As an adult, I've lived in places with and without a dishwasher, and I have to say: I love that I have a dishwasher now. It wasn't too much of an inconvenience not to have one when I was single, but as I've added a husband and kids to the mix the number of dishes generated daily has increased exponentially. So I'm grateful that there's a machine that can help me out.
That being said: It's annoying that you have to use different soap in the dishwasher than you do to wash the dishes by hand, because that's double the kinds of soap I need to buy and keep up with. And it's so annoying to go to start the dishwasher and discover that you're out of detergent! I know it's not the world's worst problem, but still ...
According to countless stories on the internet, in a pinch you can use a tiny bit of dish soap plus baking soda as a substitute for dishwasher detergent. Seems like a pretty great idea, but I was reluctant to try it. So I reached out to Travis Robertson, knowledge manager at Sears Home Services, and Dirk Sappok, head of product development at Miele, for some professional input.
In short, both said not to do it! And here's the long version.
The supposedly brilliant hack we're investigating: In a pinch, can you use a tiny bit of dish soap plus baking soda as a substitute for dishwasher detergent?
What's the difference between dishwasher detergent and liquid dish soap?
"Dishwasher detergents are designed specifically for the wash action found in a dishwasher," says Robertson. "They have to break down grease and food oils but also be very low sudsing. They contain chemicals with a high PH and often small amounts of chlorine bleach." What that means is that these detergents do a great job at cleaning dishes, but would be too harsh to use for hand-washing dishes.
Soaps for hand-washing are typically made with surfactants with a neutral PH that can dissolve grease and food oils but still not irritate the skin.
Sappok explains further: "The mixture of surfactants and enzymes is significantly different between the two. There's mechanical action when you're washing with your hands. In a dishwasher, the enzymes are critical to break down the soiling in the absence of the mechanical motions."
Do people often put dish soap into the dishwasher? Then what happens?
"Yes, unfortunately, people do put dish soap into their dishwashers. Even a very small amount of dish soap will create a large a very large amount of suds. A dishwasher needs water-and-soap solution to wash dishes. A suds-filled dishwasher cannot spray or circulate suds and will not wash the dishes. The suds are sometimes difficult to completely flush from the dishwasher. It does not make any difference if the dishwasher is an older or newer model. The result is always the same: Lots of suds and no wash action," says Robertson.
Says Sappok: "Dish soap creates more suds, so as the dishwasher circulates the dish soap, the cavity fills with suds and can actually leak out of the machine. There's a chance that this can cause damage to the dishwasher itself. Additionally, the dish soap will leave residue on the dishes and the interior of the dishwasher while leaving food on the dishware. A newer machine may have sensors that detect a problem and automatically shut off the machine."
What if you use just a small amout of liquid dish soap and try this little internet hack?
"I've not ever heard of anyone doing this and I can't imagine why anyone would want to. Automatic dishwashers are designed to use dishwasher detergent. Dishwasher detergent is specially formulated to wash dishes efficiently in a dishwasher. It's sort of like using olive oil instead of motor oil in your car's engine. Just don't do it," says Robertson.
Sappok agrees: "We only recommend using dishwasher detergent in a dishwasher for the reasons mentioned above."
What's the risk?
Says Robertson: "There is always the possibility, when using unapproved cleaners in a dishwasher, that seals, gaskets, and plastic or synthetic parts could be damaged. If that were to happen, yes, it could void the warranty. Not to mention the chemicals that might be contained in these cleaners may not rinse off properly and be ingested by using the dishes for eating or drinking."
"Using something other than dishwasher detergent may void the warranty, but that all depends on the manufacturer," Sappok says. "Miele first and foremost recommends Miele dish tabs, but any dishwasher detergent can be used. There are too many variables to determine if an alternate cleanser will ruin your dishes (type of soap used, type of dishes, the washing program, etc.), but it won't be effective at cleaning them and could potentially damage the dishwasher."