What is dish soap?
Dish soap is one of the essential cleaning products in the kitchen. This detergent is made for washing plates, cutlery, pots and pans, removing grease and food build-up. Dish soaps are mainly used for hand washing dishes, so it’s safe on your skin. Most have ingredients in them that break down oils.
Dish soap is often sold in plastic bottles, but you can also find it as powders, pastes, gels, cartridges and tablets. The tablet form is most commonly found for dishwashing machines and dish liquid is made primarily for hand washing, although it serves plenty of other purposes around the kitchen.
Made in tons of different scents and cleaning agents by lots of different brands, there’s a huge variety of dish soap out on the market that’s available. We’ll break down the basics and where to buy the best dish soap.
What are the ingredients in dish soap?
While keeping your kitchen clean is essential, it’s important to know what’s in the cleaning products you’re using to clean. Depending on the dish soap, there’ll be a wide array of active and inactive ingredients.
Generally, the basic ingredients in dish soap include surfactants, preservatives, fragrances, and colors. These are categorized as active and inactive ingredients. Dish soap brands like Palmolive post their list of product ingredients online and indicate what each ingredient’s purpose is.
The main ingredient in liquid dish soap is water. This is what gives the product its liquid consistency. If you’re using tablets for your dishwasher or dishwasher detergent, there’ll be little to no water on the ingredient list, since it’s more concentrated than dish liquid.
Let’s break down the other ingredients you’re likely to find in dish soap.
The active ingredients in dish soap detergent are what allows it to remove bacteria, mildew, and fungi. It actually only accounts for about two percent of the total content in a typical dish soap bottle.
Surfactants (surface active agents) are in dish soap. This is an active ingredient used to remove grease and stuck food particles. They’re typically found in household cleaning and even the pharmaceutical industry.
Triclosan was the most commonly found active ingredient in dish soap and other cleaning products, as it was also found in antibacterial hand soaps. This ingredient’s purpose is to stop the growth of bacteria and mildew, effectively cleaning grime off of dishes. Triclosan can irritate sensitive skin or trigger allergies for some people. Luckily, in the US, the FDA banned triclosans in 2017 and manufacturers do not use them in products anymore.
It is still important to watch for active ingredients that are powerful cleaning agents, but could potentially be harmful to your skin or to others in your household. In that case, stick to naturally-based soaps (or baby dish soaps) and ensure you’re reading the ingredients on the label to check for any potential irritants.
Sulfates are a common ingredient in dish soap as well. They’re often some of the first ingredients of soaps, and are a type of detergent. There’s many types of sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, and ammonium laureth sulfate, to name a few.
They’re found in soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste and act as a cleaning and foaming agent. It’s actually what helps make that lather and foam when you’re washing dishes. While they tend to get a bad rap on shampoos, they’re actually safe to use in the household. They’re very effective at stripping away oils, which works great on dishes.
Some dish liquid will contain bleach, enzymes or rinsing aids. If you’re looking for a more mild dish soap, stay away from soaps that contain bleach as they have a higher cleaning power.
As mentioned before, water is the main inactive ingredient in dish soap. Generally, all liquid dish soaps will have water as their main ingredient, regardless of brand.
To thicken the soap mixture, sodium chloride is added to give it that thick consistency.
Another inactive ingredient is coloring dyes, which is a very common ingredient in almost every kitchen and bathroom product on the market. Colouring the liquid gives each product its distinct look and generally is not harmful and is more for visual purposes.
Perfume is another inactive ingredient, which is what gives your detergents a certain kind of smell. Most brands have a soapy, fruity, or citrusy smell. Some people look for soaps without scent or synthetic fragrance since an ingredient called phthalates can be an allergy trigger.
A foaming agent called lauramidopropylamine oxide is added as well to give the soap those foamy bubbles when in contact with water and friction.
SD alcohol 3-A is an inactive ingredient also in dish soaps to help with thickening.
How to properly use dish soap
Using dish soap is simple, as long as you’re using the right tools. A sponge or dish brush works best for washing your dishes. Applying dish soap onto your cleaning tool works more effectively at washing a dish as it ensures the soap will be distributed evenly.
Make sure you’re using the proper amount of soap on your dishes. This is why a brush or sponge work so well, as they’ll distribute the detergent evenly and the detergent won’t be wasted. Using warm or hot water will ensure that soap scum is properly washed off and will kill and remove bacteria and grease off of dishes.
If you find there’s too much caked onto your dish that scrubbing just won’t get off, soaking your dishes will work as well and saves on water usage. Close up your kitchen sink drain and fill it halfway with warm water and a dash of dish soap. Put your dirty dishes in them and scrub away. This is an age-old trick that works in both using less running water and soaking your dishes, getting rid of any grime and grease that build up on dishes.
