So we arrived to an apartment we rented and noticed the dishes didn't seem very clean. Since we were told previously no toiletries would be provided, we brought some with us, but we had no dishwashing liquid and there were no shops nearby that were open.

Finally, we decided to wash the dishes using liquid hand soap and a sponge and it seemingly worked well. However, I'm now curious whether this is a good idea in general - is there any harm that can come from doing this (for example, bacteria not being properly cleaned without a dishwashing liquid) and, if so, is there anything better that can be used in this situation?

  • Not sure this has anything to do with travel and I doubt it is a fit anywhere in the StackExchange sphere as it is soliciting an opinion and subject matter isn't likely to be covered. But generally speaking the dish soap is stronger due to the need to cut fats off dishes.
    – Karlson
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 13:11
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    I would say that dishwashing liquid is a liquid soap. What did you use? Liquid hand soap? Shampoo? Laundry detergent? Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 13:13
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    This question should be migrated to Lifehacks.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 13:21
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about a general life hack (how to clean without the best available resources) and not about travel.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 13:21
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    I've rephrased the question to be less general and voted for reopening - I believe this question is on-topic because it's something that can reasonably happen almost exclusively when travelling and is quite similar to the laundry related question I linked to previously.
    – fstanis
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


The main difference between liquid soap and dish washer detergent is price. So not a good idea in general, but only because liquid soap is more expensive.

One recipe for liquid soap is given here – note olive oil, coconut oil, essential oils. Some of the ingredients for a well-known brand of washing liquid are listed here – note Sodium laureth sulphate, Alcohol denat, sodium chloride.

For the first of these three Wikipedia has “SLES is an inexpensive and very effective foaming agent.” For the second, consumers are used to alcohol (ethanol) being expensive, but that is only because of the tax. Denatured (methylated spirits) it is very much less expensive. Diggers 1L is offered for AUD 3.30. The third is common salt.

Consider instead the first of the natural liquid soap ingredients. Aldi is offering one litre of olive oil for AUD 5.99. Coconut oil is much more expensive still - AUD 20 per litre at Woolworths. However, while Cocamidopropyl betaine features in detergents it is derived from coconut oil.

According to brown thumb mama “soap is natural and detergent isn’t”. That was the case around the time detergents were being developed (say 1930-50) but now most ‘soaps’ are synthetic products. Another significant difference is the ecological effects – see Wikipedia. Soap made from natural products is far friendlier to the environment.

However, in terms of cleaning power they both work the same way. They are surface active molecules that cling to dirt at one end and to water at the other, and then get flushed away (with the dirt) on rinsing. Though there are some differences in how the two respond in ‘hard’ water (that is, where the mineral content is high).

In terms of bactericides, some dish washing liquids are advertised for their disinfectant properties but, as with much else in the world of soaps and detergents, there is a LOT of hype. “Soaps” (some TV programmes) are not called what they are because the industry giants could not afford millions to promote products earning them billions. Dirty dishes are ones we have just eaten off – they are not an environment that supports germs the way the human body does. Do we wash our hands in washing up liquid after a trip to the lavatory? No we use ‘soap’ (at least, I hope you do) because that kills germs.

So, any form of detergent is good enough for dishes and liquid soap more expensive - but much more environmentally responsible.

From a travel aspect however washing up liquid is generally more concentrated than 'liquid soap' so might be more practical if to be carried around. The greater concentration is also a positive for washing up liquids to offset some of their environmental negatives.

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    I just felt the need to add a comment just to say how great and comprehensive this answer is. Thank you so much for the explanation!
    – fstanis
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 22:02

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