Gut epithelial barrier damage caused by dishwasher detergents and rinse aids

Gut epithelial barrier damage caused by dishwasher detergents and rinse aids

Ismail Ogulur et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2023 Feb.


Background: The increased prevalence of many chronic inflammatory diseases linked to gut epithelial barrier leakiness has prompted us to investigate the role of extensive use of dishwasher detergents, among other factors.

Objective: We sought to investigate the effects of professional and household dishwashers, and rinse agents, on cytotoxicity, barrier function, transcriptome, and protein expression in gastrointestinal epithelial cells.

Methods: Enterocytic liquid-liquid interfaces were established on permeable supports, and direct cellular cytotoxicity, transepithelial electrical resistance, paracellular flux, immunofluorescence staining, RNA-sequencing transcriptome, and targeted proteomics were performed.

Results: The observed detergent toxicity was attributed to exposure to rinse aid in a dose-dependent manner up to 1:20,000 v/v dilution. A disrupted epithelial barrier, particularly by rinse aid, was observed in liquid-liquid interface cultures, organoids, and gut-on-a-chip, demonstrating decreased transepithelial electrical resistance, increased paracellular flux, and irregular and heterogeneous tight junction immunostaining. When individual components of the rinse aid were investigated separately, alcohol ethoxylates elicited a strong toxic and barrier-damaging effect. RNA-sequencing transcriptome and proteomics data revealed upregulation in cell death, signaling and communication, development, metabolism, proliferation, and immune and inflammatory responses of epithelial cells. Interestingly, detergent residue from professional dishwashers demonstrated the remnant of a significant amount of cytotoxic and epithelial barrier-damaging rinse aid remaining on washed and ready-to-use dishware.

Conclusions: The expression of genes involved in cell survival, epithelial barrier, cytokine signaling, and metabolism was altered by rinse aid in concentrations used in professional dishwashers. The alcohol ethoxylates present in the rinse aid were identified as the culprit component causing the epithelial inflammation and barrier damage.

PMID: 36464527

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I don’t know if these qualify as the best, but they seem reasonable…

Best Substitutes for Dish Soap-and-Dishwasher Detergent

4 substitutes for dishwasher detergent

What can you use instead of dishwashing detergent? Here are a few items you might have at home. Make sure you read the section above on things you should NEVER use as soap in your dishwasher.

Unlike liquid dish soap for handwashing dishes, dishwasher soap doesn’t produce big bubbles or lather.

Alkalis such as baking soda, borax, and washing soda are soluble salts that cut through grease and get dishes clean. We’ve listed them in order from mildest to strongest.³

  1. Baking soda

The mildest of the alkalis, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is something you probably have in your pantry and can use when you’re in a pinch.

Fill the detergent compartment of the dishwasher with roughly 1/4 cup of baking soda and run a regular cycle.

  1. Borax

A moderate-strength alkali, borax (sodium tetraborate) is often used as a water softener. If you have hard water, you may find that using a bit of borax in your dishwasher can help remove water stains.

Borax is safe to use in the dishwasher.

Fill the detergent compartment of the dishwasher with roughly 1/4 cup borax and run a regular cycle.

  1. Washing soda

The strongest of the three alkalis listed here, washing soda is also known as sodium carbonate.

Washing soda will blast through any stuck-on food, leaving your dishes squeaky clean.

Fill the detergent compartment of the dishwasher with roughly 1/4 cup washing soda and run a normal cycle.

Tip: While borax and washing soda are safe to use in the dishwasher, avoid inhaling the fumes. They can also be a skin or eye irritant, so handle with care.
4) DIY dishwasher soap

If you’re feeling crafty, or just hoping to make your own dishwasher detergent with no harmful chemicals, this DIY dishwasher soap is for you!

This soap combines the power of all three alkalis plus citric acid and salt for extra scrubbing power. You can find citric acid along with the canning supplies in larger grocery stores.

I found this recipe via Washington State University Extension.⁴

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1/2 cup citric acid
  • 1 cup coarse salt (Epsom salt, kosher salt, or rock Salt)

An airtight container to store your mixture
Combine all ingredients in an airtight container. Remember to label it!
Use as you would normally use your dishwasher detergent.


I’ll definitely try the easy 1/4 c baking soda.

My little weekend rant: :grin: (I am only commenting on the article)

The story is BS, BS, BS. Junk science at its best. This story is suddenly all over the place because of its clickbait title.

For instance, they do not establish any transfer to humans from any residual that might remain on a plate from a dishwasher using a rinse aid.
Does your dishwasher have a final rinse? Did they test a variety of dishwashers and test how much remained from each model and brand?

This is what they did:

“Methods: Enterocytic liquid-liquid interfaces were established on permeable supports, and direct cellular cytotoxicity, transepithelial electrical resistance, paracellular flux, immunofluorescence staining, RNA-sequencing transcriptome, and targeted proteomics were performed.”

So, look at your squeaky clean plate from the dishwasher. How much rinse aid do you think is going to be transferred to your food?
The amount probably is unmeasurable. They didn’t show any tests backing up the transfer to the food you eat.

I have been eating food on dishes that were cleaned in a dishwasher for over 60 years, mostly with products using rinse aids or adding a rinse aid myself. If I have a leaky gut it is news to me.

Hundreds of millions of people across the world have been using commercial dishwasher detergents, many containing rinse aids, and people also add rinse aid in the little dispenser located in the dishwasher door. And probably millions were saved from food-born illnesses and the transfer of germs, by sanitizing their dishes and silverware.
Sanitizing my dinnerware is the main reason I use a dishwasher.

If you are so paranoid that you believe that commercial dishwasher soap is a threat to your health go ahead and use an alternative.

It’s not any cheaper.

From Amazon:

Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda (15 lbs.) $22.10. ~0/09 / oz. That’s a lot of soda!

20 Mule Team All Natural Borax Detergent Booster & Multi-Purpose Household Cleaner, 65 Ounce, 4 Count $19.63 ~0.08 / oz

Arm & Hammer Natural Detergent Booster and freshener Super Washing Soda Detergent
55 oz, $15.07 ~ 0.27 / oz

Cascade Complete Powder Dishwasher Detergent, Fresh Scent, 75 oz
$6.24 ~0.08 / oz

Who really wants to make their own dishwashing powder? It’s probably more expensive than the commercial product and not proven to be any safer.

I don’t think that baking soda is going to be very effective on very dirty dishes, especially if you have hard water.

I also think that washing soda, sodium carbonate, would be a little harsh on anything metal, especially anything aluminum.

So, if I was going to switch, I would try borax.

Bottom line:
I will continue to use commercial dishwashing soap as the alternatives don’t appear to be any cheaper and no one has proven that the alternatives are healthier.


The findings are focused on alcohol ethoxylates found in popular brand rinse aids. This comes from the full text:

“An exciting finding of the present study is that alcohol ethoxylates that are responsible for these toxic effects can be extracted from recently washed dishware and still kept the toxicity.”

There are rinse aids without alcohol ethoxylates. An example is Nature Clean Rinse Aid.

With regard to soap residue, the Bosch Benchmark Dishwasher has a built-in water softener. The extra soft water should help to rinse off more soap residue.


This is why I don’t use rinse aids. I only use a detergent, and wash once with a detergent and then right after once with water only.

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Do you honestly think that there is enough transfer through food eaten to have any significant effect?
I stand by my statement that the study was BS

I don’t know. But they zeroed in on alcohol ethoxylates as the culprit, so it wouldn’t hurt to switch to a brand that doesn’t have it. Nature Clean brand and Seventh Generation are a couple examples. I just ordered Nature Clean from Amazon. If I’m happy with it, I’ll discard the old stuff.

As I mentioned earlier, minerals in water can create a film and chemicals can attach and cling along with it. So buying a dishwasher with a built-in water softener like Bosch Benchmark should help to remove soap residue and minimize the amount of rinse aid that sticks.

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I’ve tried the 1/4 c of baking soda a couple of times in my dishwasher, and it does a decent job, but not as good a job as the usual tablet. If I put it through an additional rinse cycle, it is almost as good. But if I put a tablet wash through an additional rinse cycle, it would get a lot more of the gut-harming residue off, too. So I’ll probably run baking soda only loads sometimes, but not always.

I’m following up after trying Nature Clean Rinse Aid without the alcohol ethoxylates. Dishes were shiny without noticeable spots. But they weren’t as dry as usual.