A group of four dishwasher pods on a dinner plate at a set table

A few years ago, household cleaning chores saw a revolutionary change in detergent usage. Instead of carefully measuring and pouring the precise quantity of cleaning solution, we found ourselves tossing candy-like pods inside dishwashers. 

These days, pre-measured detergent tabs have become quite common in the United States because they are convenient, cost-effective, and space-saving. But, more importantly, they save the planet by reducing our carbon footprint and preventing consumers from overloading dishwashers and washing machines. 

Despite their many advantages, one must wonder whether these dissolvable tablets are as safe as they seem.

This article will take a closer look at dishwasher pods, how they work, and why they’re unsafe for the environment. 

The big question on everyone’s mind is: are dishwasher pods bad for the environment? Well, here’s our quick answer.

Are Dishwasher Pods Bad for the Environment?

Recent studies evaluated that more than 8000 tons of PVA-coated dishwasher (and laundry) detergent pods pollute the environment annually. They clutter landfills and pollute oceans. Consequently, traces of PVA residue harm ecosystems in the process. 

Moreover, we can’t forget the controversial challenges and mistaken intake of these candy-sized dishwasher cleaners. It’s why switching from pod to another sustainable, non-toxic product would be better for your family and the environment.

How Do Dishwasher Pods Work? 

Dishwasher pods (or packets/tablets) come in tiny capsular shapes. They have an ultra-thin PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) coating and vibrant colors.

Dishwasher pods contain highly-concentrated cleaning chemicals that are shaped into a ball or rectangle. The PVA film keeps the mixture intact until it comes into contact with water. 

Closeup on a group of green dishwasher pods

At this point, the pod breaks down because the PVA coating contains water-soluble synthetic polymers that allow the lining to dissolve. The same thing happens to the cleaning solution.

It dissolves into the water and reacts with the surfaces of your dirty dishes. The grease and oil break down during this process. 

Although PVA films are non-toxic, they need a specific environment for disintegration. 

Under the right conditions, the PVA residues will convert into water and carbon dioxide. It usually happens in a water treatment facility.

However, if your drainage line goes directly into oceans and sea, you might be looking at a potential environmental pollutant. 

The Big Revelation: The Good, Bad, and Ugly Side of Dishwasher Pods 

Here’s a breakdown of the advantages and drawbacks of dishwasher tabs.

Lawfully Good: The Benefits of Using Dishwasher Pods 

There are various reasons why dishwasher tablets dominate the detergent market. 

Modern consumers consider them a blessing due to their clean packaging, portable size, and less diluted composition. These are more than enough reasons to justify the choice compared to conventional cleaning products. 

A Mess-Free Cleaning Solution

Working with liquid and powder dishwashing solutions can become messy. For example, they often spill when you’re measuring them before putting them inside a dishwasher, which can be frustrating and annoying when you have many other things on your to-do list. 

In contrast, dishwasher pods don’t require that much handling. Their compact size makes it easier to carry them.

Plus, you can toss them into the machine without residual spillage on your counters or floors. In this way, these nifty cleaning solutions reduce chore time by allowing you to toss a pod inside the dishwasher instead of measuring it. 

Can Minimize Water Consumption 

A plate floats vertically atop water

Most commercially-manufactured pods contain only 10% water, which is significantly lower than conventional powder and liquid soap products that use approximately 90% water.

In this regard, dishwasher tablets do have redeeming qualities that make them a good fit for modern, sustainable homes. 

Pods can prevent overloading because they contain an exact amount of concentrated cleaning chemicals. Depending on the load, you can chuck one or two into the dishwasher.

The concentrated capsules manage to clean heavy loads without any supplementation. This aspect makes it a relatively greener solution than dishwasher powder and liquid soaps. 

Powdered and liquid cleaning solutions are diluted. Therefore, you might use a higher quantity of liquid or powdered dishwasher solutions when compared to pods. 

Moreover, a higher concentration of cleaning solution results in an efficient cycle. Subsequently, the speedy dishwashing cycles mean that you don’t waste much water.

Electricity consumption can also decrease because your dishwasher will no longer operate in overdrive. As a result, using pods over powder can lessen carbon emissions released from the machine. Thus, these advantages allow you to reduce your carbon footprint

Potentially Zero-Wastage Packaging 

Many product manufacturers take ethical steps to limit plastic packaging by opting for recyclable cartons and paper bags.

Companies can take a similar route with dishwasher pods. Dissolvable pouches, detergent sheets, and plastic-free packets can make production more sustainable. 

Dishwasher tabs provide eco-centric advantages that appeal to modern and ethically-minded consumers. Yet, we can’t overlook the possible dangers that linger beneath the surface. 

The Dark Side: Are Dishwasher Pods Bad for the Environment? 

Despite their advantages, dishwasher pods can be unsafe for our planet. That’s because they can contain potential pollutants inside the casing.

These substances are dangerous to aquatic and plant life when released in high quantities through the drainage system. 

Here’s a snapshot of all the reasons why pods aren’t good for the environment.

The PVA Lining Can Be Dangerous for Ocean Life 

Experts point out that these plastic-like casings are never fully biodegradable. Therefore, the pods can impact the ecosystem as it travels from the drain to the sea without passing through wastewater treatment facilities. 

