Conventional wisdom says no, you can’t use dish soap in a dishwasher. That’s good advice (and you’ll find out why shortly), but there is an exception that’s worth being aware of.
I’ve written extensively about dish washing, dishwashers, and other topics related to washing dishes here on my blog. You can learn how to clean your dishwasher, how to make your own dishwashing detergent, and even download my free dishwasher tips printable to keep handy in your kitchen.
In this post, I’ll put my knowledge and experience to good use in order to explain why regular dish soap isn’t meant for use in a dishwasher. I’ll also share what I consider to be an exception to that rule, but before we get to that, let’s get a clearer understanding of the major differences between dishwasher detergent and dish soap.
Why You Can’t Use Liquid Dish Soap And Dishwasher Detergent Interchangeably
If you haven’t accidentally put liquid dish soap in your dishwasher, you might know someone who has — seeing thick suds overflow from your dishwasher is not an experience that most people forget! (And I would know, having experienced it firsthand several years back.)
Dish soaps, whether commercial or homemade, are typically quite concentrated, meant to be used in small quantities with plenty of water. When used as intended, these sudsy soaps help clean your dishes by breaking down food residues and making it easy to wash dishes manually.
Because dishwasher detergent relies on enzymes for its cleaning power, it generates significantly less soap suds and requires less water to work effectively. It’s designed to be used inside the dishwasher, unlike dish soap, which isn’t designed for use with any specific appliance.
But What If I Run Out Of Dishwasher Soap?
People who use dish soap instead of detergent usually do so for one of two reasons — it was an honest accident (perhaps they mistook the soap container for the detergent container), or they were out of detergent and assumed dish soap could make an adequate alternative.
For the reasons stated previously, dishwasher detergent is not recommended to be used interchangeably with dish soap. However, there is a way to use dish soap as a detergent alternative if you need to run your dishwasher ASAP, though it should be considered a “one time use” situation. Read on to find out how to use Dawn and oxygen bleach or baking soda in the dishwasher.
Note: While dish soap is one small exception to the rule, avoid using any other soap or detergent substitutes in your dishwasher, including shampoo, body wash, hand soap, Lysol, and other cleaners. Soaps and shampoos have other ingredients you don’t want inside your dishwasher, and household cleaners aren’t recommended to use on dishes either.
How To (Safely) Use Dish Soap In The Dishwasher
I was in a bind one day after realizing I was out of my homemade dishwasher tablets, and discovered that the following combination of cleaners made a suitable substitute for dishwasher detergent:
- 1 tsp oxygen bleach
- 1/2 tsp Dawn dish soap
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
I put the oxygen bleach and Dawn directly into my dishwasher’s detergent dispenser, and poured the vinegar into a small bowl and placed it on the top rack. (I actually opened the dishwasher door a few times during the wash cycle to make sure there weren’t too many suds and bubbles inside, and found only a thin layer of suds at the bottom of the machine.)
When I checked after the dry cycle had finished, I was impressed by the state of my largely clean dishes! (Granted, I had rinsed them off fairly well before loading them, so that probably helped a bit.)
The bottom line: You can use use regular dish soap in your dishwasher, but only a tiny amount and only if you’re in a bind. You won’t get the same results as using dishwasher detergent in your dishwasher, but it’s better than nothing!
What To Do If You Accidentally Put Dish Soap In Your Dishwasher
If you accidentally put regular dish soap into your detergent dispenser, the first thing you should do is stop your dishwasher. Grab a stack of towels and use them to mop up any suds and water on the floor, then open the dishwasher and do the same with the bottom of the dishwasher. (A wet/dry vac would come in handy here!) Be sure to wipe any dish soap residue out of the dispenser, too.
Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher to help eliminate suds and soap bubbles, then run a rinse cycle to clean and drain your machine. If your dishwasher is still sudsy after that, run another rinse cycle with more vinegar.
Have you ever accidentally used dish soap in your dishwasher?