November 10th, 2014

Why You Should Never Put Plastic in the Dishwasher

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Groovy Green Livin plastic in dishwasher

Have you ever accidentally opened your dishwasher in the middle of a cycle? It’s like an instant facial. The steam and heat emitted are enough to make you jump back and close the door quickly.

The water is hot so your dishes are cleaned with minimal elbow grease. Did you know the water must be at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit and not more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit for the best cleaning and to prevent damage to the dishes? That’s hot water!

What do you put in your dishwasher?

We have a relatively new dishwasher and for some reason it seems smaller than our older version. I still do my best to jam as many dishes into the dishwasher as I possibly can for a single load. Everything from plates to glasses to flatware goes right in without much of a rinse.

Over the years I’ve really weaned myself off of plastic in the kitchen. I’ve tried hard to reduce the amount of plastic touching our food in any way. For the few plastic items still remaining, they get washed by hand.

My rule: never put anything plastic in the dishwasher. And here’s why….

Heat and plastic are a bad mix

Repeated wear and tear on plastic, including running plastic through the dishwasher, could cause BPA, Phthalates and other chemicals to leach out of the plastic when heated.

Hormone-disrupting chemicals leach from almost all plastics, even BPA-free plastics. Heating the plastic (stressing it) may cause more leaching of the chemicals. 


Phthalates are chemicals used as softeners or plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC, vinyl) products and can be found in hundreds of products: pre-2009 toys, wallpaper, cling wrap, shower curtains, plastic PVC containers, nail polish, perfume, blood bags, cosmetics, personal care products, shampoos, carpeting, wood finishes and insecticides (the list could go on and on).

Phthalates have been shown to disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm counts and some preliminary studies show that they may be causing a slow and steady demasculinizing of men. Other studies have linked phthalates to liver cancer and breast cancer.

Unfortunately manufacturers aren’t required to list phthalates on products. Look out for “PVC,” “V” or the”3″ recycling code on the bottom of anything plastic.


As many of us know by now BPA is bad news. It’s a hormone-disrupting chemical that’s been linked in lab studies to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in girls, type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

And if that wasn’t enough there’s more:  “BPA-free” doesn’t mean it’s safe“. As new alternatives to BPA are popping up all over the place we have little information about their impact on our health.

The Bottom line

Hormone-disrupting chemicals leach from almost all plastics, even BPA-free plastics.

Plastics are more likely to leach toxic chemicals when they’re heated or exposed to light.

I think I would rather hand wash plastics than risk those nasty chemicals leaching into my food.  How about you?

Are you ready to hand wash those plastic dishes?


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photo credit: Skakerman via photopin cc

16 Responses to “Why You Should Never Put Plastic in the Dishwasher”

  1. Hi Lori,

    I will definitely be washing my plastics by hand now. Thanks for sharing this information with us. I definitely had an aha moment here!

    Have a great new week and thanks again for sharing.
    Corina Ramos recently posted..The Top Five Expenses You Cut Back On When Working From HomeMy Profile

  2. […] continue reading this post → […]

  3. Great information. I too have been reducing the plastic in my home, but sometimes still put plastic in the dishwasher. I just ruined four of my Soda Stream bottles by doing this. Pulling out disfigured plastic bottles was a good wake up call and reminder not to do this! It’s hard to feel like I’m really cleaning some bottles w.o the dishwasher, but better to play it safe!
    Lindsay recently posted..Is jicama the next “trendy” food?My Profile

  4. Um, wow. I had no idea! I will seriously have to educate my family not to do this. The kids usually unload and re-load the dishwasher. I guess now they will have some to hand wash as well.
    Jenny Rapson recently posted..This Letter to Tired Mamas is Like a Healing Balm for Your Mom-SoulMy Profile

  5. This was totally eye-opening! Thanks, Lori. I’ll be handwashing my plastics from now on, too.

  6. We try our best to not put plastics in the dishwasher, but it happens. I try to convert us to glass…but we break a lot of things!
    Krystyn @ Really, Are You Serious? recently posted..Thankful Turkey Centerpiece With Free Printable | Mommy and Me Monday | 247th edMy Profile

  7. Since my husband does the dishes and loads the dishwasher every night, I have a little trouble enforcing this. Mostly, we just try not to use plastic at all. That’s the simplest solution : ) I love our stainless steel cups and for our kids from MightyNest:
    We now have the plates too.
    Betsy (Eco-novice) recently posted..Wild Mint Shop Helps Parents Avoid Toxins in ToysMy Profile

  8. We try to use minimal quantity of plastics in the kitchen anyway. That is the best solutions.

    We recently converted to glass water bottles from non-BPA plastic bottles. We only have small containers that we use for children’s cold school snacks etc.

