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From Grease to Gleaming: Understanding the Active Ingredients in Dishwashing Liquid

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Have you ever wondered what makes dishwashing liquid so effective in cutting through grease and grime? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the dishwashing liquid active ingredients that work together to make your dishes sparkle and shine. Learn about the key components, their functions, and how they contribute to a powerful cleaning action. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the science behind dishwashing liquids and be able to make informed decisions when choosing the right product for your household.

The Main Components of Dishwashing Liquid

Dishwashing liquids are formulated with a combination of ingredients that work together to remove food residues, grease, and dirt from your dishes. The main components include surfactants, enzymes, fragrances, dyes, and preservatives. Each ingredient plays a crucial role in the overall cleaning process and contributes to the effectiveness of the product. In addition to these primary ingredients, dishwashing liquids may also contain other additives, such as foam boosters, stabilizers, and pH adjusters, which help improve the product’s performance and stability. In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the functions and properties of each of these key dishwashing liquid active ingredients.

Surfactants: The Star Ingredient in Dishwashing Detergents

Surfactants, or surface-active agents, are the primary cleaning agents in dishwashing liquids. They reduce the surface tension of water, allowing it to penetrate and lift away grease, oil, and dirt from the surfaces of dishes. In this section, we will delve deeper into the three main types of surfactants used in dishwashing liquids: anionic, nonionic, and amphoteric surfactants. We’ll explore their unique properties and provide examples of commonly used surfactants in each category.

Anionic Surfactants

Anionic surfactants are the most commonly used surfactants in dishwashing liquids due to their excellent cleaning power and foaming properties. They carry a negative charge, which helps them effectively bind to and remove positively charged dirt and grease particles. Here are three widely used anionic surfactants in dishwashing liquids:

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): SLS is a strong surfactant known for its excellent foaming and emulsifying abilities. It effectively breaks down grease and oil and is commonly used in many household cleaning products, including dishwashing liquids.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): SLES is a milder surfactant compared to SLS and is often used as an alternative for those with sensitive skin. It also provides excellent cleaning and foaming properties, making it a popular choice for dishwashing liquids. Currently, SLES is the most used surfactant in dishwashing liquid worldwide. It’s highly cost-effective and accessible.  

Linear Alkyl Benzene Sulphonic Acid (LABSA): LABSA is a biodegradable anionic surfactant with powerful cleaning and foaming capabilities. It is widely used in dishwashing liquids, laundry detergents, and other cleaning products.

Nonionic Surfactants

Nonionic surfactants do not carry a charge and are known for their mildness and compatibility with other surfactants. They are often used in dishwashing liquids formulated for sensitive skin or in combination with anionic surfactants to enhance cleaning performance. Here are two examples of nonionic surfactants commonly used in dishwashing liquids:

Fatty Alcohol Polyoxyethylene Ether (AEO-9): AEO-9 is a mild, nonionic surfactant derived from fatty alcohols. It provides effective cleaning and emulsification properties while being gentle on the skin.

Cocamide DEA: Cocamide DEA is a nonionic surfactant derived from coconut oil. It acts as a foam booster and stabilizer, enhancing the cleaning performance and foam quality of dishwashing liquids. It also contributes to the thickness and texture of the formula.

Amphoteric Surfactants

Amphoteric surfactants can carry either a positive or negative charge depending on the pH of the solution. They are typically used in dishwashing liquids to enhance the cleaning and foaming properties of anionic and nonionic surfactants. Here are two examples of amphoteric surfactants commonly used in dishwashing liquids:

Cocamidopropyl Betaine: This amphoteric surfactant is derived from coconut oil and has excellent foaming and thickening properties. It is often used in combination with other surfactants to boost cleaning performance and enhance the mildness of the product.

Cocamidopropylamine Oxide: This amphoteric surfactant is also derived from coconut oil and is known for its excellent foam stability and cleaning capabilities. It can enhance the performance of other surfactants and is often used in formulations for sensitive skin.

