Detergent isn’t one of those items that we really give much deep thought to, apart from “hmm, we need more” just as you run out. I remember the old Palmolive ads from the late 80s and early 90s featuring Robina Beard and the iconic “you’re soaking in it” scene (can a shot of someone’s fingers soaking in dish detergent be dubbed as iconic?) One time I tried recreating the experience when I was washing the dishes, and was firmly rapped over the knuckles for being wasteful.
It wasn’t until my teenage years that I started to feel the effects of commercial dish detergents on my hands in the form of dyshidrotic eczema – tiny bubbly blisters formed in the webbing of hands or along the digits, which were intensely itchy and would weep once the blisters burst, leaving the entire area sore and crusty for days as the skin tried to heal. The only way I could get rid of the burning itch was to literally burn the affected area by running my finger or hands under the hot tap for as long as I could stand.
Sparing you the process I went through to research ingredients and their effects on the skin, I think I have roughly pinpointed that anything containing sulphates exclusively seem to be my trigger. Now I’m no scientist or dermatologist, but if you suffer from a similar affliction while doing the dishes, you may want to keep some of these detergent and soap alternatives in mind. These are also great alternatives generally if you want to take a bit more care environmentally on the whole.
Founded in Australia in 2007, this company makes vegetable based cleaning products, free of sulphates, paraben preservatives, artificial fragrance, a host of synthetic ingredients, and is completely vegan (if that is important to you). Their surfactant (the agent which makes bubbles and suds and is the ‘grease cutting’ ingredient) is derived from sugar and plant oils, which produces a very stiff and long lasting foam. They also boast ‘down the drain’ benefits, which is meant to roughly translate as being biodegradable and therefore grey water safe. Their cleaning products range from kitchen and bathroom cleaning, furniture and floors, personal and leather goods, and has now extended to pet care as well.
I’ve been using Murchison-Hume for nearly 3 years now with little adverse side effects on my skin. It doesn’t seem to strip my hands, and rinses clean. I buy refills of their most concentrated formula (the Heirloom Dishwashing Liquid) and dilute it with water to act as a simple spray cleaner for general use. Using it this way makes the product last for ages, and since it’s a concentrate you also barely need to use any when washing your dishes. You can purchase Murchison-Hume from Eco Haven in Murray Street, or directly online here. Free shipping within Australia with purchases of $65 or over, and I believe there is an exclusively American site to use for our neighbours in the northern hemisphere.
Dr Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap
Soap in the true sense is always made from some type of fat, whether that be animal or vegetable based (remember Hobart’s whaling industry in the Victorian era? The whale blubber would have been extracted for soap and candle making). All those shower gels or liquid hand soaps that don’t list a base oil in their ingredients are basically detergents marketed as soap, and therefore excellent at drying out the skin and disrupting the skin’s natural acid barrier. Dr Bronner’s was born when a third generation master soap maker, Emanuel Bronner, immigrated from Germany to the United States just before the start of WWII. The popularity of his soaps exploded during the 70s when his product was adopted by the hippie movement due to its naturally derived ingredients and versatility – Bronner claimed 18 uses for his liquid castile soap including general body washing, as a shampoo, as a toothpaste alternative, and all purpose household cleaner. The company is still being run by the Bronner family, with his grandsons at the helm currently.
I keep a foaming pump bottle with a 30:70 ratio of liquid soap to water by the sink in the kitchen and bathrooms, and few drops neat is all you need for a really good, silky lather. Again due to the concentrated nature of the soap you never need a lot per time and it lasts ages as a result. I have been using various flavours of Dr Bronner’s for about 4 years and because you can buy in bulk, it turns out very cost effective in the long run, and you can also purchase their castile soaps in bar form too. The only caveat I would give when using this soap as a counter top spray is that you may notice build up over time due to the nature and presence of the base oil in the soap (usually either olive, coconut, or hemp). A quick wipe or spray down with a diluted vinegar solution will remove any alkaline residue. Similarly if you choose to hand wash delicates with the liquid soap you will have to rinse thoroughly, or in a vinegar solution to ensure complete removal of any residue caught in the fibres.
Dr Bronner’s Sal Suds
Sal Suds Cleaner also comes from Dr Bronner’s, although it is a detergent based concentrated cleaner as opposed to being a soap (i.e. it doesn’t contain a base oil). Confusingly, Sal Suds does contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) which is a sulphate. While I have felt a certain tightness associated with using Sal Suds neat, it doesn’t feel quite as distructive as other commercial detergents I’ve used in the past, and so far I have suffered no adverse effects. In my head I like to believe that the second surfactant used, coco-betaine (which is derived from coconut oil), helps to cut through any harshness SLS may cause normally. Sal Suds is marketed as being able to be used on any hard surface, and for laundry. I usually use it diluted as a general spray cleaner, or put about a tablespoon into my bucket when I’m mopping the floors, or if I am hand washing clothes. This can also be purchased in bulk and again, lasts a long time due to its concentrated nature. It took me about 2 years to finish a 3.78 litre bottle. Find them again at City Organics in Criterion Street, or directly from the Dr Bronner’s website here.
Do you use an alternative soap or detergent in your cleaning routine? What are some of your favourite brands that work for you?