Can You Use Dish Soap to Wash Clothes By Hand

Can You Use Dish Soap to Wash Clothes By Hand?

Have you ever found yourself needing to wash some clothes but didn’t have any laundry detergent on hand? Or maybe you were camping or traveling and didn’t have access to a washing machine? In situations like these, you may be tempted to reach for the dish soap instead. But is it safe and effective to use dish soap to hand wash your clothes?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Can You Use Dish Soap to Wash Clothes By Hand.

Is Dish Soap an Effective Way to Wash Clothes Without a Washing Machine?

While dish soap can technically be used to wash clothes in a pinch, it is not formulated or designed specifically for use as laundry detergent. Dish soap like Dawn is created to cut through tough grease and food residue on dishes, while laundry detergent is designed to dissolve body soils and dirt from the fabric.

Using dish soap long-term can cause damage to clothes over time. But if you’re in a bind without access to laundry detergent or a washing machine, dish soap can work in a one-off situation to get your clothes clean. You just need to take some special care in your approach.

So let’s dive into all the nitty gritty details! Here’s what we’ll cover in this comprehensive hand-washing clothes with dish soap guide:

  • How Dish Soap Differs from Laundry Detergent
  • Step-by-Step Guide for Washing Clothes By Hand with Dish Soap
  • Dish Soap Alternatives You Can Use
  • Tips to Protect Your Clothes When Hand Washing
  • Common Questions

And much more to help you out in a laundry detergent pinch!

How Dish Soap Differs From Laundry Detergent

How Dish Soap Differs From Laundry Detergent
Can You Use Dish Soap to Wash Clothes By Hand? 6

The first thing to understand is how dish soap and laundry detergent differ in their formulations:


  • Dish soap – Dish soap contains detergents and degreasers formulated specifically to cut through food grease and oils. The classic Dawn dish soap contains cleaning agents like sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Laundry detergent – Laundry detergent contains surfactants and enzymes to dissolve dirt and stains caused by normal wear, sweat, and body oils. Laundry detergents also often contain whitening agents to brighten clothes over time.

Cleaning Strength

  • Dish soap – High cleaning strength to power through tough grease on dishes
  • Laundry detergent – Gentler cleaning strength designed for use on fabric rather than dishes


  • Dish soap – Typically has a stronger lingering scent, like lemon, etc.
  • Laundry detergent – Scent is milder and rinses cleaner from fabric

Due to these differences, dish soap is not the ideal product for washing clothes long term. But it can work well for occasional hand washing in a pinch when laundry detergent is not available.

Can You Use Dish Soap to Wash Clothes By Hand? Step-By-Step Guide

Can You Use Dish Soap to Wash Clothes By Hand Step-By-Step Guide
Can You Use Dish Soap to Wash Clothes By Hand? 7

If you do need to hand wash some clothes without laundry detergent, here is a step-by-step guide to washing clothes with dish soap:

What You’ll Need

  • Dish soap
  • Large bowl, sink, or basin
  • Water
  • Soft bristle scrub brush (optional)
  • Old towels
  • Drying rack or clothing line

Step 1. Fill Sink/Basin with Warm Water

Plug the sink basin and fill it halfway with warm water. Swirl the water around to gauge temperature—you want it to be warm but not too hot to put your hands in.

Step 2. Add Dish Soap

Squirt approximately 2-4 tbsp of dish soap into the warm wash water and swirl around with your hand to dissolve the soap. You will see suds forming once dissolved.

Step 3. Add Clothing & Scrub

Place the clothing you need to wash into the soapy water. For heavily soiled items, let them soak for 15-30 minutes first to loosen the dirt.

Once ready to wash, scrub the clothing against itself to dislodge soil. For tough stains, use a soft bristle scrub brush and gently scrub the fabric together taking care not to damage threads.

Step 4. Drain & Rinse

Once finished scrubbing the soap through the fabric, drain the dirty wash water out.

Refill your basin with clean water of the same warm temperature to rinse the clothing. Rinse the soap residue out by swirling the clothes around.

Drain again.

Step 5. Squeeze Excess Water

Do not wring or twist your clothes to squeeze water out. This can cause damage to fabrics.

Instead lay towels flat and gently roll your clothes inside to soak up excess moisture. Or you can gently press and squeeze with your hands taking care not to crease delicate fabrics.

Step 6. Dry & Repeat if Needed

Lay washed clothing flat or hang dry to complete drying. Avoid heat drying techniques.

