Dishwasher detergent safety

How to keep your household safe from corrosive and poisonous products.

Dishwasher detergents can cause chemical burns if eaten or left on the skin, or if they get into your eyes.

They’re highly alkaline, meaning they can dissolve many things, including human tissue. Products are less alkaline than they used to be, but they’re still dangerous – especially for children.

Keeping children safe

  • Always store dishwasher detergents well out of the reach of children or in a locked cupboard– especially dishwasher tablets, as a child could easily confuse them with sweets.

  • Only put detergent in the dishwasher when you're ready to start a wash. Make sure any residue is removed from the dispenser afterwards and close the door firmly. Burn injuries can occur when a child swallows detergent left in the dispenser.

  • Child-resistant packaging reduces the risk of children coming into contact with dishwasher detergent, but no container is 100% "child proof".

First aid: what to do

The National Poisons Centre advises that if a dishwasher powder or tablet is:

Dishwasher detergents often contain corrosive alkaline salts, which can cause chemical burns.
  • Swallowed: immediately rinse the mouth and remove any remaining powder. If the person is having difficulty breathing, keep them calm and help them into the recovery position or lie them on their side. Call an ambulance.

  • On skin: immediately flush the exposed area with lots of water and seek medical advice. Don’t leave the powder on the skin, even for a few minutes: it is corrosive and causes burns.

  • In eyes: immediately flush the eye with room-temperature water from a jug or low-pressure tap for at least 15 minutes and seek medical advice.

Medical advice is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from the National Poisons Centre, freephone 0800 POISON (0800 764 766). If you suspect ingestion, or the patient is unconscious or having difficulty breathing, call 111 immediately.

Ingredients

Several common detergent ingredients are classed as toxic or irritating by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  • Sodium carbonate: toxic if ingested or inhaled and an irritant to skin and eyes

  • Sodium silicate: toxic if ingested and corrosive to the skin and eyes

  • Sodium percarbonate: irritating to the eyes

  • Alcohol ethoxylates: most are toxic if swallowed and can irritate the skin and eyes; some can also damage your eyes

  • Enzymes (e.g. amylase, protease and subtilisin): most enzymes in dishwasher detergents aren’t dangerous if ingested, but they can affect the respiratory system if inhaled, and can irritate the skin and eyes

Notably, the dissolvable wrappers that tablets come in are made from water soluble polyvinyl alcohol (PVA or PVOH), a non-toxic substance.

Got a problem?

Got a problem?

Got a problem?

The Consumer Advice Line is available to all our members for support on any consumer-related issue. Our expert advisers can explain your rights and help you resolve problems with a retailer.

Contact us now

Member comments

Get access to comment

Shona M.
28 May 2019
What about rinse aid?

Hi, I've always wondered how safe is it to eat and drink using our crockery, cutlery etc after it's been coated in the rinse aid? The container has cautions on the back saying DO NOT SWALLOW. Surely we are ingesting it. Any plastic containers that usually don't dry properly feel slimy to the touch. I've started rinsing some dishes in water before I use them now... :(

Consumer staff
30 May 2019
Re: What about rinse aid?

Hi Shona,

Rinse aid is usually made up of surfactants, water and alcohols. When diluted in a wash they aren’t harmful. In a concentrated dose, such as straight from the container, they can be harmful. This is why the label has the warning. If you suspect the rinse aid is leaving a residue behind, then try changing the dosage (see your dishwasher manual for instructions). It’s also worth noting that many tablets include rinse aid, so if you’re using one of these you don’t need to add rinse aid to the dispenser.

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff

Michele M.
01 Aug 2014
When is Consumer going to add to the reports whether the products have been tested on animals please?

People would be horrified if they really knew what happens to animals involved in testing of all sorts of products. It is not right that this should be still be happening in the 21st century. Consumer would be helping people to become aware of this cruel practice and also helping animals as there will be less testing done as more people bouycott these products.

Carol J.
13 Jul 2014
New website

Having the compare membership types just below the top banner is annoying. I'm a member already. I'm here for the information, not the advertising.

Previous member
14 Jul 2014
New website

Hi Carol. Thanks for your feedback. The purpose of that banner is to give a sense of place on the website, it is not meant as advertising. Any other thoughts or questions about the site, please let us know.