Dishwashing detergents might be washing away your health

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Cleaning and Sanitising 

Cleaning and sanitising are two effective methods when it comes to washing utensils that come into contact with food. Cleaning involves using hot water and detergent in order to remove dirt from kitchen utensils. For more effective cleaning, using a scrubbing motion and a water temperature of 60°C is recommended.[1] 

As for sanitising, the word sanitary is used to describe utensils and food contact surfaces which are free of microorganisms or where they are found in very low quantities, that do not pose a risk to human health and food safety. In order to sanitise the utensils, they must be first soaked in hot water for 2 minutes or more. The temperature of this water must be at least 75°C or higher.[1] Chemical sanitisers can be also used as an alternative to hot water sanitisation. These include:

  • QACs (quaternary ammonium compounds)
  • Chlorine release agents (hypochlorites)
  • Iodophors (iodine based compounds).

It is important to note that some of chemical sanitisers are toxic, so the food contact surfaces must be rinsed thoroughly in order to get rid of any chemical residue.[1]

Antibacterial detergents have many benefits. Using them to wash the hands, utensils and food preparation surfaces can shield us from harmful bacteria that pose a threat to our health.[2] These liquids are known for their ability to keep microorganisms found in the dishwashers at bay. They also take part in preventing these organisms from moving from one item to another causing what is known as cross contamination.[2] However, one must use antibacterial liquids with caution. Certain chemicals such as chloroxylenol which is present in liquid soaps can cause skin irritation. Moreover, antibacterial dishwashing liquids may not be fully effective in reducing microorganisms which are found in kitchen utensils. In fact, an experiment has shown that using an antibacterial dishwashing liquid on kitchen sponges failed to reduce the number of bacteria found in this essential cleaning tool. These bacteria include Escherichia coli, Salmonella enteritidis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus cereus.[3] 

Detergent Residues

Detergents may leave the residue on the washing treated surface. This residue may end up ingested on a daily basis by people who use the dishwashing detergents.  Therefore, rinsing off the residue is necessary to minimise your exposure to dishwashing toxins. This rinsing step must be repeated twice to guarantee the removal of this residue.[4] 

Hazardous Ingredients 

Dishwashing detergent ingredients can be hazardous to human health. These ingredients include formaldehyde which is used as a preservative. Its side effects include nasal and eye irritation, increased risk of allergy, asthma and eczema.[5] 

Coconut diethanolamide (CDEA), dishwashing detergent which is produced from coconut oil, is known to cause allergies, and is possibly carcinogenic as well. This is based on sufficient evidence that CDEA does in fact cause cancer in lab animals.[6] 

Phosphates found in liquid detergents also have a negative impact on the environment. If too much phosphate accumulates in lakes and rivers, this leads to what is known as ‘nuisance growth’. Algae multiply in number, sucking up the oxygen from the water and preventing sunlight from reaching other living organisms. This decline in water quality is known as eutrophication.[7] 

Triclosan, antibacterial chemical found in dishwashing liquids, is also a cause for concern since it promotes the growth of resistant bacteria.[8] Triclosan was found in three out of five human milk samples, indicating that the body does indeed absorb this chemical. Wild fish living in waters exposed to municipal wastewater also had traces of triclosan in their bile.[9] Due to its fat loving nature, this chemical ends up accumulating in fatty tissues. Exposure to triclosan is linked to low sperm production in lab rats. It also interferes with the metabolic functions of the thyroid gland by chemically imitating the thyroid hormone. Triclosan poses a threat to pregnant women if it reaches the placenta, where it negatively affects the estrogen enzyme sulfotransferase.[10] 

Triclosan is also involved in a debate surrounding its possible effect on the production of chloroform, which is a toxic gas. This gas is produced in minor quantities when triclosan reacts with chlorinated tap water. Chloroform is classified by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen.[11]

1,4-dioxane is another chemical that can be found in dishwashing liquids.[12] According to several laboratory studies, long term exposure to this chemical caused liver and nasal cancer in rats, in addition to harming their liver and kidneys.[13]

In conclusion, dishwashing detergents may contain ingredients that are hazardous to human health, or those which health effects are not fully tested or examined yet. Therefore, it is important to know what your dishwashing detergent is made of before you trust it. Rinsing your kitchen utensils very thoroughly helps to reduce your exposure, via ingestion, to many hazardous chemicals the dishwashing detergent industry uses. 

[1] Cleaning and sanitising food premises and food equipment. (2017). Retrieved 11 November 2017, from 

[2] Holah, J., & Hall, K. (2006). The effect of an antibacterial washing-up liquid in reducing dishwater aerobic plate counts. Letters In Applied Microbiology, 42(5), 532-537.

[3] KUSUMANINGRUM, H., van PUTTEN, M., ROMBOUTS, F., & BEUMER, R. (2002). Effects of Antibacterial Dishwashing Liquid on Foodborne Pathogens and Competitive Microorganisms in Kitchen Sponges. Journal Of Food Protection, 65(1), 61-65.

[4] Allowed Detergents and Sanitizers for Food Contact Surfaces and Equipment in Organic Operations. Retrieved 11 November 2017, from

[5] Facts About Formaldehyde | US EPA. US EPA. Retrieved 11 November 2017, from

[6] Coconut oil diethanolamine condensate. (2013). Retrieved 11 November 2017, from

[7] 2010 to 2015 government policy: water quality - GOV.UK. Retrieved 11 November 2017, from

[8] Connecticut Department of Public Health. (2014). Triclosan Technical Fact Sheet. Retrieved 11 November 2017, from

[9] Adolfsson-Erici, M., Pettersson, M., Parkkonen, J., & Sturve, J. (2002). Triclosan, a commonly used bactericide found in human milk and in the aquatic environment in Sweden. Chemosphere, 46(9-10), 1485-1489.

[10] Tufts University. (2011). Triclosan. Retrieved 11 November 2017, from

[11] EPA. Chloroform CASRN 67-66-3 | IRIS | US EPA, ORD. Retrieved 12 November 2017, from

[12] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicological profile for 1,4-dioxane. Retrieved 11 November 2017, from

[13] 1,4-Dioxane in Drinking Water: Questions and Answers. (2015). Retrieved 11 November 2017, from


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