Risks include:

  • Inhibited plant life cycle
  • The imbalanced ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere 
  • Accumulation in landfills if it fails to pass through water treatment plants 
  • Adverse reactions with water pollutants can affect aquatic life 

Due to these reasons, the Plastic Oceans project concludes that pods contribute to plastic pollution. Moreover, the harmful impact multiplies when over 8000 tons of PVA products are released every year into the environment. 

Dishwasher Pods Contain a Cocktail of Chemicals

Are dishwasher pods more eco-friendly than dishwasher detergents? Yes, they are, but you need to consider other not-so-green aspects of using pods over powdered products. 

Research suggests PVA casings might be safe, but their “encasement is often not as safe.” Most products contain grease-breaking enzymes, bleaching agents, and surfactants. The collective biochemical qualities of these substances remove grease and dirt from dirty dishes. 

Aside from these standard components, dishwasher pods contain artificial preservatives, dyes, fragrances, binding agents, solvents, and corrosive inhibitors. Some dishwasher pods include low levels of nitrogen and phosphorus too.

Most of these ingredients are harmful to the planet. They pollute oceans, seas, and air. 

Dishwasher Buildup Can Affect Your Machines 

When you pop in dishwasher pods to clean your dishes, you often forget that the capsules leave residual chemicals in the machine. Without regular maintenance, the buildup continues until it negatively affects your dishwasher. The toxic substances might cling to the surface of your dishes and inevitably contaminate your food. 

Buildup on two dishwater components shown in a sink

Besides this, the chemical buildup can cause your dishwasher to work more. That means higher consumption of electricity. Due to this, your utility bills might spike, and your carbon footprint can significantly increase. 

You can avoid this by cleaning your dishwasher machine regularly. Use a toothbrush or proper conveniently-sized cleaning tool to scrub off the chemical residue from hard-to-reach spaces inside the machine. 

Pod-Related Controversies 

A couple of years ago, some teenagers dared each other to eat Tide-brand pods. The challenge led to over 80 reports of teenagers intentionally swallowing almost lethal packets of pods. Peer pressure and unchecked social media exposure were the main reasons for this challenge. 

A woman preparing to bite into a dishwasher pod

Even though Gen-Z has gotten over the controversial pod challenge, we cannot expect the same from innocent toddlers. These dishwasher cleaning products’ candy-like shapes and attractive colors can prove fatal for little ones. Their presence in the kitchen makes mistaken consumption more likely.

Parents and guardians should keep these pods away from their reach and teach young children the difference between detergents and candy to ensure they don’t mix up the two.

Sustainable Dishwashing Tips: What Can You Do to Make Your Routine Eco-Friendly? 

We want to share a few sustainable suggestions for dishwasher use. These tips and tricks have a low impact on the ecosystem and will save you money. 

Here are some things you can do:

  • Don’t use excessive water – turn off the faucet when not in use to reduce water wastage. In addition, skip the pre-rinsing cycle as it only increases the volume of water you use to clean dirty dishes. 
  • Make the most of off-peak hours – early morning, late night, and the weekends are often considered the off-peak hours for electricity consumption. Using your dishwasher during those periods allows you to reduce energy consumption and save money on utility bills.

    You can even use solar energy to operate your dishwasher to cut down electricity usage and the dependence on non-renewable resources. 
  • Be mindful of machine maintenance – thoroughly clean your dishwasher monthly or quarterly to remove gunk and buildup. It can help optimize the machine’s performance and reduce energy consumption while washing clothes. Plus, your dishwasher won’t go into overdrive when it’s clean as a whistle. 
  • Regulate the internal temperature – avoid overheating the dishwasher by ensuring your water heater temperature settings are not too high.

    An increase in temperature can also cause high humidity levels, triggering mold infestation. If the fungi mix with the chemical residue of the pods, you might be looking at a toxic setup inside your dishwashing machines. 
  • Work by the rules – only place dishwasher-safe utensils and containers inside the machine. Otherwise, the non-reusable items can leach off chemicals due to excessive heat exposure inside the dishwasher. Chemical residue can cling to clean dishes and also contain the water drained into the sewer and oceans from the machine. 
  • Lastly, read labels and examine brand packaging to see if a particular cleaning product appeases your eco-friendly mindset. For example, pods made from natural ingredients will be more sustainable than those created from artificial substances. 

    Moreover, users with good DIY skills can use non-toxic homemade dishwasher pods and powder to clean dishes. These substitutes are safer, cleaner, and greener for the planet, your family, and kitchen utensils. 

Bonus: When in doubt, alternate dishwashing duties between machine-wash and hand-wash. In this way, you’ll have better control over your dishwashing cycle, and you can monitor the amount of potentially problematic detergents, liquid cleaners, and pods. 

Ditch or Save: Should You Continue Using Dishwasher Pods? 

So are dishwasher pods bad for the environment? 

Many variables are involved when arriving at a clear-cut answer to this question. Like many almost eco-friendly products, dishwasher pods have their advantages and disadvantages.

We tend to gravitate toward a favorable opinion because they add value to our lives. The economical price, compact size, and ease of use make the dishwasher tabs a sustainable purchase. 

However, you can’t ignore the not-so-good implications of using dishwasher pods.

Incomplete degradation and treatment of PVA casings can harm aquatic life and agriculture yield. Its presence can also reduce the water quality of oceans after the dishwasher waste drains away and enters the sea through the sewage line. 

In addition, the pods contain many chemical substances that can harm your family and the environment around us. Frequent exposure can prove problematic in the long run. 

Therefore, we need to look for more sustainable ways to wash dishes or limit our consumption of these pods.

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