Can I Use Dish Soap in the Clothes Washer?

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

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Anything more than a small amount would cause excess foaming which may spill out of your machine and onto the floor. This may be mildly amusing on a sit-com, but as I don’t have someone else to clean up the mess, I would be less than thrilled.

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.

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  1. Val on September 3, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    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.

  2. LunaTheMoonchild on August 11, 2012 at 3:40 am

    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.

  3. Sara dean on March 13, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    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

    • HeatherSolos on March 13, 2010 at 1:39 pm

      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.

    • Lizzy on August 1, 2015 at 11:48 pm

      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. Crystal on August 27, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    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.

  5. Caroline on August 25, 2007 at 10:00 am

    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….

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