Can I Use Dish Soap in the Clothes Washer?

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Dear Home Ec 101:
So, uh, how bad is it if I add a little liquid dish detergent when I’m running out of laundry detergent? I swear my momma didn’t raise me this way.
~Bubbling in Beaumont

can I use dish soap in the clothes washer

Heather says:

Chances are if you have some laundry detergent to add to a load of laundry you probably have enough to get your clothes clean.

However, a very small amount of dishwashing liquid, not dishwasher detergent, would not cause harm, provided you are using a top-loading machine.

Can I Use Dish Soap in Clothes Washer (Washing Machine)

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Anything more than a small amount of dish soap in any washing machine will cause excessive foaming.

This may be mildly amusing on a sitcom, but as I don’t have someone else to clean up the mess, I would be perturbed. If your laundry room were on a second floor, had carpeting, or hardwood flooring, that mess could quickly become a minor household emergency. Get some salt, scatter it over the foam, and then quickly begin mopping up the mess or use a shop vac (wet/dry, please) and remove the water as soon as possible.

Laundry detergents have chemicals that act as stabilizers to prevent foaming. Dishwashing soaps lack these properties allowing the mounds of bubbles we are familiar with. Why? People see soap bubbles and associate it with cleaning.

There’s far too much sloshing and churning in a clothes washer for foaming to be helpful. In fact. Foaming brings the detergents out of the water, making them less helpful in trapping the dirt from your clothing.

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8 thoughts on “Can I Use Dish Soap in the Clothes Washer?”

  1. Actually, I have used washing-up liquid in my front loading wachine machine. Usually when I have run out of washing powder and can’t be bothered to grate up some soap mixture. I use the very cheapest liquid (Asda Smart Price) which doesn’t really foam much and just squirt it two or three times into the dispenser. My risk – but so far, so good. Sometimes I just run the machine with washing soda; sometimes with nothing added – depends on what’s on the washing….

  2. I lurk on some cloth diaper sites even though I don’t CD. Many women on there use 1 tablespoon of dawn on there diapers (front loaders) and they say they do not have any problems.

  3. Many times I wash hard to get clean whites in the dishwasher. For years my daughter played softball on the traveling team. They would go to Georgia for many games. Her ball uniforms would come back full of the Georgia red clay. I would put that uniform in the dishwasher. The coach's come up to me one day and asked me how I got her pants and socks so white, when all the other girls pants were so stained. I hung my head and said I wash them in the top shelf of the dishwasher. The whole team started washing them like that then. Also, any hard to clean whites I have go in the dishwasher, along with all my bras. Top shelf of the dishwasher gives your bra's a longer life. Without dish's of course LOL

    • I'd add that you should also give the food trap a good once over before putting any laundry into the dishwasher. Great suggestion.
      Part of the reason this works so well is the heat and agitation provided by the dishwasher.

    • Dishwasher detergent has chlorine in it to sanitize. But less than you’d use in a washer. If these are polyester uniforms they actually have more in common with dishes than regular fibers anyway.

      When we had old school washers with no motherboards to decide things for us, a small amount of bleach could be added to a tub of water and mixed in before adding clothes not called bleach safe. Like upping the chlorine in city water. Worked a treat on lots of things. Microdosing bleach, lol. Kind of what happens in the dishwasher. But I think you’re brilliant to do that!

  4. Although more than a few drops of dish soap will cause foam to flood out of your dishwasher, the same cannot be said of a clothes washer. It doesn’t take a lot to clean your clothes, either, though. And adding too much will, at most, cause you to have to run an extra rinse cycle. You would have to add AT LEAST an entire bottle to cause suds to come spewing out the top like on TV sitcoms. Pay attention to whether the bottle says it contains bleach or not, though.

  5. I have been experimenting with this, and dish detergent works great for both handwashing and in the washing machine. I have a front loader and haven’t had any problems. Just use a squirt of it or a tablespoon or so.

    There are recipes online for homemade laundry detergents using Dawn (or any dish soap). They all work good, but leaving it in concentrated form works just fine. Dish soap is also great for pretreating stains.

    As stated by another person, pay attention to the label. Many formulas say not to use with bleach.

    • When I was a child, many moons ago, I distinctly remember reading a dish soap bottle that had instructions for washing machine use. I want to say it was AJAX brand but cannot be sure.


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