Review :: Nellie’s Dishwasher Powder

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Nellie's Dishwasher Powder
Review Score
Ewg RatedNA
Sodium Chloride
Sodium Carbonate
Citric Acid
Sodium Sulfate
Sodium Percarbonate
Sodium Metasilicate
Cocamidopropyl Betaine
Sodium Silicate

There is so much to love about this product, from its clever branding and eco-friendly packaging to its no-nonsense formulation. At what equates to about 23 cents per load, its cost is fairly middle-of-the-road. I say it's well worth the price for some truly amazing cleaning power!

That red wine and honey teriyaki sauce didn't stand a chance.

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Nellie’s cleaning products are all about “what makes sense,” both to the environment and for utility within the home.  The great minds behind Nellie’s are proud to claim that their line makes it easy for a household to go green without sacrificing quality.  They are a company who understand the issues with today’s cleaning product industry, and they are a company who have impressed us before with their laundry soda.

So I was looking forward to see what their dishwasher powder had in store.

Who is the face behind Nellie’s?

Nellie was a woman “who believed in honesty and simplicity and was going ‘green’ long before the color was cool.” James Roberts, the founder of Nellie’s, is Nellie’s son. He created Nellie’s line of cleaning products to honor the values of his late mother and make it easier for the rest of the world to adopt her same priorities. Their tag line “all about family” is really no lie, and I love that!

Nellie’s is a part of Batten Industries, Inc., based in North Vancouver, British Columbia. All of their products are made right there in Canada, not outsourced to other countries.

As a brand, Nellie’s looks great. Their mission and formulations emphasize family and the earth—two of the most important things! Let’s see what their dishwasher powder looks like in person.

Nellie’s dishwasher powder was an absolute delight as soon as I received the package at my door. The tin contained 1 kilogram of powder (2.2 pounds for us Americans who love to try out products made in Canada), and has such clever, attractive branding that I was excited to keep it out on my countertop far away from some of my uglier cleaning products that I keep stored away in cabinets.

Why the tin? Because iron and steel are two of the most recycled materials in the world and easy to reprocess. And why powder? The answer is right on the tin. Nellie’s hopes to avoid moving around the planet’s water. Plus, since liquid detergents contain up to 50% water, more cleaning punch can be packed into less product with the use of powdered formulations—it’s both efficient and Earth-conscious!

With an adorable logo that hearkens back to the 1950s, Nellie herself greets the user on the packaging’s front with a sparkling clean martini glass on display (a woman after my own heart). Plus, there’s even a comic on the back! How great is that?

Even more importantly, the ingredients are listed loud and clear at the top of the packaging’s text, not in tiny, impossible-to-read lettering hidden in a corner. Nellie’s is proud of the ingredients they use, and I’m a fan, too.  Nellie’s kitchen products are phosphate-free, septic-safe, and biodegradable and we’ll be delving into the details later.

Upon opening the tin, I was excited to see a cute scoop included, as well as a tightly-tied bag of powder to ensure tidiness and freshness after a tumultuous postal journey.

The powder itself has no artificial scents—it’s just pure, clean soap. Plus, the consistency is just right so that the granules won’t poof all over when you reach in to grab a scoop.

So far so good, but how does this powder hold up against some truly nasty dishes?

Because I really wanted to put Nellie’s dishwasher powder to the test, my kitchen sink got pretty gross for a few days before I finally (with a great sigh of relief) loaded the dishwasher and got to work. Normally, I give my dishes a thorough rinse, sometimes even a light scrub, before running them through the dishwasher. But since Nellie claims in her own comic that stuck-on food particles don’t stand a chance against her dishwasher powder, I wanted to give her the chance to prove herself! These dishes didn’t get any special care before the dishwasher cycle.

I chose dishes with some of the greasiest, darkest, and heaviest food remnants for my test—red wine, coffee, old peanut butter, thick teriyaki stir-fry sauce, melted cheese and egg yolks, and a super messy dish with lots of leftover sour cream. Yes, I ate pretty well this week!

