about Water?
Nowadays, most dishwashers are more water efficient than handwashing, especially if you have a large family and generate loads of washing up. If you have one, use it. Just be sure to fill it up each time. If, like me, you don’t have a dishwasher, you can avoid wasting water by following the below tips:
- Don’t oveerfill your sink. Half full should be fine, or use a washing-up bowl. Bowls also help protect breakables. Just remember, you need to keep the bowl clean too which can use more water.
- Use a scraper (silicon or coconut) to get all the residue off instead of rinsing. Do this before it dries out and needs extra scrubbing.
- If you like to rinse, soak in a few centimetres of water instead of using running water.
- For stubborn stains in pots and pans, sprinkle the bottom with soda crystals or baking soda and add a little hot water to cover the bottom of the pan. You can leave it overnight and then brush out before washing as normal.
- Don’t use too much detergent. Follow the manufacturers guidelines on how much to use. Too much liquid or powder and leave a residue which will need rinsing off.
- Use your waste water on the garden. Known as greywater, the waste water from washing up is safe for watering plants. Just be sure your detergent is ok for this.