In conclusion, the choice of surfactants in dishwashing liquids plays a crucial role in their cleaning performance, foam quality, and mildness. With the growing trend towards gentle, skin-friendly products, ultra-mild surfactants such as amino acid-based surfactants and Alkyl Polyglycosides are gaining popularity in the formulation of dishwashing liquids. Amino acid-based surfactants, derived from natural amino acids, offer good cleaning performance and outstanding compatibility with the skin, making them ideal for sensitive skin or allergy-prone users. Alkyl Polyglycosides, which are plant-derived and readily biodegradable, also provide effective cleaning and foaming properties while being gentle on the skin and the environment.

Washing spoon with dishwashing liquid

The Role of Enzymes in Dishwashing Liquids

Enzymes are protein molecules that act as biological catalysts, speeding up chemical reactions without being consumed in the process. In dishwashing liquids, enzymes are added to enhance the cleaning performance by breaking down stubborn food residues, such as proteins, starches, and fats.

Common enzymes found in dishwashing liquids include proteases, which break down proteins; amylases, which break down starches; and lipases, which break down fats and oils. By targeting specific types of food residues, enzymes help to remove tough stains and build-up that may be resistant to surfactants alone.

Fragrances, Dyes, and Preservatives in Dish Soaps

Fragrances and dyes are added to dishwashing liquids to provide a pleasant scent and appealing color. These ingredients do not contribute to the cleaning power of the product but can enhance the user experience. Fragrances are typically synthetic, but some natural and essential oil-based fragrances can also be found in eco-friendly and organic dishwashing liquids.

Dyes are used to give the dishwashing liquid its color and can be either synthetic or natural, depending on the product’s formulation. While dyes have no impact on cleaning performance, they can make the product more visually appealing to consumers.

Preservatives are added to dishwashing liquids to prevent microbial growth and prolong the shelf life of the product. Common preservatives used in dish soaps include benzisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, and phenoxyethanol. These ingredients help to maintain the product’s quality and effectiveness over time by inhibiting the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast that could otherwise spoil the liquid.

Eco-friendly and Natural Dishwashing Liquid Ingredients

In recent years, there has been a growing demand for eco-friendly and natural dishwashing liquids as consumers become more conscious of traditional cleaning products’ environmental and health impacts. These eco-friendly dish soaps are formulated with biodegradable, plant-derived ingredients, which have a lower environmental impact compared to synthetic chemicals.

Plant-derived surfactants, such as alkyl polyglucosides and coco-glucosides, are commonly used in eco-friendly dishwashing liquids for their effective cleaning power and biodegradability. These surfactants are derived from renewable resources, such as corn, coconut, and palm oils, making them a more sustainable option compared to petroleum-based surfactants.

Natural enzymes, fragrances, and dyes can also be found in eco-friendly dish soaps, providing an alternative to synthetic ingredients. Additionally, these products often avoid the use of harsh preservatives and opt for milder, more natural alternatives, such as potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate.

Choosing eco-friendly dishwashing liquids not only helps to reduce the environmental impact of cleaning products but can also provide a gentler option for those with sensitive skin or allergies to certain chemicals.

Tips for Choosing the Right Dishwashing Liquid

Choosing the right dishwashing liquid

When selecting a dishwashing liquid for your household, consider the following factors:

Cleaning power: Look for products with effective surfactants and enzymes that can tackle grease and food residues with ease.

Eco-friendliness: Choose biodegradable, plant-derived ingredients that have a lower environmental impact and support sustainability.

Skin sensitivity: If you have sensitive skin, opt for products with mild, non-irritating ingredients and avoid harsh chemicals.

Fragrance: Select a scent that you enjoy, or opt for fragrance-free options if you have sensitivities or allergies to certain scents.

Price and value: Compare prices and sizes to find a product that offers the best value for your budget.

By considering these factors, you can make an informed decision when choosing a dishwashing liquid that meets your specific needs and preferences.