The directions on the package recommend using the hottest water available, somewhere between 120 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. While places with harder water may need more powder, the 1 kilogram tin contains enough powder for roughly 80 loads of dishes.

In this case, pictures may speak better than words. All I can say is, “Wow.”

These dishes are spotless, and the wine glass looks gorgeous. I was almost afraid to touch it for fear that I’d leave my greasy fingerprints all over its gleaming perfection. I quickly found myself lifting the glass to the light and marveling in its shimmer before I realized I was making Nellie’s exact pose from the front of the tin (and with a smile just as wide)!

It’s clear that Nellie’s dishwasher powder is a force to be reckoned with, but do the ingredients hold up with the brand’s claims of simplicity, eco-friendliness, and kindness to sensitive skin?

Unlike the majority in this industry, Nellie’s isn’t afraid to advertise their ingredients, which is already a great sign that the company is proud of their formulations and has nothing to hide. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients list right on top of the tin:

• Sodium chloride – just salt!
• Sodium carbonate – softens water
• Citric acid – plant-derived water softener
• Sodium sulfate – a filler (serves a similar purpose as water in liquid detergents)
• Sodium percarbonate – a bleaching chemical
• Sodium metasilicate – softens water and enhances cleaning ability
• Cocamidopropyl betaine – surfactant, fatty acid from coconut oil (hooray for more plant-based ingredients!)
• Sodium silicate – softens water, inhibits corrosion, and contributes a crisp texture to the dishwasher powder
• Protease – cleaning enzyme which gobbles up proteins from food residue

Phew! Not a hint of bleach, dye, or phosphates in sight, so I know for a fact there’s no lingering chemical residues on my super-clean and sparkly dishes. Plus, those with allergies don’t need to worry—there’s no perfume in the ingredients list, either.

Nellie’s truly keeps their formulation to the detergent basics. Every ingredient here has its purpose, and there’s nothing unnecessary. Sodium chloride, the powder’s primary ingredient, is the same substance found on many of our tabletops—it’s just salt!

You’ll also notice a lot of water softeners in the ingredients list. These compounds grab up all the extra magnesium and calcium found in hard water to eliminate buildup on your dishes and within your dishwasher, increasing your dishwasher’s efficiency and helping you save both water and energy for a more eco-friendly home.

One final note – this is a biological formulation in that it contains a cleaning enzyme called protease.    Weve discussed the advantages and disadvantages of bio formulations before, but they do seem to add some missing sparkle when synthetic cleaning agents are replaced with naturally derived agents such as salt.

Are there downsides?

On the other hand, a couple of ingredients on this list were deemed to be potentially hazardous to health in a health risk assessment of dishwasher powder conducted by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, so I took a closer look.

Sodium carbonate, while irritating if it comes into contact with the eyes, has a low toxicity to the skin. In other words, there’s low potential for irritation. It’s also possible that it’s highly alkaline properties may result in damage to the gastrointestinal tract if swallowed. The Ministry of Health does point out in its report that the US Food and Drug Administration has recognized sodium carbonate as entirely safe—really, there’s not much to worry about after all!

Sodium percarbonate may be a bit more worrisome, though. While broken down quickly within the body, it can cause local toxicity to the eyes and stomach lining if ingested; it is only mildly irritating to the skin. Most of its negative effects can be contributed to its release of hydrogen peroxide.

Overall, the health risks are low and much, much less hazardous than other dishwasher detergents you’ll find on the shelves. IT’s free of VOCs, its free of cancer-causing ingredients, it won’t alter your hormones, there’s no phosphates, fragrances, 1,4 Dioxane contaminants.  The list goes on.

Plus, I have to give Nellie’s some props for including a detailed irritant warning due to the inclusion of sodium percarbonate in their formulation—this is a unique level of honesty and transparency!

As for my final thoughts…

Nellie’s dishwasher powder didn’t disappoint. There is so much to love about this product, from its clever branding and eco-friendly packaging to its no-nonsense formulation. At what equates to about 23 cents per load, its cost is fairly middle-of-the-road. I say it’s well worth the price for some truly amazing cleaning power!

That red wine and honey teriyaki sauce didn’t stand a chance.

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