Now, without going beyond the scope of this review, dish soaps contain many surfactants, and they all have different purposes. “There is a phenomenon known as synergism, which means that the combined action is greater than any one acting on its own,” Tilton told us, meaning one surfactant might be good at one part of the cleaning process, like foaming, and another might be better at dispersal. Together, you get a more powerful dish soap ready to take on your entire post-BBQ dirty-dish haul.
One of the most common surfactants found in dish soap, sodium lauryl sulfate (a major grease killer), is often derived from petroleum, but in the case of Seventh Generation’s line of Free & Clear products, it’s sourced from coconut and palm kernel oil — essentially the stuff that makes it plant-based and biodegradable. This dish detergent also contains other plant-sourced surfactants, like lauramine oxide, known for its foaming properties.
When we tested Seventh Generation Free & Clear against other similarly priced dish-washing liquids like Ajax and Gain, it held its own. Remember how surfactants help water bond, trap, and loosen oil and grease? Our team spread a teaspoon of vegetable oil onto plates and submerged them in soapy water to see how effective each brand was at removing oil without scrubbing, and Seventh Generation imparted a visible reaction, rapidly dispersing the oil off the plate.
For our second test, we left the measuring equipment and pipettes behind and took to the BuzzFeed cafeteria post-lunch, hand-washing stacks on stacks of dirty dishes. We went to town on stuck-on sauces, salad dressings, and grease from who knows what, and Seventh Generation immediately stood out from the pack not only for its cleaning power, but also for its lack of overpowering synthetic aroma.
If you’re looking for another budget option, Dawn Ultra was our runner-up in this price range. Even though Seventh Generation and Dawn Ultra offered nearly identical cleaning power in our tests, we chose Seventh Generation because the Free & Clear line is hypoallergenic and scent-free. Another big thing: Seventh Generation products aren’t tested on animals! To find these qualities in a dish soap at such a low price point without sacrificing cleaning power makes Seventh Generation’s Free & Clear the obvious winner.
Get it from Target for $3.39.