Understanding the dishwashing liquid active ingredients and their functions can help you make informed decisions when selecting the best product for your household. From powerful surfactants and enzymes that tackle grease and grime to eco-friendly alternatives made from plant-derived ingredients, there’s a dishwashing liquid to suit every need and preference. By choosing the right dishwashing liquid, you can ensure that your dishes are cleaned effectively, while also considering factors such as environmental impact and skin sensitivity. Happy dishwashing!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A: Can I use dishwashing liquid on my hands or body?

While some dishwashing liquids are formulated with mild ingredients, they are specifically designed to clean dishes and may not be suitable for use on your hands or body. Hand soaps and body washes are specially formulated to cleanse and care for your skin. If you have sensitive skin, prolonged exposure to dishwashing liquids can potentially cause irritation or dryness. To protect your skin while washing dishes, consider wearing gloves or using a dishwashing liquid designed for sensitive skin.

B: Are eco-friendly dishwashing liquids as effective as traditional dishwashing liquids?

Yes, eco-friendly dishwashing liquids can be just as effective as traditional dishwashing liquids. They typically use plant-derived surfactants and other biodegradable ingredients, which can provide excellent cleaning and foaming properties. However, the performance of eco-friendly dishwashing liquids may vary depending on the formulation and the specific ingredients used. To ensure that you’re getting a high-quality eco-friendly product, look for reputable brands and check customer reviews for feedback on the product’s cleaning performance.

C: Is it safe to use dishwashing liquid with bleach?

Some dishwashing liquids contain bleach, which can provide additional cleaning power, especially for removing tough stains and sanitizing dishes. However, using dishwashing liquid with bleach may not be suitable for everyone, as bleach can cause irritation to the skin and respiratory system. If you prefer not to use dishwashing liquid with bleach, there are plenty of alternatives available that provide effective cleaning without the use of harsh chemicals. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using dishwashing liquids with bleach and take necessary precautions, such as wearing gloves and ensuring adequate ventilation.

D: How can I determine if a dishwashing liquid is safe for my septic system?

Most dishwashing liquids should be safe for use in septic systems, as they are designed to break down and biodegrade over time. However, some ingredients in dishwashing liquids may be harmful to septic systems, such as phosphates, which can promote the growth of harmful algae in water bodies. To ensure that a dishwashing liquid is safe for your septic system, look for products labeled as “septic-safe” or “biodegradable.” Additionally, consider using eco-friendly dishwashing liquids, which typically use plant-derived ingredients that are less likely to harm septic systems.

E: What should I do if I experience skin irritation from a dishwashing liquid?

If you experience skin irritation from a dishwashing liquid, discontinue use immediately and rinse the affected area with plenty of water. If irritation persists, consider consulting a medical professional. To avoid future irritation, consider using a dishwashing liquid designed for sensitive skin, which typically contains milder ingredients and fewer potential irritants. Additionally, wearing gloves while washing dishes can help protect your skin from exposure to dishwashing liquid and reduce the risk of irritation.

Written by:
Jun Xie
Jun Xie
Jun is the head of R&D at Yeser Chemicals. He holds a master's degree in Chemical Engineering and Technology. After joining Yeser Chemicals in 2013, he has been dedicated to researching and developing new coconut-based green surfactants and their safe uses in Home & Personal care products. In addition to serving as the Head of R&D at Yeser Chemicals, Jun is the director of the Guangdong Green Surfactant Engineering Technology Research Center and a member of the Standard Committee of Guangdong Daily Chemical Chamber of Commerce.

Yeser Chemicals is a leading producer of CAPB, CDEA, CMEA, EGDS, and other various Coconut-derived surfactants.

By self-manufacturing and 3rd-party toll-manufacturing, we provide a long list of safe ingredients, including surfactants, conditioners, thickeners, etc.,  used in Home & Fabric Care, Personal Care, and Cosmetics.

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