Kitchn Love Letters

My Favorite Dishwashing Soap Is a Classic for a Reason

updated Jun 28, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Woman washing dishes
Credit: Sarah Crowley

I recently spent weeks — weeks! — washing dishes by hand, all in the name of finding out which dish soap can really cut the mustard and the grease. I washed and washed, and washed some more, and then made dishes purposefully gross with dried-out, stuck-on food. When the suds finally cleared, Dawn dish soap emerged as the victor!

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

Then, a few weeks later, I had a new, highly serendipitous opportunity to put Dawn to the test once again.

First, let me back up: Last year, my husband inherited his parents’ vintage 1986 camper van. His parents bought it new, yet the family only camped in it a handful of times before he and his siblings outgrew it. It became nothing more than his mom’s over-sized, over-outfitted commuter car. By the time his parents were finally ready to part with it, it had been moldering outside their house for years, inoperable and forlorn. 

Credit: Danielle Centoni

My husband and I decided to pour our savings into fixing it up, and when we got it back from the auto shop I happily went through all the cupboards, deciding where to put what. That’s when I discovered a funky, old plastic dish rack with a small unopened bottle of vintage Dawn dish soap tied to it — clearly some kind of promotional set from the late ‘80s that my mother-in-law had stowed away long ago, back when her boys were still boys.

Like the camper’s built-in stove and sink, it held all the hope and promise of week-long family camping trips in the woods, but had never once been used. Instead, it just sat in the van and baked in the hot California sun for decades — long forgotten. It was a relic of a different time, a younger time. I looked at my 50-year-old husband and tucked the set back in the bottom of the cupboard. I didn’t have the heart to throw it out.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago in the camper van, when we were hunched over a pile of dishes at a campsite in central Oregon, trying to wash away the greasy remnants of pork and green chile stew using tepid water and cheap, store-brand dish soap. No matter how much soap we poured on they wouldn’t get clean! Then, I remembered that vintage bottle of Dawn.

I cut the tie, popped the top, and took a sniff. It still smelled like Dawn, even after all these years. I drizzled some on the sponge, lathered up, and was instantly reminded why this was the soap that beat all of the other contenders. Even at 30-odd years old, it still cleans up miles better than anything else!

With the camper dishes effortlessly squeaky clean, I set them out to dry on that little dish rack (my mother-in-law had the right idea) and put the bottle within easy reach. We have a lot more camping trips in our future, and from now on, I’m definitely not leaving without my Dawn. While I’m not sure of the recommended shelf life for Dawn, this was just a reminder that the cleaner is a classic for a reason. It’s got staying power. Apparently in more ways than one.

Have you used Dawn soap? Tell us about your memories — present and past — about how Dawn came to the rescue!