Various dish soaps laid out on countertop.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

I Tried Dozens of Bottles of Dish Soap — This Is the One I’ll Buy on Repeat from Now On

published Jun 23, 2021
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I regularly use lots of things that can’t (or shouldn’t!) go in the dishwasher — pots and pans, chefs’ knives, wooden utensils, and, most definitely, my lucky coffee mug. And that means I end up hand-washing a good number of dishes every single day. With all that practice, I’ve unfortunately noticed that not all dish soaps are created equally. Some are really powerful with suds that go the distance. Others are pretty weak, which means I’m constantly having to pump out more soap.

So I decided it was high time to find out, once and for all, which dish soap really is the best — or at least which ones are too weak to waste my money on. So I bought every single bottle of dish soap I could find and put them to a hardcore washing test.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How I Chose and Tested the Dish Soaps

As I started shopping, I realized there were plenty of brands that billed themselves as environmentally-friendly — and there are ones with interesting scents. So I divided the soaps into three categories (conventional, eco-friendly, and best scent) and started washing with one brand a week, just to get a sense of how much I liked or didn’t like using them. Sometimes I’d fill a bowl with soapy water and wash. Sometimes I’d put the soap straight on the sponge. After doing that on repeat, it was easy to tell right away which brands I loved, and which didn’t have the cleaning power I needed. 

Credit: Danielle Centoni

Still, I knew this was ultimately a subjective test, and I needed objective proof. So I created an experiment: I dirtied a bunch of plates (all the same kind) with six different hard-to-clean substances: greasy meat drippings, ketchup, sour cream, egg yolk, oatmeal, and peanut butter. Then I let the dirty plates sit overnight. The next day, I washed each plate with a different soap (1 teaspoon of dish soap mixed into 2 cups hot water) and a non-scrubby sponge (just to make sure the soap was actually doing all the hard work) and noted how quickly and easily each soap cleaned the plates. There were so many soaps to test, I had to actually break up this experiment between a few days!

After chiseling dried oatmeal off the very last plate, I was pretty confident I had a winner! Well, a couple of winners, to be exact. (Again, I picked winners for three categories.) Let’s take a look!

The Best Overall Dish Soap: Dawn Ultra

No brand could compare to the extremely thick, luxurious, and super-long-lasting suds of Dawn. It had no trouble with four of the six substances on the plate, although the egg yolk and oatmeal took a bit longer to dislodge. But it still powered through the mess faster than the other brands, and there were still more than enough bubbles to clean the breakfast dishes my kids left behind. Turns out, Dawn is a classic for a reason.

Credit: Danielle Centoni
Look at all those suds!

I also tried the new Dawn Platinum Powerwash, which allows you to conveniently spray on the soap, wipe, and rinse! During my test drive, I have to say I fell in love! It allowed me to spritz right inside water bottles and zip-top bags. And, those Powerwash bubbles really last awhile, too. But the spray-and-wipe concept wasn’t ideal for this experiment. The dishes were just too caked with crud and needed a water-bath environment. Still, I’ll keep a bottle of Powerwash around for those super-quick wash jobs. 

The Best Eco-Friendly Dish Soap: Dapple Bottle & Dish Soap

Many dish soaps, even the conventional ones, say they’re biodegradable and made with plant-based ingredients — and they are, but that only tells part of the big eco story. What makes a soap truly eco-friendly is a lack of hard-to-pronounce ingredients that can be toxic to aquatic life. Plus, there’s synthetic surfactants, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), which are commonly used in dish soap to create a good lather and help clean dirt and grease. But studies have shown that SLS and SLES may cause irritation to eyes and skin. The Environmental Working Group gives those ingredients a C-rating. Phosphates, parabens, synthetic dyes and scents, and petrochemicals are also considered environmentally un-friendly.

I was really impressed with the cleaning power of several environmentally friendly brands, which were close in performance to Dawn, but with a bit less concentrated power. However, when I took a closer look, many had C- or D-ratings from the EWG. Dapple and ECOS both get good EWG ratings, and they powered through most of the substances on the plate, with the exception of the dried oatmeal and egg yolk. They had a great amount of suds leftover, too. 

Credit: Danielle Centoni
Dapple suds!

If I had to pick one eco-friendly winner, Dapple was the best. It’s specially formulated to dissolve milk film in baby bottles, and it also works great on grease. Its suds are lush and thick, almost velvety, and they seem to really last. I know that lots of people (Kitchn’s Editor-in-Chief included!) prefer the unscented version, but I have to say: The lavender scent is lovely.

The Best Scented Dish Soap: Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Lemon Verbena Dish Soap

While there’s a lot of great-smelling dish soap out there, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Lemon Verbena Dish Soap is hands-down the best. It smells like real herbs and, well, like clean. It had the unexpected bonus of making my house smell pretty great, too. And my dishes didn’t have any weird, off-putting lingering smells either. (It’s not fun to eat eggs off a plate that smells like flowers!) Plus, the soap performs great, powering through greasy residues with no problem.

What’s your go-to dish soap? Tell us in the comments below if you agree with our choices!