Can I Use Laundry Detergent as Dish Soap?

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byPenny
Can I Use Laundry Detergent as Dish Soap?

When you’re out of dish soap and the pile of dirty dishes in the sink starts to build, you might be wondering if your bottle of laundry detergent is a suitable substitute. After all, they both claim to clean, so it seems logical that laundry detergent could tackle greasy plates and stained cups just as it deals with clothing.

However before you squirt some into your dish water, let’s pause for thought because using laundry detergent in place of dish soap is not actually recommended.

The ingredients in laundry detergent are very different from those in dish soap, and they may not be safe for direct contact with your skin or for consuming off of plates later on.

Dish soaps are specifically designed to be mild and safe for your skin, as well as effective in breaking down grease and food particles on your dishes.

If you find yourself without dish soap, consider some safe alternatives instead. Baking soda and vinegar can be effective in cleaning dishes, as they cut through grease and remove stains without the use of harsh chemicals.

Need to make your dish soap last longer? Check out this post - How to extend the life of dish soap.

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Why laundry detergent isn’t great as a dish soap

Using laundry detergent as a substitute for dish soap is not ideal because it can affect both the cleanliness of your dishes and your health.

Products designed for laundry have a different chemical composition than those meant for dishwashing.

Laundry detergent can irritate skin

Laundry detergents are formulated for clothes, not skin contact. Their ingredients may be harsher and include perfumes and chemicals that can cause skin irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin.

When used for dishes, the chemicals in laundry soap can linger on your skin and on your plates, cutlery and cookware.

Laundry detergent often contains enzymes that will get killed off in hot water

Unlike dish soap, laundry detergents often contain enzymes designed to break down protein-based stains at lower temperatures.

When you wash dishes with hot water, you deactivate these enzymes, rendering the laundry detergent’s cleaning properties less effective.

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Laundry detergent isn’t great at dissolving grease

Dish soaps are specifically made to tackle grease and food residues on dishes. They have surfactants that effectively break down oily substances. Laundry detergent, however, isn’t formulated for this purpose and may struggle to dissolve grease, leaving your dishes with an oily film.

Laundry detergent can leave a residue on dishes

Lastly, laundry detergents are known to create more suds and are less likely to rinse cleanly away, potentially leaving a residue on your dishes. This residue is not only unpleasant but could be ingested the next time the dishes are used, which is a concern for your health.

The differences between dish soap and laundry detergent

laundry detergent vs dish soap

When you’re tackling the chore of cleaning, it’s important to use the right cleaner for the job. Let’s explore the distinctions between dish soap and laundry detergent, so you can be sure your items are not just clean, but cared for properly.

Dish soap:

  • Purpose: Specifically formulated for cleaning dishes.
  • Surfactants: Tailored to remove grease and food particles from cookware and utensils.
  • Bubbles: Generates a significant amount of suds.
  • Scent: Often milder to avoid transferring tastes to dishes.

Laundry detergent:

  • Purpose: Designed to launder clothing and fabrics.
  • Surfactants: Stronger to lift away various stains and odors from fabric fibers.
  • Bubbles: Produces fewer suds, making it suitable for washing machines.
  • Scent: Can have robust fragrances intended to leave a fresh smell on clothes.

While both dish soap and laundry detergent contain surfactants, their ingredients are balanced for their specific tasks.

Dish soaps are typically gentler, taking into account that they are used on items that come into contact with your mouth. Laundry detergents, on the other hand, contain a broader range of chemicals to tackle stains and can also include fabric softeners or bleach.

It’s a good idea to stick to using dish soap for your kitchenware and laundry detergent for washing your garments. They might be similar in their cleaning mission, but they shine best when used for the cleaning jobs they were designed for.

When laundry detergent can actuall be good for dishwashing

While not designed for washing dishes, laundry detergent has a particular use in the kitchen that dish soap can’t equal!

Soaking off food stains: Laundry detergents are often formulated with enzymes. These enzymes can work on food stains, breaking them down similarly to how they tackle stains on clothing.

