The dread associated with cleaning a pile of dirty dishes can quickly ruin the great meal you cooked. But using the right dish soap makes scrubbing your tableware and cookware easier if you don’t have a dishwasher, prefer hand-washing or own items that are not dishwasher-safe.
SKIP AHEAD Best dish soap to buy | How to shop for dish soap | What else can use dish soap for?
When choosing a dish soap, you want to buy “something that will get the job done properly, extend the life of your kitchen equipment for as long as possible, as well be safe for yourself and anyone else in the home,” says Ben Leonard, a chef and cooking teacher. To help guide your shopping, we talked to experts about what to look for when buying dish soap and different types you may see on the market. We also recommended a handful of dish soaps experts recommended or we tried ourselves.
Our top picks
- Best dish soap spray: Dawn Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray
- Best refillable liquid dish soap: Grove Collaborative Ultimate Dish Soap Starter Kit
- Best dish soap for stainless steel and cast iron cookware: Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser
How we picked the best dish soap
There are two main factors that differentiate dish soaps, which experts recommend shoppers think about to narrow down their options:
- Form: Dish soap is most often available as liquids and sprays, but some brands also offer powder varieties. The form you gravitate toward is a personal preference, and thinking about your dish washing habits – like how often you wash dishes, how many dishes you wash at once, what kind of sponge you use – can help you decide, says Morgan Eberhard, Dawn senior scientist at P&G. For example, sprays are useful for quickly cleaning a few dishes at a time, while you may find liquid dish soap more helpful if you’re filling the sink with sudsy water and soaking dishes before scrubbing.
- Scent: You can buy fragrance-free dish soap if you prefer, but many brands sell options that have herbal, floral, fruity or other types of scents. “Hand-washing your dishes is literally a hands-on chore,” Eberhard says. “Make the most of your time at the sink by choosing a scent that makes you happy.”
From there, the specific dish soap you buy has a lot to do with personal preference. Some people weigh factors like price, size of the container and whether you can refill or recycle bottles once they’re empty.
The best dish soaps of 2023
To highlight some of the best dish soaps available, we rounded up expert picks and options we tried ourselves. We included dish soap across forms, scents and price points.
Best dish soap spray
Dawn Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray
I don’t have a dishwasher and my kitchen sink is very small, so I’m constantly hand-washing a few dishes at a time to ensure they don’t stack up throughout the day. I always have a bottle of Dawn’s dish spray on hand because it quickly cleans even the most heavily soiled kitchenware, and powers through food that’s stuck on pans without a lot of scrubbing. The sprayer is also reusable so you can purchase refill bottles of soap as needed.
Size: 32 fluid ounces | Scent: Fresh
Dawn Free & Clear Powerwash Dish Spray
“Dawn Powerwash spray is a really fantastic product,” Leonard says. He noted that it allows you to clean your dishes easily without having to use much water since the soap reliably breaks down dirt and grime. Leonard prefers the Free & Clear version of Dawn Powerwash, which does not contain dye or heavy perfumes, according to the brand. I’ve also used this dish spray and found that it left my glassware particularly soft. Like traditional Dawn Powerwash, the sprayer is reusable and you can purchase refill bottles of soap as needed.
Size: 32 fluid ounces | Scent: Pear and apple
Seventh Generation Foaming Dish Spray
Seventh Generation’s dish spray is similar to Dawn’s, but I found that it’s much more foamy and sudsy. The foam is designed to break down grime to reduce how much scrubbing is needed, according to the brand. This is true, in my experience — I gently wiped away food using the soft side of my Scrub Daddy after spraying the soap on dishes. Once you go through a bottle of Seventh Generation’s Foaming Dish Spray, you can reuse the spray nozzle and purchase refill bottles of soap as needed.
Size: 16 fluid ounces | Scent: Honey crisp apple and mandarin orange
Best liquid dish soap
Grove Collaborative Ultimate Dish Soap Starter Kit
If you’re looking for liquid dish soap that also looks nice when displayed next to your kitchen sink, I recommend Grove Collaborative’s Ultimate Dish Soap Starter Kit. It comes with a refillable glass dish soap dispenser and three bottles of the brand’s soap. The soap cleans effectively, in my experience, and is scented with essential oils and plant extracts, according to the brand. The refillable glass dispenser has a pump to add drops of soap to sponges or dishes, and it’s designed with a non-slip silicone sleeve. I also appreciate that dish soap refills — which you can purchase separately as needed — come in recyclable aluminum bottles.
Size: 16 fluid ounces | Scent: Lavender & thyme, lemon & eucalyptus, orange & rosemary
Ajax Triple Action Dish Liquid
Updates editor Mili Godio buys Ajax Triple Action Dish Soap. It’s scented with real fruit extracts, dissolves stuck on grease and helps to fight odors on dishes, according to the brand.
