Phosphate-free washing-up detergents – insight into innovation

Mifa AG is conducting in-depth research and development to replace environmentally controversial phosphate in washing-up detergents. Mifa AG’s dishwasher detergents are already free of phosphates and with effect from 2017 the entire washing-up detergent collection will be produced without phosphates.

  • The global demand for phosphate is very great, especially for agriculture. Phosphate-bearing soils, such as apatite, are mined in massive open-cast mines, as shown in the photo.

  • Blue or green? On the left is an underwater photo of a clear river with a very low phosphate concentration. The water in the photo on the right has a very high phosphate concentration. This water is over-fertilised (eutrophied), which can lead to algae growth, oxygen deficiency and dying fish.

  • Dr. Michael Lang, head of Home Care R&D and Mira Scacchi, laboratory assistant, testing the properties of a new liquid cleaner.

  • All Handymatic washing-up detergents have been phosphate-free since 2015. These products are exclusively available from Migros.

Phosphates are salts obtained from minerals. The main deposits are in North Africa, Jordan, the USA, Russia, South Africa and China. Phosphate supplies are limited. Furthermore, they are frequently contaminated with cadmium, or radioactive heavy metals. Phosphates which find their way into waste water cannot be completely filtered out during water treatment and so lead to over-fertilisation and ultimately to the death of many aquatic species as a result of oxygen depletion.

From 2017, however, the legislator will further restrict the use of phosphorus, the raw material from which phosphates are produced.

Why are phosphates even used in washing-up detergents?

The phosphate in washing-up detergents softens the water, binds to limescale and dissolves food residues. This solves three washing-up problems with one substance. Furthermore, phosphates are cheap to buy. They are therefore the perfect solution for developers, which are very difficult to replace.

The development team surrounding Michael Lang, Head of Research and Development Home Care at Mifa AG, has been intensively researching alternatives to phosphate in detergents for several years.

Michael Lang explains why phosphate is so difficult to replace: “It’s easy to say phosphate-free. But if I want to replace phosphate in washing-up detergents, I need a cocktail of up to seven substitute ingredients to achieve the same effect. That quickly becomes complicated. Citric acid doesn’t work, for example, if my water is hard. And often enzymes only work at very specific pH values. The growing need for convenience also presents a challenge. Tabs are very popular because they are easy to use. If the water is hard, though, one tab may not be enough. Powder is easier to dose though.”

Some recipes have already been successfully implemented by the development team.

Since 2015 all the dishwasher detergents produced by Mifa AG for the Swiss market have been phosphate free (such as Handymatic available from Migros). From 2017 all of Mifa AG’s collection of washing-up detergents (manual washing-up and dishwasher detergents) for the Swiss market and for export will be phosphate free.


Sustainability facts about Mifa AG’s (Mibelle Group) phosphate-free washing-up detergents:

  • Since 2015 all the dishwasher detergents produced by Mifa AG for the Swiss market have been phosphate free (such as Handymatic available from Migros).
  • From 2017 all of Mifa AG’s collection of washing-up detergents (manual washing-up and dishwasher detergents) for the Swiss market and for export will be phosphate free.

Water and Soil

Efficient use of resources

Innovative strength