Dish Soap In The Dishwasher: Is It Okay?

You might assume that they’re practically the same thing, but dish soap and dishwasher detergent are worlds apart—and using liquid dish soap in your dishwasher is a big ol’ no-no.

It’s late. You just finished hosting a dinner party for eight (which was a huge success, as it happens –way to go) and you finally managed to load all of your dishes into your dishwasher. The machine is stuffed to the brim, and you could not be more excited to turn it on, go to bed, and call it a night. You reach underneath the sink to pull out your dishwasher detergent, thrilled at the thought of waking up to a clean kitchen in the morning, and ...

Oh no. You’re out of dishwasher detergent.

Can I put dish soap in the dishwasher?

But (you realize excitedly) you have some regular ol’ liquid dish soap! That’s practically the same thing, right?

Wrong.

But why? How much harm could it really do? The short answer? Loading up your dishwasher with liquid dish soap–as wonderful and versatile as liquid dish soap is–is a recipe for disaster.

If you’re interested in the long answer, or if you’ve already discovered the hard way why liquid dish soap absolutely does not belong in the dishwasher and have some cleanup to do, read on!

Why you shouldn’t use liquid dish soap in the dishwasher

The reason you shouldn’t use liquid dish soap in the dishwasher really comes down to the big difference between dishwashing detergent and liquid dish soap: dishwashing detergent does not create suds, but liquid dish soap does.

Why does this matter? Well, when you mix the water from your dishwasher with dish soap, it creates A LOT of foamy suds ... which your dishwasher simply cannot contain. Yep. Your dishwasher + liquid dish soap = a big ol’ overflowing, sudsy mess that not only takes a lot of time and energy (and towels) to clean up, but can cause serious damage to your kitchen floors.

Instead, you really want to stick to using detergent specifically designed for use in your dishwasher, like Cascade Platinum ActionPacs or Cascade Platinum ActionPacs + Dishwasher Cleaner Action, even if that means you have to make a late-night run to the store (or wait until tomorrow) to pick it up.

Trust us. This one has a right and a wrong answer: and the right answer is use dishwasher detergent in your dishwasher. Always. No exceptions.

How to remove dish soap from a dishwasher

Hopefully you Googled before you went ahead and used liquid dish soap. However, if you found this article after you had already chanced it and used liquid dish soap in your dishwasher, you might have a bit of a mess on your hands and might be wondering how to deal with the aftermath. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! So take a breath (or two), and follow the steps below:

  1. First and foremost: stop your dishwasher as soon as you realize that you used liquid dish soap instead of dishwasher detergent. If you catch your mistake early enough, you might not even have a mess to clean up (yay!).

  2. Tackle any major floor cleanup first. If you catch your mistake a bit later, you might have quite a sudsy floor to contend with. If so, use some old towels to wipe up the mess, and make sure your floor is dry before doing anything else. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but you might also need to use a wet mop or damp towel to help you clean up the mess; doing so will help make sure that no soapy residue gets left behind.

  3. After you’ve cleaned up your floor, lay some new towels (not the ones you used to wipe up the soapy water) down in front of your dishwasher. This will help protect your floor in case water or soap spills out when you open the dishwasher. Which brings us to ...

  4. Carefully open the dishwasher, take your dishes out, and put them in the sink. Getting these dishes out of the way first will make your job way easier. Remember, though, that your dishes are likely covered in slippery dish soap, so handle them with care to avoid adding broken dishes to the list of things you need to deal with!

  5. Clean up as much of the soap inside the dishwasher as you can. Yeah, this is the hard part. First, check to make sure the remaining water in your dishwasher isn’t scalding (because the last thing you need right now is a second-degree burn). The same goes for your dishwasher’s various components (and particularly the coil). If the water or your dishwasher itself is too hot to touch, you can wait a bit for things to cool down or throw some ice cubes into the machine to help things along.

Then fill a bowl with tap water. Use it to rinse away all of the soapy water in your dishwasher. This is going to take a whole lot of repetition, most likely–hang in there. Use (yet more) towels to help you wipe up the sudsy water as you go.

Bear in mind that there’s a good chance you’ll have to remove your dishwasher’s drawers to make sure you rinse everything thoroughly. Be sure, too, to pay extra attention to the soap dispenser (assuming that’s where you put the dish soap).

  1. When you’re satisfied that you’ve gotten as much of the soap out of your dishwasher as you possibly can, it’s time to run your dishwasher. There’s no need to run a full cycle; your dishwasher’s 3–5 minute rinse cycle should be plenty. Depending on how successful you actually were at ridding your dishwasher of dish soap, this might go well, or it might lead to another (albeit hopefully smaller) mess. Again, make sure you have towels down in front of your dishwasher to mitigate any possible overflow. When the rinse cycle is done, your dishwasher should be ready to go!

  2. The last thing to do is to completely clean the soap-covered dishes that are now piled up in your sink. Your safest bet here is to hand wash these. Go slowly to ensure you get all of the dish soap off of them.

That’s it! It took a bit of a time and elbow grease (and there may or may not have been some panic), but you did it. And now you really know: stick to dishwasher detergent in your dishwasher!

An additional note on the topic of DIY dish detergent

We strongly caution against making your own dishwasher detergent if you run out–even if it seems like a convenient fix in the moment. We get it, you don’t want to make an extra trip to the store, and there are instructions online for DIY dish detergent. The thing is, this can go wrong. So wrong. So quickly. Whether it means a late-night trip to the store, or hand washing just this one time, or even delaying running your dishwasher a day or so, we’re of the opinion that you really want to leave dishwasher detergent manufacturing to the professionals.

Extra credit

Want to become even more of a dishwashing pro? If so, we’ve got the resources you’re looking for! Read up on how to choose the correct dishwashing cycle (yes, there is, in fact, a correct cycle) or check out our tips for how to properly load your dishwasher to get the best results (again, there is a “correct” way)!

Happy dish cleaning!

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