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Dish Soap vs. Hand Soap: Which Cleans Up Better?

Dish Soap vs Hand Soap

If you have ever needed to wash your hands while going about your day but found out that you did not have hand soap in your house, school, or office, you might have considered possible alternatives for the hand soap. Maybe you considered using dish soap and restocking the hand soap at a later, more convenient date–maybe during a trip to the grocery store a few minutes from your house.

Or if, after preparing and eating dinner, you discovered that your dish soap is finished, you might have used hand soap as a substitute for dish soap. Are dish soaps suitable substitutes for hand soaps, and vice versa?

Dish soap is formulated to cut through grease, oil, and any other stain on dirty dishes, utensils, etc., and eliminate bacteria on the plate. On the other hand, hand soap is gentle on the skin and only strips away dirt, fat, etc., without removing the skin’s natural oils.

 Dish SoapHand Soap
Ingredients UsedDish soaps contain antibacterial and antifungal elements, as one of the primary purposes is to disinfect the dishes. pH control compounds such as triethanolamine are commonly used in dish soaps to settle the soil and solubilize grease, i.e., make grease dissolvable in liquid. Some dish soaps even contain dyes or colorants and fragrances.Hand soaps contain natural oils and fatty acids that serve as foaming and cleaning agents. Different hand soap brands may contain colorants and fragrances, while some may contain either coloring or fragrance, and others may contain neither.
GlycerineMost dish soaps contain glycerine, especially the dish soaps of high quality, but the glycerine levels in the average dish soap are nowhere close to those used in hand soaps. Glycerine attracts moisture to the skin, but your hand may still feel dry after washing dishes without gloves because of its lower levels in some dish soaps.Hand soaps contain levels of glycerine that leave the hand feeling smooth and silky after using the hand soaps. Glycerine is a humectant; it retains moisture on the skin and does not leave it feeling dry.
Use as SubstitutesDish soaps are made of detergents and other chemicals and antibacterial properties that may be harmful when used in direct contact with the hand. Detergents are more alkaline than the natural oils used in hand soaps, hence the feeling of dryness and/or harshness that accompanies the use of some dish soap.Although they are both soaps, hand and dish soaps are not made for the same usage. Although hand soap will be milder on your skin if you use it to wash dirty dishes without gloves, most hand soaps contain harmful additives to your health if ingested. So, thoroughly rinse utensils if you wash them with hand soap rather than dish soap.

Differences Between Dish Soap and Hand Soap

Different Ingredients Used in the Soaps

Although hand soap and dish soap are both soaps, their usage differs. This difference in how they are used chiefly boils down to the ingredients that make up either kind of soap. Hand soaps are generally made of mineral oils, potassium salts, and fatty acids such as animal fat and plant oils which serve as the cleaning and foaming agents. The average hand soap also contains a more significant amount of glycerine than most dish soaps. Some hand soaps contain dyes or colorants and other additives like fragrance.

Two common ingredients in many dish soaps are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium lauryl ethyl sulfate (also known as SLES or sodium laureth sulfate). These are surfactants (surface-active agents) that reduce the surface tension between the dirt on the surfaces on which they are applied. On the other hand, dish soap contains sodium polyphosphate, which ensures that the dish soap is sufficiently foamy and frothy.

Effects on Hands

Dish soaps are formulated to cut through the toughest layers of grease and wash the dirty dishes, cutleries, etc. Generally, dish soaps have more of a negative effect on hands than hand soaps; this is mainly because hand soaps are made for direct application on the hands and are carefully produced with that in mind. For this reason, they contain chemicals that are harsh on oil (and may also be harsh on skin).

Although some dish soaps use glycerine, one should always consider the harsh chemicals in these soaps, as continuous exposure could have adverse effects on one’s skin. The phosphates, dyes, and bleach in most dish soaps are rough on hands and can cause irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin. Because of these components, when you use dish soap on your hands, you risk removing natural oils. For this reason, experts encourage the use of gloves when washing plates with dish soap.

On the other hand, hand soaps are made for use on hands, so they are manufactured to be gentle on hands. Hand soap removes dirt from the hand but leaves natural skin oils. Hand soaps contain generous amounts of glycerine which draws moisture to the outer layer of the skin and leaves it moisturized, smooth and silky. The quantity of glycerine used in hand soaps is safe and healthy for the skin, even tender skin like children’s skin.

Similarities Between Dish Soap and Hand Soap

Interaction with Bacteria

Dish soap and hand soap interact with bacteria in very similar ways, and they aim to eliminate bacteria from the surfaces they are used on–whether the surface is a fork or someone’s hand. How do hand soap and dish soap interact with bacteria and germs? Hand soaps and dish soaps do not kill bacteria directly. When you use these soaps, they bind with the oil, dirt, and bacteria on the surface of the object that you are washing, and they lift them off the surface of the object so that you can wash them away with clean water.

Both hand and dish soaps isolate the germs, dirt, or bacteria from the plate or your hand to wash them away.


Dish soap and hand soap are different kinds of soap intended for different surfaces. While dish soap is formulated to kill bacteria when it cuts through grease, oils, and caked-on stains on dishes, hand soaps contain ingredients that break down organic soil components such as fats and proteins. Hand soaps are intended for mild usage, and they retain the natural oils on the skin, leaving the skin feeling healthy, clean, and soft after use.

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