People Are Putting Dish Soap in the Washing Machine — Here’s What You Need to Know

updated Apr 30, 2021
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Dawn liquid dish soap on top of washing machine.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Sometimes you find yourself questioning the status quo — the way things are, and the way things are “supposed to be” done. This happens often in the cleaning arena, and this is likely the way new discoveries are made. Someone had to be the first to experiment with using OxiClean to take off labels or with a touch of olive oil to polish their stainless steel refrigerator

And so there are lots of cleaning hacks and shortcuts popping up on the internet all the time now. Especially on Cleaning TikTok. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t. (For instance, if you wash your bathroom sink with a vinegar and baking soda combination, not knowing that they cancel each other out, you’ll end up cleaning with what’s essentially salt.) And sometimes, well-intentioned but incorrect advice could leave you with a dangerous or costly situation on your hands. This is the case with the washing machine “hack” that suggests using dish soap instead of detergent in your unit. 

Do NOT put liquid dish soap in your washing machine.

While most of us know — hopefully not from experience! — that using regular liquid dish soap in a dishwasher can result in a shocking bubble mess that oozes from your machine all over the floor, we might be lulled into thinking that a small amount of dish soap in our washing machines is just fine. 

But using soap in a different way than it was intended can cause problems over time, and using dish soap in the washing machine can be even more of a bad idea than using it in the dishwasher. 

One reason dish soap used in the washing machine is problematic is similar to the reason you shouldn’t use it in a dishwasher: The sudsing action of dish soap can cause issues with your machine. While laundry detergent suds very little, dish soap is designed to get sudsy and foamy, mostly because consumers associate suds and foam with cleanliness. 

While foaming, sudsy soap during a dish-washing session can be a delightful sensory experience, those same elements are bad for your washing machine. They could result in an overflow situation, similar to what can occur when people use dish soap in dishwashers. Or, even if no outward mess happens, the suds and foam that aren’t supposed to be in a washer in the first place get left behind and can cause issues in pumps and drains. 

In addition, using dish soap in the washing machine won’t clean your clothes well and, over time, will leave a film of soap scum that will eventually make your clothes dingy. While there is such a thing as laundry soap that’s safe to use in the washing machine, what we most often use in the washing machine is detergent. Detergents and soaps are not interchangeable because they work in different ways. Very simply put, soap gets rid of dirt by surrounding dirt molecules that then get rinsed away. That’s why it’s perfect for sloughing away even microscopic germs on our hands. 

Detergent, on the other hand, includes ingredients that affect the way water acts, making it excel at removing dirt from your clothes. Specifically, the surfactants in detergents “aid in cleaning because they reduce surface tension and improve water’s ability to spread evenly over it. This creates a more uniform wetness that makes dirt and soil easier to wipe away and remove.” Soap, which does not contain surfactants, will therefore not get your clothing as clean as detergent will. 

Using soap in your washing machine can also cause longer-term problems for your laundry. Unlike detergent, which performs just fine in hard water, the combination of hard water and soap creates, as we know, soap scum. Soap scum and fabric are not a good combination. Repeated exposure to soap scum will make your clothes dingy and will also break down the fibers of your garments and other laundered items. The buildup of soap scum is also really bad news for your machine. 

Choosing products that are designed for your washing machine will prevent issues with both your appliance and your laundry. While small dabs of dish soap are great at dissolving grease splatters on garments, don’t use it in place of laundry detergent. It’s a shortcut that will cost you in the long run. 

Credit: Kitchn