Interior Kitchen & Dining Appliances

Solved! Can You Use Regular Liquid Dish Soap in a Dishwasher?

You have a dishwasher full of dirty dishes and not a dishwasher pod in sight. Read on to learn the best solution for this common problem.
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can you use dish soap in a dishwasher

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Q: I ran out of detergent pods for my dishwasher. Can I use dish soap in a dishwasher? 

A: This is a really good question, and one that many folks have when they run out of the handy dishwasher pods we use so often. Years ago, it was commonplace to use a liquid dishwasher soap solution in a dishwasher, though most folks turn to pods these days. It might make sense that a liquid dish soap could serve the same role, but it’s not so cut and dry.

Learn why these two soap solutions are not perfectly interchangeable, what happens if you try using dish soap in a dishwasher, and some homemade detergent options.

Dishwasher detergent is designed to clean without suds. 

While dishwasher detergent is a soap, it doesn’t work the same as other types of soap. Dishwashing detergent is designed to clean with a thick foam of suds. Instead of suds, dishwasher detergent relies on enzymes to eat away at the mess.

When you place dishwasher soap or a pod into the hopper in your dishwasher, it dissolves in the water. As the water sloshes and shoots around inside the dishwasher, the enzymes in the detergent attach themselves to stains, messes, and residues. They break the long chains of proteins and starches down into smaller and smaller particles until they can be flushed away with the water.

RELATED: The Best Dishwashers for Your Kitchen

can you use dish soap in a dishwasher

What happens when you use regular liquid dish soap in a dishwasher?

Unlike dishwasher detergent, dish soap is designed to create a thick, sudsy foam that helps break down the food and stains on pots, plates, cups, and bowls. It works entirely differently than dishwasher detergent. Though both come in liquid forms, they’re not apples to apples.

If you use the same amount of dish soap in a dishwasher as you would dishwashing detergent, you should prepare for a mess. The dish soap will create a thick foam of soap suds and bubbles inside the dishwasher, and it will eventually spill out through the door and drain in the sink. That might be funny in the movies, but it’s not as funny when it’s your flooring and drywall that could get damaged.

If you put regular dish soap in a dishwasher, stop the cycle immediately and thoroughly rinse the appliance.

Things happen, and we can sometimes be so preoccupied with daily life that we make the mistake of putting dish soap in the dishwasher. The first step is staying calm, and the second step is flushing the soap out of the system.

If you accidentally put dish soap in a dishwasher, stop the washer right away. Once things have calmed down a bit, switch the washer into rinse mode to remove the suds as soon as possible. This could still result in overflowing sinks and suds on the floor, so you might need to stop and start the rinse cycle a few times in the name of damage control.

Once the suds are gone, you’ll want to rinse the dishwasher at least once more to remove the soap residue on the inside. You might want to consider cleaning the dishwasher afterward, as well.

RELATED: The Best Dishwasher Brands for Post-Meal Cleanup

can you use dish soap in a dishwasher

Other sudsy soaps that spell disaster if used in a dishwasher:

Dish soap isn’t the only type of soap that you shouldn’t use in a dishwasher. Any soap that builds a thick, sudsy foam will yield the same results. Other sudsy soaps that you shouldn’t use in a dishwasher include:

  • Hand soap
  • Shampoo
  • Car-washing liquid
  • Body wash
  • Pressure washer solution

Realistically, you wouldn’t want to put any of those in a dishwasher anyway, as those soaps are not food safe. But understand that using any type of sudsy soap will create a big, foamy mess, and could even damage your dishwasher. If you must use a household soap other than dishwasher detergent, filling your dishwasher’s soap container ¾ full of baking soda and adding just a few drops of dish soap is a much better option.

RELATED: Dishwasher vs. Hand Washing—When to Use Each Cleaning Method

How to make homemade dishwasher detergent in a pinch. 

While you really should only use dishwasher detergent (you could damage your machine and void your warranty otherwise), there are some homemade solutions that will yield clean dishes in your dishwasher.

This recipe is a dry mix, so it’s best kept in a large jar or bag for easy scooping and pouring. All you need is:

  • 1 cup of washing soda
  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1 cup of kosher salt

Simply mix these ingredients together. To use, scoop the mix into the dish soap container. If you prefer a bit of scent, you can use a drop or two of essential oils like lemon or orange, or any other scent you find smells pleasant and clean. Add them to the soap container before running the washer, not to the dry mix in the jar.

can you use dish soap in a dishwasher