Depending on your skin type, dish soaps can irritate sensitive skin and cause mild rashes, dermatitis or eczema. In this case, to ensure your skin remains healthy, find a dish soap with non-irritants, wash dishes with gloves, or use a dishwashing machine if it’s available to you.
If you have a dishwashing machine, a dish soap tablet will work best. Liquid dish soap isn’t necessary for machine-use, since the water pressure and heat in the machine will effectively break down bacteria and grease off of dishes, without leaving behind soap scum
A tablet slowly releases detergent and allows the machine to better control overtime how much is being used during washing. Liquid and powder detergent tablets also have a higher concentration of detergent because of this.
Why is dish soap so important?
Without dish soap, there’d be a more harsh chemical on the market made for washing dishes that would be tough on sensitive skin. Luckily dish soap is able to fight grease while not harming hands. Think of all the things you’d be unable to clean without dish soap!
Before dish soap was invented and mass produced, dish washing was mainly done with soaking dishes in hot water. It’s technically proven that we don’t need dish soap to wash grime off of dishes, since hot water can remove bacteria and leave dishes clean.
However, a lot of modern-day processed foods, animal fats, and proteins can’t be effectively scrubbed off with water. Soaps and detergents will take these off with ease because of the formulated ingredients made to wipe off hard to clean bacteria.
Something that goes largely unnoticed is that using dish soap and washing dishes is a small eco friendly thing we do everyday. If we didn’t wash our dishes, we’d probably be relying on disposable dishes for every meal. By using the same dishes that are already in your cabinets, you’re reducing plastic intake.
Some dish soaps can contain ingredients that are harmful to our skin, the environment, and the water systems. However, over time, scientists and environmental activists have been working with the government to identify these ingredients and remove them from production.
Dish soap has another great eco friendly purpose: it can save wildlife. Unfortunately, ducks are affected by the oil industry, since oil spills will occur at the bodies of water they live in. Companies like Dawn help animal workers save wildlife by using Dawn dish soap to clean harmful oils on a duck’s body without removing natural bodily oils.
What can dish soap be used for?
Dish soap can be used for more than just cleaning up dishes. With a bit of water and some suds, here’s just a few of the many uses it can have in your home.
Most of the dirty plates, bowls, cutlery and serving dishes can be cleaned with dishwashing liquid dish soap. Also consider your pots and pans, and other cooking dishes. If there’s nothing caked on, dish soap can get it off relatively quickly.
Dish soap is also safe to use on baby bottles and other utensils and dishes that a baby or toddler eats with. If you’re looking for something milder, consider buying a mild dish soap to clean with so cleaning baby bottles don’t get exposed to harsh chemicals.
In a pinch, it can also work to wash your hands. Since its main purpose is to remove bacteria, it will wash your hands effectively. However, keep in mind that dish soap can be drying on skin since it doesn’t have any of the butters or vitamins that hand soap will typically have.
Dish soap can be a good substitute for hand soap so long as it’s not used all the time. It’s not recommended to use it as a substitute for body wash since it can strip away your natural bodily oils.
Disinfecting and cleaning around the house
Dish soap detergent contains antibacterial ingredients that disinfect surfaces, and can be used to disinfect items. Keep in mind that whatever you’re looking to clean should be able to withstand water, since the soap needs water to sud and effectively clean. This is why dish soap works so well on plastics, glass and ceramics.
Removing grease stains on clothes
For general clean-up, it can be used to clean stains off of clothes as well. Best used as a pre-wash treater, dab a bit of dish detergent on the stain, let it soak, and throw it in the wash. This is a great money-saver if you don’t have a stain remover laundry product, as dish soaps have an effective cleaning power.
Cleaning bathroom and kitchen floors
Dish soap is also a great floor cleaner. Its antibacterial capabilities will clean grime and grease off of tile or vinyl flooring in the bathroom or kitchen. Just add a couple of tablespoons of dish soap liquid to a mop bucket of water, making a quick and easy floor cleaner.
Wiping off kitchen surfaces
For kitchen cleaning, mix a spray bottle with warm water and a tablespoon of dish soap to make an easy surface cleaner. This works well on kitchen tables and surfaces, like cupboards and kitchen deep-cleaning.
Kill fruit flies
If you have a fruit fly situation in your kitchen, dish soap can help you get rid of them. Fill a cup or bowl halfway with vinegar and add a few drops of dish soap. The vinegar will attract the flies and the dish soap detergent will act to cut surface tension, causing the flies to sink and drown.