Check clothes when complete to see if any residual dirt remains. Spot-treat stains and repeat washing if needed.

And that covers the basics for how to wash your clothes by hand with dish soap when you don’t have detergent!

What Soap To Use for Hand Washing Clothes

What Soap To Use for Hand Washing Clothes
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The best soap to use for hand-washing clothes is a gentle laundry detergent or soap specifically formulated for hand-washing delicates. Some good options include:

  • Woolite Gentle Cycle liquid laundry detergent – This no-rinse formula for hand washing is gentle while still effective at removing dirt and stains from fabrics.
  • The Laundress Delicate Wash soap – A biodegradable, gentle soap made from plant-based ingredients that is safe for most fabrics. Works well for hand washing.
  • Soak Wash Soap bar – This clothes-washing soap bar contains natural oils and is specially developed for washing garments by hand without a machine.
  • Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap – The baby unscented variety can be diluted with water for a natural, gentle hand-wash formula good for most fabric types.
  • Ivory Bar Soap – A classic gentle cleansing bar that can also be used to hand wash clothing items. Should be rinsed thoroughly.

No matter what soap you choose, the key is to use a gentle, simple formula without harsh chemicals or fragrances that could potentially damage fabrics and fibers during delicate hand washing. Always check clothing labels for special washing instructions. And test any new soap on closet seams before washing expensive or delicate entire garments.

What Dish Soap Alternatives Can You Use to Hand-Wash Clothes?

What Dish Soap Alternatives Can You Use to Hand-Wash Clothes
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If you don’t have access to dish soap in a pinch either, here are some alternative soapy products that can work to hand wash clothes:

  • Body wash or bar soap – Use approximately 4-8 tbsp of liquid body wash or 1 bar of soap grated. Be sure to rinse thoroughly.
  • Shampoo – Shampoo contains cleaning agents similar to dish soap. Use approximately 1⁄4 cup in wash water.
  • Baking soda – For odor removal on clothes, baking soda can help lift smells when dissolved into the wash water. Will not remove heavy stains on its own.
  • Vinegar – White vinegar helps brighten clothes and soften fabrics when mixed with water at 1 part vinegar to 3 parts cold water. Do not use vinegar on delicates.

Tips to Protect Clothes When Washing By Hand With Dish Soap

To avoid damage when washing your clothes by hand with dish soap, keep these care tips in mind:

  • Test dish soap on a hidden seam first before washing the entire garment
  • Use the coolest temperature water so your hands can stand
  • Gently scrub stains against itself, not scrubbing hard into threads
  • Rinse extremely thoroughly in multiple fresh glasses of water
  • Roll garments in towels to absorb moisture; no wringing
  • Allow to fully air dry away from direct sunlight or heat
  • Wash delicates in a garment bag for extra protection

Following these tips will help ensure you don’t accidentally fade dyes, shrink fabrics, or create holes from over-scrubbing while hand washing clothes without laundry detergent.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ll close out this comprehensive guide on washing clothes with dish soap by hand with answers to some common questions:

Is it safe to use dish soap on all fabric types?

Dish soap is technically safe for cotton, polyester, linen, rayon, spandex, nylon, and other colorfast fabrics. Avoid using on silk, wool, or other delicates as the harsher cleaning agents may cause damage over time. Always test on seams first.

How much dish soap per gallon of water do you need?

2-4 tbsp dish soap per gallon of warm water is a good ratio for hand washing laundry by basin. Scale up or down as needed.

Can dish soap shrink clothes?

Excessive heating, wringing, and twisting are mainly what shrinks clothes. Dish soap itself does not directly cause shrinkage. However, hand washing without proper care can lead to accidental shrinkage regardless of the detergent type used.

Does dish soap brighten whites?

No – dish soap does not contain whitening or brightening agents for clothes. For best results brightening dingy whites, use an oxygen-based laundry detergent.

Can I add baking soda to dish soap when hand washing?

Yes, you can add approximately 1⁄4 cup baking soda to wash water with dish soap. This helps boost cleaning power. Just be sure to rinse thoroughly after as soda residues can damage fabric long-term if left on clothes after washing.

The Bottom Line

While laundry detergent is specially formulated to care for fabrics, dish soap can work well in a pinch to hand wash your clothes when regular detergent is not available. Just be sure to use a gentle approach and handle garments with care throughout the process. Test on discreet seams before washing expensive or delicate items to prevent damage.

We hope this guide gave you all the dishes on successfully washing clothes by hand with dish soap! Let us know if you have any other questions.

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