Size: 12.4, 28, 52 or 90 fluid ounces | Scent: Orange, citrus and salt, vinegar and lime, grapefruit or lemon
Everspring Liquid Dish Soap
Everspring is a Target-owned brand that offers home cleaning supplies. I add Everspring’s Liquid Dish Soap to my cart whenever I’m shopping at the retailer — it’s one of the most affordable options I’ve found and helpful to keep at home in case I need to soak pots and pans overnight. Everspring’s soap removes grease and residue from dishes and is fragranced with essential oils and plant extracts, according to the brand.
Size: 18 fluid ounces | Scent: Lemon and mint, lavender and bergamot, mandarin and orange
Aspen Clean Natural Dish Soap
When cleaning my pets’ bowls and toys, I opt for fragrance-free dish soap like Aspen Clean’s. It’s very gentle, in my experience, and creates a low suds lather to clean grime off dishes. The dish soap is made from organic, vegan ingredients and does not contain artificial colors or dyes, according to the brand. I also found that the pump bottle makes it easy to add a drop of soap to dishes or a sponge.
Size: 18 fluid ounces | Scent: Fragrance-free
Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser
“For stainless steel and enameled cast iron cookware, getting burnt on oils removed from the surface can be really difficult,” Leonard says. “This soft scrub does an amazing job cleaning them while also still being very gentle on the pans.” The cleanser removes stains from surfaces, too, according to the brand.
Size: 13 fluid ounces | Scent: Fragrance-free
What is dish soap?
Dish soap is specifically designed for hand-washing dishes, Eberhard says. It’s not dishwasher detergent, and you shouldn't interchange the two. “Dishwasher detergent is specifically formulated to work in partnership with the automatic dishwasher cycle and is not intended for washing dishes by hand,” she explained.
The main ingredients that commonly help dish soap fight grease and grime are surfactants. “Surfactant molecules have a water-loving head and a water-hating tail, meaning the heads want to stay in the water, while the tails want out of the water and into something else,” Eberhard says. “Since water and oil don't mix, the oil or grease on your dishes is the perfect place for those tails to go. This allows the surfactants to surround the grease, lift it off, and remove it from your dishes.”
How to shop for dish soap
The first step to buying dish soap? Think about your dishwashing habits, Eberhard says. Doing so can help you pick which form of dish soap works best for you. If you tend to wash dishes in small batches as they get dirty throughout the day, a spray or powder dish soap may be the best option. You can spray a small amount of soap on each dish, or sprinkle a little powder on a sponge, and scrub. But if you like to wash dishes in one big batch and let them soak before scrubbing, liquid dish soap may be more useful. You can fill your sink with water, mix in a few drops of soap and let the dishes sit in the suds to make removing grime easier.
Next, consider any added benefits you’re looking for in a dish soap. Heavy-duty dish soap, for example, is typically thicker than a regular dish soap and is ideal for tackling tough messes, says Vera Peterson, president at Molly Maid, a home cleaning service. It contains a high concentration of surfactants and is less diluted compared to standard dish soap, allowing it to break down grease and food more easily. Some people also look for antibacterial dish soap, which is made with antibacterial agents that can help kill germs and bacteria in addition to providing a deep clean, Peterson says. And “natural” or “eco-friendly” dish soaps are usually made with plant-based ingredients and without harsh chemicals or artificial fragrances, she noted.
Finally, think about scent. You may learn toward herbal or fruity scents, for example, but fragrance-free options are also available.
Can you wash your hands with dish soap?
You should not use dish soap to wash your hands, says Dr. William Huang, professor of medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine’s dermatology department. It’s too harsh on your hands and can dry them out, he explained. Instead, use a specialized hand soap, and wear gloves while washing dishes to protect your skin.
What else can you use dish soap for?
“Dish soap is a mild and versatile solvent and when mixed with water, it can be extremely effective in several different messes such as grease, carpet stains or any tub or shower or shower surface,” Peterson says. Since dish soap cuts through grease on dishes, you can also use it for spot-treating grease stains on laundry, as well as cleaning your grill, hand tools, other garage grease and microwave splatters, Eberhard says. She also mentioned that it’s safe to apply to common household surfaces — like granite, quartz, porcelain, enamel, ceramic, stainless steel, tile and laminate — and is effective in cleaning jewelry.
How much dish soap should I use?
“A few drops [of soap] on each dish is plenty,” Eberhard says. “Pay attention to the suds — as long as you still see suds, you can keep on cleaning. When the suds have been washed away, that's a good sign that it's time to add more.”
If you’re using dish soap to clean larger items — a grill grate, car tires or patio furniture, for instance — Eberhard says you want to create a soapy solution by filling a gallon bucket with warm or hot water and adding one teaspoon of soap. Then, dip a rag or sponge into the soapy solution and scrub.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Ben Leonard is a chef and cooking teacher. He's taught for companies like Greenpan and Sur La Table, and is also a recipe developer.
- Morgan Eberhard is a Dawn senior scientist at P&G.
- Vera Peterson is the president at Molly Maid, a home cleaning service and Neighborly company.
- Dr. William Huang is a professor of medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine’s dermatology department
Why trust Select?
Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor at Select who covers home care and has written guides about eco-friendly cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and more. For this piece, Malin interviewed three experts, tried a variety of dish soaps to share her experience and researched additional products on the market.
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