    We don’t put our pots and pans in the dishwasher, to extend their lives, either. They are ceramic, stainless steel or cast iron. A lot of stuff to wash by hand. Ugh!

  9. It is a lot to wash by hand! But so worth it….

  10. This drives me nuts!! I can’t count how many times my husband has put plastic in the dishwasher after I asked him a million times NOT to. Grrrr

  11. We don’t have much that is plastic anyways, so those items are ALWAYS handwashed.

    To be safe, though, I don’t open the dishwasher after it’s done for an hour or so. Even with all natural ingredients in our dishwasher detergent, I don’t want to inhale anything at a high temp that I don’t have to!
    Kim recently posted..Win a Green Scholarship From Plush BedsMy Profile

  12. My wife sent me this web page arguing for us to stop dishwashing plastics. I spent part of my life as a research scientist, and this was my reply:

    They talk about the potential dangers of a long list of chemicals, but they only provide one peer-reviewed study that argues that dishwashing with these chemicals can be bad:

    This study measured the estrogenic properties of wash-off from plastics cut into 4mm x 4mm squares, both without and with stressing. Stressing included microwaving, soaking in ethanol, exposing to UV and soaking in salt water, soaking in ethanol, autoclaving in saltwater, and autoclaving in ethanol.

    They argue that autoclaving in saltwater is a close approximation to dishwashing. Autoclaving exposes materials to high-pressure steam at 250-275 degrees fahrenheit.

    Reasons why I don’t think this study shows a significant risk in dishwashing:

    * Consumer dishwashers wash at 167 degrees fahrenheit in the “sterilize” cycle (apparently 150 is the minimum to be ISO compliant). This is 80-100 degrees less than autoclaving, and doesn’t have high-pressure. A rinse cycle in a dishwasher also uses water rather than salt water. There is meaningfully less pressure, temperature, and less solvent liquid in real life than in their test.

    * Along with microwaving in saltwater, the “autoclave w/ saltwater” stress caused the least leaching of any stressors measured, with only two materials showing significant results (a PET water bottle and PS 1, whatever that is). The “water bottle 1.1”, “water bottle 1.2”, “water bottle 2.1” and “water bottle 2.2” samples did not show any estrogenic activity (they do not specify what these water bottles are).

    * They don’t describe the methods for the autoclaving test, making it difficult to assess. A reasonable guess (based on methods they did describe) is that they placed the plastic in a sealed test tube with saltwater in it and autoclaved that. That’s not a fair test, because it literally steeps the saltwater in the plastic. In real life, you don’t drink the water used in washing — it goes down the drain. You’d need to rinse the plastic after autoclaving and test that water. My guess would be that rinsing water would show very little estrogenic activity.

    * The study says that (in supplemental materials): “the migration of typical additives (e.g. antioxidants) is a very weak function of surface area – the rate limiting step for most common migrants is the removal of the extracted chemical from the boundary region between the plastic and the extracting solvent.” This isn’t super clear, but my interpretation is that cutting the plastics dramatically increases the amount of chemical leaching, which would be another source of difference between these tests and real life.

    So I feel safe dishwashing plastics.

    The study DOES show a small amount of risk in eating liquids microwaved in plastic containers like soup, however, and it also demonstrates a substantially higher risk in using a UV sterilizer on a plastic baby bottle. Avoiding both is a reasonable thing to do even though I have issues with the study design and don’t think the real-life risk of these activities was demonstrated in this experiment.

  13. What do you think about washing plastics in the China/gentle cycle and on the top rack? I don’t like hand washing dishes.

  14. Hi Alma, I try to not wash any plastics in the dishwasher. I’m guessing the China/gentle cycle still gets very hot. The heat causes the plastic to break down and the toxins to leach out of the plastic and into our food.

  15. Hi, I always understood the risk of heat and plastic being related to food in the plastic recipient only. If I use my plastic plates when cold, is there really an issue then?

  16. Hi Sterna,

    I try to keep all food and plastic separated. I don’t want to risk the plastic leaching toxic chemicals into my food- if hot food is placed on a cold plate it could still leach toxins.

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About Lori

Hi! I’m Lori, a recovering attorney, writer, and mom to three boys. Join me as I uncover and share the latest info on healthy living. Learn more.

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