Conflicting Studies on Alcohol Ethoxylates 

Do they really pose a danger?

What are Alcohol Ethoxylates?

Alcohol Ethoxylates is a nonionic surfactant commonly used in dishwashing detergents. Surfactants lower surface tension which helps separate grease and food particles from dishes. Alcohol Ethoxylates is not only a very efficient cleaning additive, it's also a low-foaming surfactant. High-foaming surfactants are not suitable for dishwashers because foam can overflow in the machine, causing damage or drainage issues. Also, Alcohol Ethoxylates interact well with hard water and are less likely to leave spots on your dishes. Yet, while this chemical offers many benefits, there are also some rising safety concerns. We'll discuss...
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wine=glass-on-counter

What's Hiding Behind the Shine? 

Nobody likes to find spots on glasses taken directly from the dishwasher. But, the biggest irony is that most visible spotting has a rather benign cause. Surface blemishes are typically the result of hard water deposits that remain on dishes once the water evaporates. A nuisance maybe, but fairly harmless nonetheless. Yet, even when your dishes look sparkling clean, there could be other more potentially dangerous chemicals remaining on the surface. Dishwasher manufacturers have long touted their products ability to use less water than hand cleaning. But, that reduction comes mostly in the rinse cycle, which may allow some toxins to linger on your dishes. As a result, small amounts of dangerous, invisible residue can potentially be ingested each time we eat or drink.

Two Studies Yield Conflicting Results About Alcohol Ethoxylates 

Two different studies, two distinctively different conclusions. As non scientists, we are not here to dispute or confirm the accuracy of one study vs the other. We are simply noting that there are two well respected research studies that arrived at different conclusions.

Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology - 2023

A recent study conducted by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has determined dishwasher detergents and rinse aids are a possible cause of Gut Epithelial Barrier damage. This condition can cause blockage of airflow to the lungs. One chemical in particular, Alcohol Ethoxylates, was singled out as the source of the problem. Since research results were released in 2023, this take has gained a lot of online traction. However, industry wide these findings have had very little impact on the usage of Alcohol Ethoxylates.

Human & Environmental Risk Assessment (HERA) 2009

A 2009 study conducted by Human & Environmental Risk Assessment (HERA) arrived at a much more favorable outcome. Their research concluded toxicity levels of Alcohol Ethoxylates in dishwashing detergent were not high enough to pose a serious risk to human health or the environment.  

Eco-Friendly Dishwasher Detergents Sill Use Alcohol Ethoxylates 

While some manufacturers have halted usage of Alcohol Ethoxylates, many others including a large contingent of eco-friendly companies have not. It appears many brands are playing the long game, waiting for more definitive data before eliminating this very effective cleaning additive. To better understand why so many professed green companies continue to use Alcohol Ethoxylates, we decided to take our questions directly to the source for answers. We reached out to some well known eco-friendly dishwasher brands who listed Alcohol Ethoxylates on in their ingredients list. The question was fairly simple one. We asked how the recent study linking this chemical to Gut Epithelial Barrier damage would impact it's continued usage in their products. These are the responses we received from some well known brands... 
puracy dishwasher detergent pods

Why Puracy still uses Alcohol Ethoxylates:

The Puracy company did acknowledge safety concerns have been raised, particularly regarding Gut Epithelial Barrier damage. However, they also noted that the usage levels in consumer products are designed to be safe and effective and they were adhering to industry standards and regulatory guidelines. Puracy also stated their aim to strike a balance between safety, efficacy, and environmental responsibility in all of their formulations. The company reaffirmed their commitment to producing safe and effective eco-friendly products. Puracy's responded within one day to our emailed request for information.
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seventh generation dishwasher detergent

Why Seventh Generation still uses Alcohol Ethoxylates:

While not directly addressing the 2023 study, Seventh Generation did offer this explanation. "Sometimes a chemical can have multiple naming conventions, synonyms if you will, for the same chemical structure. This is one of those cases. We recently changed the name of PPG-10-Laureth-7 (same chemical composition) to be C12-14 alcohols ethoxylated propoxylated, which is more consistent with the way this type of surfactant is referred to on competitive products." They also stated this ingredient is not a chronic toxicant (carcinogen, mutagen, reproductive toxicant, etc.) nor is it classified for human toxicity. Seventh Generation stands by their claim that their products are all safe to use as directed. Seventh Generation also responded within 24 hours to our request for information.
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woman loading dishwasher

Removing Alcohol Ethoxylates 

Here is the dilemma, Alcohol Ethoxylates are an extremely effective dishwashing surfactant. Removing them from dishwasher detergents may  lessen health risks, but it also reduces the products ability to break down and wash away greasy foods from your dishes. This raises a few important questions. Is any perceived risk worth the promise of cleaner dishes. And if not, where can I find dishwashing detergents that do not contain Alcohol Ethoxylates?

We have listed some of the best rated, natural plant based detergents. These products put a priority on keeping both your family and the environment safe. 

Shop Alcohol Ethoxylates Free Dishwashing Detergents  

Affiliate Disclosure: Greenerhouseholds.com may receive a small commission on sales of some of the featured products throughout this site. That said, we pride ourselves on honest content and product evaluations.

TrulyFree

USDA Certified Biobased 
trulyfree dishwashing detergent
No fragrances, dyes, phosphates, or chlorine bleach - Enzyme-rich formula cuts grease
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Blueland

EPA Safer Choice
blueland dishwasher tablets
No preservatives, dyes, fragrances, and phosphates -  Cruelty-Free, Vegan
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Ecos 

Epa safer Choice
ecos dishwashing detergent
Plant Based - free of formaldehyde and dyes - Never Tested on Animals
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Molly's Suds

No harsh chemicals
molly's suds dishwashing detergent
 Fragrance & ethoxylate free
Leaping Bunny Certified cruelty free 
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