The kitchen is a major source of plastic packaging and harsh cleaning chemicals. Can the dishes get sparkly clean without the individually individually wrapped dishwasher detergent made with unpronounceable ingredients?

On a recent eco-friendly product finding excursion on Etsy I came across Salt & Light Natural’s dishwasher detergent. Nothing gets my engine revving like discovering a new eco-friendly product, but I’ve also fallen prey to greenwash more than a few times. So I put these natural, handmade dishwasher tabs through the wringer to find out two things:

  1. Do they work?
  2. What makes them eco-friendly?

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links which means, at no cost to you, Emeraldology earns a commission for sales generated by certain clicks on this web page. At Emeraldology, we review products with brutal honestly, and only recommend the ones we would buy for ourselves, our closest friends and our family.

Does natural dishwasher detergent work?

Before we even look at what makes this dishwasher detergent eco-friendly or not, let’s see if it even works. Salt & Light dishwasher detergent works like any other. Just plop a tab in the soap compartment and let ‘er rip. (Actually, I had to break a tablet in half and put one piece in each soap compartment to make it fit, but it wasn’t much a hassle to figure out.)

I intentionally left a few dishes, cups and utensils unrinsed (marked below) to test this product’s power. Instead of describing whether this detergent works or not, how about I show you?

Dishes before:

dishwasher detergent

Dishes after:

dishwasher detergent

First impression: Dish product works great! It got rid of the egg yolk, butter, dried greens AND the dog nose!

Cups before:

dishwasher detergent

Cups after

dishwasher detergent

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t expecting this product to handle the dried smoothie stain, or the eggs for the matter, but it did. In fact, it didn’t seem to have a problem with anything I threw at it. The orange scent was a pleasant change from “Hot Windex Breathe” or whatever that steam is that wafts out of the dishwasher after using big brand detergent.

Admittedly, my test isn’t incredibly scientific. I don’t have a blacklight or magical germ goggles to thoroughly inspect the dishes. But, be honest, when’s the last time you put any dishwasher detergent up to that test? Based solely on the naked eye test (and my wife’s rigorous inspection), Salt & Light’s natural dish detergent performs as well or better than any other brand.

With that said, there are two drawbacks to point out.

Number 1: Since the tablets aren’t individually wrapped they tend to crush and crumble in the bag. So you might find yourself combining some broken pieces to create a full tablet. Or, as Salt & Light suggests on the product page, you can use the crumbles and pieces to clean pots and pans, sinks, showers, toilets, tubs, etc.

Number 2: I paid $22.19 for a bag of 20 tablets. $8.99 for the product itself and over $12 in shipping/taxes. Now I don’t mind paying a little extra for the eco-friendly versions of products, but a dollar-a-pop is a little much. Especially if over half of that is going toward shipping instead of to the small business itself.

Whether this product is worth it or not may depend on how eco-friendly it is. So let’s figure that out.


Looking for eco-friendly cleaning products? Here’s what we have in the Emeraldology Shop:

What makes this dishwasher detergent eco-friendly?

We typically determine a product’s “eco-friendliness” based on three things: Ingredients, Company Ethics/Sustainability Efforts, and Packaging.

Ingredients

Washing soda, baking soda, epsom salt, lemon juice and essential oils. There’s your full list of ingredients in 11 words. Compare that to the 38 words used to describe the big brand detergent I was using before — most of which I can’t easily pronounce let alone decide whether I want them on my dishes or not.

A key part of sustainability is “if you can do it with less, do it with less” mindset. Salt & Light nails it with just five natural, food-grade ingredients. (Although they don’t recommend eating this product). They also have seven scent options created by essential oils: Lavender, Peppermint, Orange, Eucalyptus, Lavender-Peppermint, Eucalyptus-Orange and unscented.

Ethics and Sustainability Efforts

Like many Etsy sellers, Salt & Light seems to be a one-person operation, which is great! Small businesses inherently more eco-friendly than big brands and create far less waste and carbon emissions. Since Salt & Light is such a small operation there aren’t any certifications readily available, but clearly Morgan (the seller) has taken efforts to lower her environmental footprint. Her ingredients are minimal and natural and she ships no-rush via the US Postal Service. She even sent a handwritten personal note with the order! (Nice touch, Morgan)

Now, about the packaging…

Packaging

Compared to a big brand dishwasher detergent, Salt & Light is much more eco-friendly. First of all, the tablets aren’t individually wrapped, which is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. Those tiny plastic wrappings can’t be recycled and are just microplastic waiting to happen.

The bags are also more eco-friendly than big brands, but leave room for improvement. Salt & Light uses “biodegradable” Kraft bags with wax lining, which use much less plastic than most other brands. However, don’t let the term “biodegradable” fool you — it just means it breaks down in a natural environment, not that necessarily that it’s made from natural materials. From what I can tell these bags still contain plastic and are at best recyclable (see why that’s not ideal). I’d love to see Salt & Light move to fully compostable bags and eliminate plastic altogether.

Unfortunately, their shipping packaging is in the same boat as the product packaging. My order came in a Kraft bubble mailer which is now in the trash since it can’t be recycled or composted.

Bottom line:

This product works great and I am happy to find an alternative to big brand dishwasher detergent. Salt & Light is a small business with meaningful sustainability efforts, although I hope they opt for compostable packaging and find a way to reduce the overall cost. Regardless, this product is definitely worth a shot if you are interested in supporting small business and minimizing your kitchen waste.

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Photos by the author. Copyright Emeraldology 2020.