Phosphates are minerals that increase effectiveness of detergents by removing hard water minerals. The phosphate minerals prevent dirt from re-depositing on items being washed. Introducing phosphates into lakes, rivers and streams can lead to eutrophication, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen. Seventh Generation has never used phosphates in any of its laundry or dishwasher detergent products.
Following legislation passed in 2010, 16 states banned the sale of dishwasher detergents with high levels of phosphates. In response to the ban, big detergent manufacturers removed phosphates from all of their U.S. products.