Can You Put Dawn in a Dishwasher? (All You Need to Know)

Occasionally, everyone has those questions that they want to know the answers to but are too embarrassed to ask. One of these is whether you can use other cleaners in your home appliances (such as a dishwasher or carpet cleaner) that are not designed for the purpose.

The reason may be curiosity, the desire to save some money, or you just forgot to put dishwasher tabs on the shopping list this week. In any case, I can say without hesitation that putting Dawn in a dishwasher would be a terrible idea.

Dish liquids like Dawn produce far too many bubbles for use in a dishwasher and are more likely to make a mess than clean your dishes.

Can You Put Dawn in a Dishwasher?

If you find yourself without a soap designed for dishwasher use, but you have Dawn on hand it can be tempting just to throw the Dawn in the dishwasher and call it a day. Both are designed for washing dishes, right? Well, yes, but not in a dishwasher. Dawn is designed to be used by hand, and it only takes a few drops to wash an entire sink full of dishes. It creates far too many bubbles to use in a dishwasher. If you have no dishwasher soap but do have Dawn, its time to hold your nose and wash the dishes by hand.

What Happens When You Use Dawn Dish Soap in a Dishwasher? Dawn Dish Soap Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, Dish Soap Refill, Original Scent, 56 Fl Oz (Pack of 2) - Packaging May Vary

If you are curious what exactly will happen if you put Dawn in your dishwasher, the answer is a mess! Because of the high volume of bubbles, the entire appliance as well as your kitchen will become coated in sudsy overflow.

The seal on the dishwasher is made of soft rubber, which normally works to keep the water inside the machine. However, high pressure can break the seal and cause an overflow. In this case, the bubbles created by Dawn create too much pressure for the rubber seal to manage, and bubbles cascade out of the dishwasher onto your floor. Depending on how much Dawn is in the dishwasher (it does not take much) this overflow will continue to grow until you stop the appliance manually. It could even cover an entire room.

Can Dish Soap Damage My Dishwasher?

As you might have guessed, a soap that bursts out of your dishwasher like a sudsy tsunami is likely to cause more problems than a quick cleanup can solve. However, will it damage the appliance? Not. Dishwashers are designed to be covered in soap and water all over the inside, and dish soaps like Dawn do not contain additives that are likely to cause mechanical issues. In most cases, you will be able to clean it up yourself. In rare cases, the soap residue will need to be cleaned out professionally to stop your dishwasher from overflowing every time you use it.

What to Do if You Accidentally Used Dawn in Your Dishwasher Machine?

Make steps on how to clean up the sudsy mess…

It may have not occurred to you that putting Dawn in your dishwasher would be a problem until after you did it, and now you need to clean up the mess. Mistakes happen, and these steps will get your dishwasher back into tip top shape:

1. Stop the dishwasher as soon as you can. The earlier you stop the machine, the less time the soap will have to foam, and the less cleanup you will need to do. Once you turn off the dishwasher, it will start to drain, removing some of the soap.

2. Clean up any standing water or bubbles outside of the machine. This is something you can do while waiting for the dishwasher to drain and allowing them to remain while you clean the inside of the dishwasher is a safety hazard.

3. Open the dishwasher and remove all the dishes. You will want to rinse the dishes off well in your sink until they no longer foam.

4. Wipe out as much of the bubbles as you can from the inside of the dishwasher. It is okay if there is a little bit left, but you will want to get rid of most of it. Using a wet washcloth and rinsing it out frequently should do the trick.

5. Once you have the dishwasher mostly clear of suds, run it empty on a rinse cycle. This will clear out the remaining soap. Make sure to keep an eye on it in case it overflows again, but if you manually removed enough of the soap, it should be okay.

6. Check to see if there are any bubbles left in the machine at the end of the rinse cycle. If there is, run another rinse cycle. If no bubbles remain, then you can resume using your dishwasher normally.

What Else Can You Use if You Ran Out of Dishwasher Detergent?

If you cannot use Dawn, what can you use if you have no dishwasher detergent? Well, there are several options. Here I will list some of the common ones you have in your home. However, my personal favorite is combining the vinegar and baking soda methods for a comprehensive clean that matches store bought dish detergent.