When you have caked or burnt food to clean off, try soaking your dishes in a solution of laundry detergent and warm (not hot) water. You will find that your cleaning job is easier.

If you have some dishwasher detergent available, I recommend using that to soak of stains instead of laundry detergent. Like laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent has enzymes which can soak off food deposits, without imparting a strong smell on your dishes. Dishwasher tablets clean oven racks brilliantly.

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Things to be aware of when using laundry detergent to wash dishes

washing dishes

If you have no choice but to use laundry detergent for your dishes, here are some things to be careful of:

Always rinse dishes thoroughly

Laundry detergents are formulated with chemicals that can be toxic if ingested. Even trace amounts left on dishes can pose a risk, as these substances are not intended for consumption.

Unlike dish soap, laundry detergent does not rinse away as easily, increasing the risk of residue on your dishes which could lead to ingestion.

Always wear washing-up gloves

Laundry detergents are more aggressive than dish soaps which can lead to skin irritation or even chemical burns with prolonged exposure.

Don’t use laundry detergent in the dishwasher

Laundry detergent should not be used in a dishwasher due to differences in formulation compared to dishwasher detergents.

Laundry detergents create more suds than dishwasher detergents, which can cause your dishwasher to overflow.

What to use instead of dish soap

baking soda for washing dishes

If you’re facing a pile of dirty dishes, and you’ve just realized your dish soap is gone, don’t worry! There are several household items you can use instead.

Here’s what you can reach for:

  • Baking Soda: This versatile powder can help you clean your dishes. Dissolve some in water, or sprinkle some on a sponge, and scrub away. It’s especially good for tough grime.
  • Vinegar: White vinegar is a great grease-cutter. Mix equal parts of vinegar with water in a bowl and use it to pre-soak your dishes before rinsing them thoroughly.
  • Hand Soap: In a pinch, hand soap can be used for your dishes. However, use it sparingly as it produces more suds.
  • Shampoo: If it’s gentle on your hair, it’s soft for your dishes. A small squirt will do the job.
  • Lemon Juice: Its citric acid content helps break down grease. Mix it with water for a fresh-smelling cleaning solution.
  • Hot water: Yes, in a pinch you can use plain hot water to wash your dishes.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to wash dishes with powder laundry detergent?

No, it is not safe to use powder laundry detergent for washing dishes. Laundry detergents contain chemicals and fragrances that can be harmful if ingested and are not approved for use on food-contact surfaces.

What are the consequences of accidentally using laundry detergent to wash dishes?

Using laundry detergent to wash dishes can lead to ingestion of harmful chemicals, cause irritation to the skin and mucous membranes during washing, and potentially damage the materials of the dishes.

Are there any suitable substitutes for dish soap when washing dishes?

Baking soda and vinegar are safe alternatives for dish soap. They have natural cleaning and grease-cutting properties, making them suitable for washing dishes.

Can shampoo be an effective replacement for dish soap when doing the dishes?

Shampoo can be used in a pinch for dishwashing as it is milder than laundry detergent. However, it’s formulated for hair and may not be as effective at cutting grease on dishes.

What might happen if you put laundry detergent in your dishwasher by mistake?

If laundry detergent is put in your dishwasher, it can create excessive suds, lead to appliance malfunction, and residue may remain on your dishes that could be harmful if not thoroughly rinsed off.

In case I run out of dish soap, what household items can I safely use instead?

Apart from baking soda and vinegar, you can also use salt to scrub pots and pans or mix a small amount of hand soap diluted in water as a temporary substitute for dish soap.

Sparkling Penny

Penny | Sparkling Penny

Penny’s expert cleaning advice has been featured repeatedly by Homes and Gardens Magazine, and also at wikiHow, The Daily Express Newspaper, and Glam Magazine to name a few! SparklingPenny.com was founded in 2019 and has since helped millions of people achieve a cleaner living space.


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Can you swap dish soap with laundry detergent? Here are the risks you should know about.Can you swap dish soap with laundry detergent? Here are the risks you should know about.Can you swap dish soap with laundry detergent? Here are the risks you should know about.