Clean patio furniture and floors
Since dish soap is so effective at getting off grease and grime, it can be helpful at cleaning up patio furniture. In a mop bucket or bowl of warm water, add some dish soap to make a soapy mixture, and wipe down patio chairs and tables with a wet rag. Rinse off with a hose and your furniture will be fresh for the summer season.
The same bucket of soapy water can also remove stains and freshen up the patio floor. Dish soap can work well on concrete but not necessarily as effective on wooden floors, so keep that in mind when spring cleaning your patio.
Remove carpet stains
If there’s a food or grease stain on your carpet, the detergent qualities in dish soap can remove the stain. Mix a bit of dish soap on a wet cloth, and dab away at the stain until it disappears off the carpet. Sponge the carpet off with water and blot dry.
As mentioned before, dish soap can remove the harsh chemicals found on wildlife who have fled oil spill incidents. It will remove harmful oils without getting rid of an animal’s oils. This is similar to human skin, depending on the brand you use.
What to look for when buying dish soap
When you walk down to the grocery store cleaning aisle, there’ll be plenty of different dish soap products to choose from. And online, there are tons of other options as well, making it overwhelming to choose.
But how can you tell which is the best dish soap for your cleaning needs? This is where brands, product labels, and ingredients come into the picture and will be a big help in choosing one that works for you.
Look for trusted brands
When looking for the best dish soap, go to brands you trust. Products that you’ll find in your local supermarket or grocery store are trustworthy and are mass-produced. Often, these are the best cleaners out there since they’re being used by so many people and undergo so much testing before they’re put out on market.
The top companies in the world who make dish soap are Procter and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever. In North America, most of these companies have pretty recognizable brands like Cascade, Dawn, Palmolive, and others.
Generally, these are brands that have had their cleaning products out on the market for decades, so their products are trust-worthy enough to get the job done.
A popular option is Dawn’s ultra dishwashing liquid, which is a top seller on Amazon and commonly found in stores. Products like this by well-known brands will have a lot of online user reviews, so you can know if you’re buying from the right source.
Sometimes, you may want to buy cleaning supplies from a more local shop, or you may be looking for a product with simpler ingredients. In that case, do some research to find out what ingredients are the most necessary for cleaning. For example, detergents and surfactants are the most common ingredients in branded dish soap, so whoever you’re buying your soap from, ensure it has cleaning agents in its mix.
When you visit your local farmer’s market or shop for their dish soaps, keep the ingredients in mind and especially fragrances. Since they’re locally-made, they’re not as heavily tested as mass-produced products. However, they will contain more natural ingredients, which can be helpful for those looking for a more natural liquid dish soap. Make sure the scent is something that will work for you, as this can be a potential allergy irritant for some.
Amazon has a huge selection of dish soaps, from trustworthy brands to eco friendly choices. There’s also bulk options and the option to subscribe and restock your soap every few months.
If you’re considering buying monthly or bi-monthly online subscriptions for your dish soap, make sure you’re choosing brands you are familiar with. If you’re not sure of the product, read some product reviews to get a better picture as to what this product’s positives or negatives are.
Beware of false information online
A lot of products online can contain false information in an attempt to sell a large amount of products quickly to online customers. Online reviewers are the best way to prevent yourself from buying an unwanted product. Usually, something on a site like Amazon or Alibaba with four stars or more will be a trust-worthy product.
Look over the ingredient list
Before buying your dish soap, check out the list of ingredients on the label. Are there any active ingredients that will effectively clean dirty dishes? If you have allergies or other irritants, check for things like scents, coloring dyes, or harmful chemicals like bleach. Natural liquid dish soap may be a safer option for you.
Scents are more important than you think
Scent is often overlooked, but as mentioned, can be an allergy irritant for some and can irritate sensitive skin. While choosing a yummy and fresh-smelling scent is a fun way to pick liquid dish soap, it’s also important you test which one works for your household. If you find no scent is appropriate, consider fragrance free dish soaps.
Natural dish soap
Natural dish soap contains fewer inactive ingredients that can be seen as harmful. Instead, the manufacturers add more organic ingredients to their mixture and natural cleaners.
Fragrances and colours in natural dish soaps will be different. Most natural dish soaps have no added colour as they pare down the ingredients list to make the product as eco friendly as possible. The product may be fragrance free or have scents from essential oils, like lemon or lavender.
There are dish soaps on the market that are biodegradable dish soaps. These are not harmful to the environment. If you’re looking to reduce your eco footprint, look for keywords like biodegradable and organic on the label.
Natural dish soap options online
Companies like Puracy, Dr. Bronner’s, and Mrs Meyer’s have all-natural dish soaps. This is a great option if you’re looking to make eco friendly choices in the way you clean your home.
Puracy Natural Liquid Dish Soap receives a lot of positive reviews online and it’s from a trustworthy brand. Options for Puracy dish soap range from baby dish soap to all-purpose cleaners, and are biodegradable and safe for the environment. Puracy Natural Liquid is marketed as the only dish soap without sulfates and other chemicals that could damage your skin. This makes it a great option for someone who may have sensitive skin or other needs to keep more plant-based cleaning products in the household.
A popular product is Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, marketed as an all-purpose cleaner. Its surfactants are made with plant-based products, cruelty-free and works on more than dishes. Sal Suds are famous for lasting for a long time, since the formula can be diluted with water, a little goes a long way.
For people who choose natural products, Dr. Bronner’s is a common brand to go to. If you’re looking for a surface cleaner, it’s best to turn to Sal Suds since it’s more effective at deep-cleaning, while their castile soap products can also work on the body. Sal Suds are a type of detergent with cleaning surfactants while castile soap is mainly used to clean dirt off of skin.
Mrs. Meyer’s dish soap products come in a huge variety of scents and run fairly well-priced at under five dollars. Their Meyer’s Clean Day liquid dish soap is a go-to product for its effective cleaning properties. Meyer’s Clean Day also is marketed as biodegradable, plant-based and cruelty-free. If you’re looking for more than just dish soap, it’s also available as a Meyer’s Clean Day kitchen basics set, with liquid dish soap, hand soap, and a multi-surface cleaner.
Baby dish soap
While conventional dish soap can work on dishes, it is a safer option to wash baby bottles and other baby dishes with baby dish soap. These contain more naturally occurring ingredients, are scent free and have a more gentle cleaning power.
Dish soaps like Puracy Natural Baby Liquid Dish Soap contain no harsh chemicals and are safe to use on baby bottles and dishes. It’s mainly made with coconut and plant-based ingredients and can last for a long time.
Another product like BabyGanics Foaming Dish Soap is plant derived and formulated without phosphates, phthalates, synthetic fragrances or dyes. If you have sensitive skin, it’s also non allergenic.
What not to buy
Unless you’re looking for something to clean very tough dirt, grime and soap scum, it’s recommended not to buy dish soap with heavy cleaning ingredients, like bleach. It’s a significant skin irritant that can cause rashes and harm your hands.
Start off with a basic dish soap with mild ingredients, try it out, and change your soap based on your needs. If you find a simple dish soap is too harsh on your hands, look for dish soaps that market themselves as soft on hands. Or if your dirty dishes just aren’t getting clean enough even after scrubbing, look for dish soaps with more powerful cleaning agents that will give you a higher cleaning power.
What to do when you don’t have dish soap
If you don’t have dish soap, it can be hard to think of alternatives that are as effective. Luckily, there are some substitutes you may already have in your bathroom or laundry cupboards, and some at-home DIY alternatives.
Clean with baking soda
Consider green options for dish soap. A mixture of baking soda and water in a spray bottle can work for washing dishes. Adding a few drops of a citrus-based essential oil, like lemon, to the spray bottle can add that clean smell and polish to your dishes.
You can also mix ½ cup of baking soda with a few tablespoons of water to form a baking soda paste. This works in a pinch and will work for a big load of dishes.
Borax is also an alternative to dish soap. Borax is known for its cleaning agents and will be able to clean dishes as well as liquid soap.
Substitute laundry bars for dish soap
If you have a bar of all-natural laundry soap, it can actually make a good alternative for dish soap. With a grater or potato peeler, remove a few shavings off of the soap bar, run it with some water on a dish sponge, and those suds can work as effectively as typical dish detergent.
Castile soap is also a great eco friendly alternative for your dishes, and as a general house cleaner as well. The soap can be diluted and last a while if you’re just using it for dishes.
If you have sensitive skin, there are dish soaps out there that aren’t as tough on skin. You could also consider an all-natural option that doesn’t irritate sensitive skin. Read the ingredients of your current dish soap
Hand soap is not an effective substitute
Even though it makes sense that hand soap could work as a substitute to dish soap, it’s actually ineffective as a dish soap. The antifungal and antibacterial ingredients in hand soap can clean your dishes, but according to cleaning professionals, it’s not necessarily safe to clean dishes with.
Wherever you buy your dish soap, whether it’s in your farmer’s market, at your local supermarket, or online, make sure you’re buying one that’ll properly clean your dishes. Keep in mind your own skin and what could be a potential irritant to you. Clean dishes keep a clean kitchen.