Hot Water

Hot Water

Yes, that is right, running the dishwasher without any detergent is still surprisingly good at cleaning your dishes. Dishwashers use extremely hot water to cut through grease and sanitize dishes. Detergent gives it an additional boost, but if you are desperate for some clean dishes then just the water will do. To help your dishwasher, rinse the dishes extra well for this method. Additionally, you will not want to do this too often, as the absence of soap can lead to a buildup of grease in your machine.

Baking Soda Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda, 8 Ounce (Pack of 3)

Baking soda is a common household staple, so you have some in your cabinets. Its also well known for its’ cleaning applications. Unlike dish soaps, baking soda does not lather when it gets wet, so its safe to use in a dishwasher. Simply measure out one tablespoon and sprinkle it into the bottom of the machine.

Borax 20 Mule Team Borax Detergent Booster & Multi-Purpose Household Cleaner, 65 Ounce

In the modern day, Borax is a little less common, but it used to be a household staple for a reason. It is a powerful cleaner, and if you have any lying around then you can use it in place of dishwasher detergent. Because it is so powerful, you do not need very much. To use Borax in your dishwasher, just measure out 1/4th of a cup and sprinkle on the bottom of the machine.

Distilled White Vinegar Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar, 1 Gallon (128 oz) - 5% Acidity

Vinegar is another common household item with some cleaning kick. You will want to avoid putting it in the soap dispenser because it is so acidic, but instead you can put a dishwasher safe Tupperware or cup filled with Vinegar into the dishwasher before you run it. As a plus, Vinegar is great at preventing dish spotting and cutting through hard water.

More Ideas

One of above-mentioned solutions will suit most situations. However, if none of these work for you, or you want more ideas here is our comprehensive article on the subject.

What Makes Dishwasher Detergents Different than Dish Soaps?

Dishwasher detergents are an enzyme based cleaner. Dish soaps, however, are designed to clean with a thick foam of bubbles to cut through grease. Enzymes are targeted toward a particular material, which is why you see many dishwasher and laundry detergents marketed toward a particular kind of mess (grease, dirt, pet odors, sugary messes, etc.) Soaps however are a one size fits all situation and are less specialized.

Related Questions

Can You Use Any Dish Soaps in Your Dishwasher?

You could use Dish Soaps in your dishwasher, but I would advise strongly against it. The amount you would need to use to avoid a big mess is miniscule. It could damage your kitchen or appliance, and it will not work as well as detergent anyway.

Why Do Dish Soaps Make So Many Bubbles?

Dish soaps make so many bubbles because soap molecules have polar sides. One side is hydrophilic (loves water) while the other is hydrophobic (hates water). The result is that the space between water molecules grows larger which forms bubbles. While the bubbles themselves are not the reason that soap cleans, the polarity of soap molecules is. The hydrophobic side attaches itself to oil molecules like those found in food, lifting them from the surface of your dishes. Then, the hydrophilic side keeps the soap attached to the water which pulls the soap and oil off the dish and down the drain.

Is it Better to Use Nothing in Dishwasher than Dawn Dish Soap?

It is better to use nothing in your dishwasher than using Dawn. Most of the dishwasher’s cleaning power comes from friction and the hot temperature of the water. The dishwasher will clean just as well without Dawn as it does with it. However, you will want to replace your dish detergent soon, as oil removed from the dishes can build up on the appliance if you do not have the enzymes from the dish detergent to prevent it.

What Are Some of the Best Dishwasher Detergents?

Finish and Cascade are the most popular soaps because they have the most comprehensive list of enzymes to tackle a wide variety of messes. To read more about which dish detergent is best for your home, you can find our comparison article here comparing Cascade and Finish.

Final Thoughts

Dish soap is not only a subpar cleaner in a dishwasher, but also one likely to cause problems for your home. As a result, you should not use Dawn in your dishwasher. If you find yourself without access to a store-bought dish detergent however, you still have options. My favorite dish detergent substitute is a combination of baking soda and white distilled vinegar. However, there are many different cleaning agents that are safe to use in a dishwasher.

Read Our Related Dawn Soap Articles: