Why Are Dishwasher Tablets Wrapped in Plastic?

Using a dishwasher is a convenient and economical way to clean dishes, but have you ever stopped to wonder why the tablets they are wrapped in plastic?

With plastic waste becoming an increasingly pressing issue, many consumers are questioning the use of plastic packaging for household products like dishwasher tabs.

We’ll explore the reasons why dishwasher tablets use plastic wrapping, as well as the environmental impact of this packaging and what can be done to reduce it.

A Quick History of Dishwashers

The first recorded invention of a dishwasher was in 1850 when a patented design for a manually-operated splashing device attached to a wooden tub was filed. But electric dishwashers as we would recognise them weren’t around until the 1920s, and even then, they were considered luxury items until the early 1970s.

By the 1980s, pre-measured, single-use tablets had become the norm. These tablets were made more effective with the use of enzymes and improved surfactants, and their small size made them more convenient for use in dishwashers.

However, even though the tablets have evolved, the use of plastic packaging has remained the same, and it is still a common practice in the industry.

Why Dishwasher Tablets Are Wrapped in Plastic

The main purpose for dishwasher tablets being wrapped in plastic is to protect the tablets from moisture and prevent them from dissolving or breaking down before they are used.

The ingredients in in dishwasher tabs are designed to interact with the water when you run a dishwashing cycle. So the plastic wrapping ensures that the tablets will work effectively when they are needed.

If the tablets are stored in damp environment they may begin to breakdown, or if they are knocked during transit and they crumble they won’t be able to be used. So the plastic packaging of dishwasher tablets is only used for maintaining the stability and efficacy of the cleaning agents.

On top of this, the chemicals in dishwasher tabs can be toxic, so the plastic layer acts as another barrier to prevent accidental contact with the detergent.

What do manufacturers say?

Having reached out to and researched several dishwashers tablet producers, this is their reasoning for wrapping dishwasher tabs:

“There is no technology yet available that will seal them to keep them from disintegrating during transit.


“[…] at the moment ‘naked’ tab wrapping for this kind of product causes lots of wastage in the manufacturing process and a much shorter product shelf life which leads to more resource usage.


It is worth noting that Homethings’ dishwasher tablets are wrapped in PVOH, which is biodegradable, and Ecover’s tablets contain a small amount of plastic that will not biodegrade.

Do you take dishwasher tablets out of the plastic?

This will depend on the type of dishwasher tablet you’re using.

You do need to remove the plastic from individually wrapped tablets. These will often be opaque plastic wrappers, but sometimes transparent, plastic wrappers with bevelled edges to tear into them. These are the worst offenders for plastic waste and should be avoided!

On the otherhand, if the the tablet is wrapped in a thin, transparent plastic, it should not be removed and will dissolve when the dishwasher is started.

individually wrapped dishwasher tablet
This is an individually wrapped dishwasher tablet that does need to be removed.
homethings dishwasher tablet plastic
The Homethings dishwasher tablets I buy has a covering that doesn’t need to be removed.

Can You Remove The See-through Plastic From Dishwasher Tablets?

So surely then you can just remove the thin plastic wrapper on a tablet before putting on your dishwasher? Unfortunately that’s not the best solution.

There are a lot of different materials that companies use to wrap dishwasher tabs, and one of the most common is polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH). Technically, this material is biodegradable and not considered a microplastic. The Homethings dishwasher tablets I get use this material!

On the other hand, some dishwasher tabs contain polypropylene plastic, which can only be recycled in certain areas and are considered a micro plastic. So even if you remove them the plastic from some tablets you’ll need to find a suitable place to recycle the wrappers.

So which tablets are the most sustainable?

If, like me, your struggling to wrap your head around which dishwasher tabs are actually best for the environment and for your dishes, we’ve listed our favourite eco-friendly dishwasher tablets.

Final Thoughts

Despite using small amounts of plastic, the environmental impact of plastic-wrapped dishwasher tablets will contribute to the plastic waste problem that affects the natural world.

Tablets that use non biodegradable plastic will break down into microplastic, which are ingested by marine organisms and can travel up the food chain, potentially impacting human health as well.

Secondly, non-recyclable packaging can take hundreds of years to degrade and can persist in the environment for a long time. This means that plastic waste from dishwasher tablets, like other plastic products, can end up in landfills, litter the streets and natural habitats, and can be harmful for long after your lifespan.

Omar Agor-Wood
Omar Agor-Wood

Omar is a digital marketer by day for one of the UK's largest environmental consultancy companies, and is writing like the world depends on it for Pick Ethical at night. He has a passion for hiking, bouldering, and making a fuss of his dog.

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