Can You Wash Your Car With Dish Soap?

White SUV in soap

Can you wash your car with dish soap? The short answer is no.

Dish soap is far from the best option for washing your car, according to Consumer Reports.

But what happens when you unknowingly run out of car wash soap and your car is filthy and in need of a wash?

Dish soap is pretty much the most common alternative cleaning agent you can get at home. So do you or do you not use it? Find out.

The Problem With Dish Soap: Why You Shouldn’t Use It

Dish soaps are fashioned to remove food particles and stubborn oils from your kitchen utensils—plates, pots, spoons, knives, and forks—so they are sparkling clean. With just a small bowl of water, these household cleaners will churn out lots of foam that help in tackling stains and dirt rapidly.

So why aren’t they recommended for washing your vehicle?

You could say they work a little too well.

Immediately you start scrubbing your car with dish soap, it eats the wax protection of your delicate and transparent outer clear coat.

The clear coat is waxed and contains oily, plant-based substances that share similar properties with your regular butter or cooking spray. But, just like dish soap breaks down butter, it can also remove your car’s wax layer, albeit at a slower rate.

More often than not, you won’t be aware of this in real time. Washing your car a few times with dish soap isn’t sufficient to remove your car wax or paint sealant totally, especially if it is made from ceramic or graphene solution.

However, continuous use of this kind of soap will destroy your car’s clear coat. And it’s going to be a matter of time before the elements start taking their toll on your paint, ruining the look.

In the car care world, a bar of dish soap is equivalent to a cleaner-degreaser: an intense soap that removes old layers of wax for a complete detailing revamp. Using this kind of soap regularly can be considered excessive.

They are also grueling to rinse off without a sink full of lukewarm water, which is bound to leave behind ugly water spots. These water spots are capable of oxidizing painted surfaces with time. Moreover, dish soap usually doesn’t contain any lubricating additives.

Using a rag to wash your car will make things even worse by spreading dirt particles that could further damage your finish.

Dish soap may seem like a harmless car care solution, but in reality, it’s up there with some of the worst cleaning products you could use on your vehicle. It may be great for scrubbing your pots, but it’s nowhere near a suitable alternative for a car wash soap.


The overarching idea is that you can use dish soap in a pinch. But it’s not recommended for long-term, consistent use.

Ingredients You Don’t Want in Your Dish Soap

Even if you must use dish soap, you should ensure that it doesn’t contain certain chemicals that could increase the harmful effects on your car. Here are some of them:

  • Ammonia
  • Phosphate
  • Triclosan
  • Chlorine
  • Non-petroleum oil
  • Tetrachloroethene 
  • Surfactants

Plus, these chemicals are not environmentally friendly and may be toxic to many plants and microorganisms. 

Precautions If You Must Use Dish Soap

Say you ran out of car wash soap before you were able to get another one, and your car needed a washing. What, then, do you do?

In such a situation where your only choice is dish soap, you could use it. But there are some things you could do to make the soap less harsh on your car. Here are some of them:

  • Dilute the dish soap before using it on your car to reduce its harsh effects. You can mix it with water in a 2:1 ratio.
  • Do not leave it on your car for too long. Wash and rinse an area before moving on to the next.
  • Do not use it frequently. Using dish soap to wash your car once in a while should be fine. But it could lead to paint damage if used more often.

Dish soaps have different active ingredients and, as a result, varying strengths. Try doing a patch test first to ensure yours is not on the harsher spectrum.

If you notice that the dish soap is strong enough to eat into the paint coat in one application, you should dilute it with more water or leave it entirely.

Household Dish Soap Alternatives (That You Mostly Shouldn’t Use)

We’ve spoken a lot about dish soap already. But there are other household cleaning agents you could use to wash your vehicle in the absence of a car wash soap. Here are some of them and their suitability for car washing.


Like dish soap, you shouldn’t use many of the options mentioned here on your car. At the very least, you shouldn’t use them often. And if you must, apply the precautions mentioned in the previous section.

Laundry Detergent

Like dish soap—perhaps even better—laundry detergent is a powerful cleaning agent. It can remove dust, dirt, filth, debris, grease, grime, you name it, with ease. And it’s readily available at home.

However, it’s also very harsh on car paint due to its strong chemicals.

It can ravage your car’s paint, finish, and wax coatings, exposing it to the elements. Abrasions, cuts, and scratches could also result.

To minimize these problems, you can dilute the laundry soap in water first and only limit its use to areas with baked-on stains. But you’re better off not using it in the first place.

Hair Conditioner

A hair conditioner is not the first car wash soap alternative that comes to mind, but it is nonetheless. It can eliminate nasty filth and buildup in your car’s interior and exterior.

Moreover, hair conditioners contain a unique substance called lanolin (also known as wool fat). Lanolin can give car surfaces a good shine and gleaming finish.

That said, just as no car soaps are made equal, there are a lot of hair conditioning variants in the market. And if you must use one, ensure it is a neutral or natural solution. Otherwise, stick to dedicated car wash soaps.

Hand Soap

Hand soap is common in most households and can be considered a reasonable car wash soap alternative. However, they’re usually made to fight bacteria and germs and are not as capable of eliminating stubborn stains and other dirt accumulations.

Hand soap will really only remove dust, some grease, and grime on a surface level. While you can apply a bit more pressure to remove tougher stains, you would have to commit a lot of time and effort to the scrubbing.

Baby Soap

Baby soap is another alternative if you are low on a car wash soap—perhaps, the best one yet. It lathers well for scrubbing and can offer a moderate cleaning performance. It’s also easy to rinse off and will not leave bad scratches or spots.

Combined with some of the best car bug removers, baby soap can eliminate bug splatters and bird droppings, usually found on car exteriors.

Never Use Bleach on Your Car

While cleaning agents like dish soap, laundry detergent, and baby soap can be used on your car if you’re in a pinch, bleach should never come in contact with your vehicle. It is a corrosive substance and will strip the wax, eat up the protective clear coat, and fade the inner paint layer of your car in no time.

Plus, being a harsh chemical, spreading it over such a large area and in such proximity, you’re likely to inhale more of it, potentially irritating your nostrils and throat. Even if you reduce the risks by wearing gloves and a mask, you could still get it on your clothes, staining (in other words, discoloring) them.

Stick to Car Wash Soaps

Dish soap and other household cleaning products are meant to clean crusty pans, plates, and that oil-stained shirt sleeve you accidentally dipped in soup some days ago.

On the other hand, the best car wash soap will remove dirt and contaminants from the surface of your car, allowing its paintwork to shine through, untainted by any form of road dirt it may accumulate on the road. They also have good lubricity, thick suds, and foam quickly.

Aside from cleaning your car effectively, the most evident benefit of a car wash soap is how it elongates the life of your car’s paintwork. In addition, it can remove substances that would degrade the protective coat without causing any damage itself.

Car wash soaps also don’t contain degreasers, which are usually harsh on car paint. Instead, the best car wash soaps and car shampoos are specially formulated to be less aggressive on your car’s paint and finish.

Haroun Adamu
Haroun Adamu is the founder of TorqueDial. He followed the automobile industry for several years before covering it officially for HotCars and Vehicle History. This experience would spark a chain of reactions, eventually leading him to create this site. However, the final push to launch TorqueDial was his first car purchase, and he’s not looked back since.

1 Comment

  1. Reading your article helped me a lot, but I still had some doubts at the time, could I ask you for advice? Thanks.

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