Dishwasher Detergents – Are They Harmful?

By Meena Rani K

Dishwasher detergents are an inevitable part of our kitchen hygiene. It is unavoidable whether the dishes are washed in a dishwasher or manually.

We use detergents to clean our dishes, but are they really doing their job? Have we ever thought about the ingredients of these detergents? Are there any side effects by using them? Now, with increased awareness about the health hazards presented by house-hold articles, doubts are being raised about its toxicity.

When dishes are washed with detergents, some of them leave a residue on the surface of the dishes, which is consumed when it is used next time. Some of these detergents have strong disinfectants, which are harmful to the skin. Some others emit gases that cause allergies and respiratory problems.

The detergents we use to clean our dishes flow down the drain after its purported use. They undergo chemical treatment in sewage treatment plants, before being released into waterways. During this treatment, most of the toxic chemicals are neutralized and made harmless. But some of them still remain, causing environmental pollution.

To analyze the effects of detergents, we need to know more about the common ingredients of commercial dishwasher detergents in the market. Among them the prominent are Phosphates, Chlorine and petroleum-based ingredients.

Phosphates are common additives in detergents to soften the hard water. It enhances the cleaning power of the detergents, which is very helpful in spiking its popularity and while marketing. However, it causes health problems and major environmental hazards. Phosphate residues on dish surface may cause nausea, diarrhea and skin irritations. Phosphates are still active after waste water treatment. When they enter waterways, they act as fertilizers and encourage overgrowth of algae, which leads to drastic reduction of oxygen in water. This results in the depletion of other living organisms like fishes in water bodies.

Chlorine bleach is added to detergents for its disinfecting properties. As it is highly corrosive, it causes many health troubles like respiratory and skin irritations and stomach disorders. When combined with other cleaners, it produces toxic fumes, which are proved carcinogens and pollutes the environment.

Petroleum based ingredients poses problems in two ways – for health and environment. They contain toxins that create unnecessary health problems. Also, while production of these petroleum products, environment gets polluted.

The residues formed on detergent-cleaned dishes may be too negligible. But each time when we use a dish, these toxins get absorbed into our system. This is more so when hot foods are taken in them. Over a period of time, these toxins accumulate in our bodies causing a variety of serious ailments like cancer, infertility and birth defects.

The next step is how to avoid these life-threatening cleaners and find a safe and environment-friendly dishwasher detergent. There are many detergents available in the market that satisfy the above conditions. However, finding them is not that easy in this world full of cheaters and tricksters. So follow these simple rules to zero in on a safe brand.

While buying do not get deceived by labels like ‘green’, ‘natural’ and ‘eco-friendly’. Those with specific claims like ‘No chlorine’ or ‘Phosphate-free’ are more reliable. Still, it is advisable to read the ingredients to find out whether they contain any harmful chemicals mentioned above. Avoid those detergents that contain triclosan and petroleum products.

In case you find ingredients with tricky, long names, contact the manufacturer for clarification. If you get a convincing answer, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, it may be another fraudster.

We use dishwasher detergents to clean the dishes and not to poison ourselves and get sick. Take ample care while selecting the right one.

Meena Rani is an emerging freelance writer, who writes on a wide range of topics of current interest. You may contact her at kmeenarani@yahoo.com

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