Zero Waste Washing Up

A very glamorous topic for an article but hey we all gotta do some washing up at some stage and why not make it as sustainable as possible. It’s taken me a few years but I’ve finally found a set of zero waste (low waste if I’m honest) dish washing tools that I’m happy with, and I waited to publish this article until I’d given them all a good run for their money and could vouch for their performance. My weapons of choice include the following;

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Dish Brush

Wooden dish brush with replaceable head with natural bristles – This works very well on general dishes and the replaceable head cuts down on waste. I’ve been using my handle for about 3 years and get about 8-12 months out of the heads. I buy mine in Ecoland in D7 because I find them the cheapest but this type of brush is readily available in a lot of places. Just make sure you can get replaceable heads and that the bristles are natural. I compost the heads when I change them and when the handle is at the end of its life I’ll compost the wood bit and recycle the metal bit in the recycling centre at the end of its life.

Pot Scraper

Organic bambu pot scraper – This is great to getting all the cooked-on gunk off pots and pans. I just steep them for a little and then dislodge them with this device. Can’t remember where I bought mine about 4 years ago but they’re readily available now from most eco shops. I’ll just compost this when it reaches the end of its life.

Pot Scrubbers

Coconut fibre scourer– This is brilliant for removing bits and pieces the bambu scraper doesn’t dislodge. I have searched high and low for an dish scrubber that is non plastic and actually works. It’s the holy grail and this one is the only one I’ve found that ticked both boxes. I’ve tried crocheted jute squares, recycled plastic scourers and loofahs. The recycled plastic ones worked but I hated putting them in the black bin.

I’ve linked to the coconut fibre scourer I bought at the last Zero Waste Festival for €2. I don’t know the brand name but I have come across one called Safix, that might be the same. It’s made simply of coconut fibre and natural latex and can be composted at the end of its life. We starting using one in December 2018 and by October 2019 it had started to unravel and so was put in our compost heap. I’ve seen a product by Safix that looks exactly the same as my scourer for €2.50 in the Dublin Food Coop in Dublin 8. The product they have is called a soap rest. Perhaps it’s just the company trying to create multiple uses for the one product – savvy. I’ll test one of them and let you know if there’s any difference between the soap rest and the scourer I have.

Stainless Steel Scourer

When I have really burnt on food or grease the only thing that really works without getting destroyed is a stainless steel scourer. I pick up a pack of 4 stainless steel spiral scourers by Killeen in Supervalu for €1.50. They come in a plastic wrapper but they’re a good price and I’ve yet to find them package free or in compostable packaging. They break up over time but I keep all the bits that break off and just recycle it with the scourer at the end of its life in the metal bin of my local recycling centre. And because metal is infinitely recyclable and of high value it is most likely to get recycled.

Dish Cloth
Natural Fibre Dish Cloth – These are made from my old pyjamas because I only buy 100% cotton pyjamas now. In my experience synthetic fibres just don’t absorb water as well. When my dish cloth has reach the end of its life I’ll compost it.

Refillable Dish Soap

I’ve tried quite a few ready-made dish soap brands and now I have two favourites.  The one I’m currently using is the from Lilly’s Eco. It’s certified as being completed biodegradable and made in Ireland! It’s also free of phosphates, E.D.T.A. (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid), Petroleum-derived Additives, Chemical Plasticisers, Formaldehyde, Glycerin or Glycerine, Lanolin, Sodium Tallowate, Synthetic Dyes, Synthetic Perfumes and Titanium Dioxide. It doesn’t contain SLS, which is said to harm marine life. Instead they use the surfactants SLES or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (non ionic), Cocoamidopropyl Betaine (anionic) or Alkypolyglugoside – Lauryl Myristyl (amfoteric) in their ranges. I confirmed this information by email with the company owner because they don’t currently have it on their website. She say’s it’s on the (long) list of things to do!

Prior to using this Irish made product I used to use the fragrance-free BIO D Washing Up Liquid, which biodegradable, is made in the UK and free of lots of the nasty chemicals listed above.

I haven’t tried this product but if you’d like to give a washing-up soap a whirl Irish company Janni sell one.

I did try a few DIY washing-up recipes but

  • soap based ones left residue on the dishes
  • one made with soap nuts was ineffective. See My Review of Soapnuts
  • one made from conkers involved way to much work. See my review of conker laundry liquid here.
  • and although the one based on castile soap worked, it wasn’t brilliant and I just didn’t see how using a product imported from America was sustainable.

Dishwasher Tablets

In January 2018 we bought a dishwasher, after much lobbying by our head dish washer – my husband. We started using it with the free Finish tablets that we got with the machine but have since switched to Winnis Dishwasher Tablets, which we buy for €4.29 (25 tablets) in Dunnes Stores. The product is made in Italy with the individual tablets wrapped in water-soluble wrappers inside a cardboard box. According to the company’s website the surfactants in the tablets are biodegradable and the product has been found to be free of nickel, cobalt and chrome when tested. It is also certified as being vegan.

When we accidentally ran out of these dishwasher tablets so we tried making our own dishwasher powder. I tweaked a recipe I found on for homemade dishwasher tablets, which we found worked quite well, not as well as the tablets but well enough to use for most washes. The advantage of it though is that it contains less harmful chemicals than the Winnis dishwasher tablets. A very helpful member of the Zero Waste Ireland FB group (shout out to Megan Grimes) checked the ingredients against the Environmental Working Groups list of chemicals and found the rating for most of the ingredients in the Winnis dishwasher tablets,

  • SODIUM CITRATE – rated A
  • SODA ASH (sodium carbonate) – rated A
  • SODIUM SULFATE – rated A
  • ENZYMES – rated B
  • DECETH-6 – rated C
  • FATTY ALCOHOL – rated C
  • POLYGLYCOLETHER – not found
  • PARFUM (fragrance) – rated D

I made a very small quantity so as not to waste ingredients if it didn’t work and I didn’t bother making it into tablets but you could if you preferred. I happened to have all these ingredients at home and all but the soda crystals in cardboard boxes. Unfortunately in Ireland you can only buy soda crystals in plastic bags.

Anyhow here’s my recipe for homemade dishwasher powder. Just increase the quantities to suit your needs.

  • 1 tablespoon soda crystals
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon citric acid
  1. Mix all the ingredients together and then spoon into the machine’s dispenser. Couldn’t be simpler.


PS – Check out my article on Natural Spring Cleaning and my Review of Homemade Conker Laundry Liquid and My Review of Soapnuts

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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