What Is the Difference Between Hand Soap and Dish Soap?

We need soap for handwashing and dishwashing, but we don’t usually use the same products for both tasks. Have you ever wondered if there is a difference between hand and dish soap?

My article aims to find out if soaps are all that different, and if we can use them interchangeably.

There is a difference in the composition of hand soaps and dishwashing soaps, but they work on the same principle. 

Hand soaps contain conditioning agents such as glycerin, plant based oils or lanolin that hydrate the skin of your hands. 
Dishwashing detergents do not contain these skin care additives because they reduce the effectiveness of cleaning. 

Hand washing soaps are milder soap solutions, while dishwashing liquids are concentrated and harsh. Since the job of dishwashing detergents is to remove fats and oils, they also wash away the natural oil barrier from our hands, making the skin dry and fragile.

What are the similarities between dish soap and hand soap?

All soaps, including dishwashing and hand-washing soaps, work on the same principle. One of the properties of soap is its ability to bind to oils, dirt, and bacteria while also binding to water. Secondly, all types of soaps are surfactants, which means that they reduce the surface tension of water and loosen dirt, which thus easily slides off various surfaces.

Neither hand soap nor dish soap kills bacteria directly, but simply allows them to be washed away with the dirt. Simple soaps are effective and sufficient, there is no need to use antibacterial products.

The origins of soap go back to ancient Babylon, and the basic preparation method and ingredients have not changed much since then. The basic ingredients of bar soap are fatty acids, such as plant oils and/or animal fats, and lye (sodium hydroxide). You may be interested in my article about old dishwashing methods.

While in the old days’ soaps were made from the aforementioned natural materials, most of today’s cleaning agents and “soaps” are synthetic detergents. Liquid hand soap and dish soap both contain water, surfactants, perfume, dye, preservatives, and various additives.


Dishwasher soaps often contain chlorine and enzymes and are much harsher than manual dishwashing detergents. These detergents can irritate the skin and do not produce suds, so they are not suitable for anything other than using them in the dishwasher.

How liquid soap is made

Is it OK to use liquid hand soap for dishes?

If you have run out of dishwashing soap, you can occasionally use handwashing soap instead. However, it does not clean and degreases as effectively as dishwashing soap.

According to the Missouri poison center, hand-washing soaps are of low toxicity and generally cause milder stomach symptoms when ingested. However, it is definitely recommended that you rinse the dish well so that no soap residue remains on it.

However, it is important to know that you should never use hand-washing soap in the dishwasher, as it creates a large amount of foam and suds. The dishwasher only works properly with detergent specially made for that purpose.

Can bar soap be used to wash dishes?

Bar soap has long been used for washing dishes. The American Woman’s Home, a well-known 19th-century household manual, prescribes the use of water and hard soap as the means of effective dishwashing.

Dishwashing soap bars made of non-toxic, natural materials are now available, which also have skin conditioning properties thanks to the added glycerin.


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Is there a dish soap that is also a hand soap?

Some well-known detergent brands, such as Dawn and Palmolive have liquid dishwashing soaps that are gentle on the skin of the hands, so they can also be used for hand washing.

Final thoughts

So, the main difference between dishwashing soap and hand washing soap is that hand soap is milder and contains skincare ingredients that hydrate our hands.

Dishwashing soap, on the other hand, is more concentrated and stronger, as its task is to effectively clean greasy and heavily soiled dishes. Therefore, dishwashing detergent can dry out and irritate the skin of your hands. This can be especially problematic for people with dry skin and eczema.

However, there are some dishwashing soaps available on the market that are mild and gentle, so you can wash your hands with them without harming your skin.

And on a similar subject, find out what I think about using just water to wash dishes. 


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