Is Dawn Dish Soap Safe for Cars? The Answer May Surprise You

If you’re thinking about grabbing the Dawn dish liquid and washing your vehicle with it, you may want to stop and read this post.

I’ll admit, this is something I used to do all the time growing up as many probably have. But is it anything to worry about? In this post, I’ll break down everything you need to know.

Is liquid dish soap bad for a vehicle’s paint?

The short answer is no, damage to a vehicle’s paint or clear coat is nothing to worry about. Regular old Dawn liquid dish soap won’t damage a vehicle’s clear coat, but is not ideal for general maintenance washing since it will remove wax, leaving your vehicle unprotected. If you use a dish soap that has any abrasives in it (those visible blue particles meant for scrubbing), then yes it can scratch.

Wax and sealants are really important for preventing corrosion, especially in the wintertime by protecting your vehicle with a layer of protection. The issue is really the fact that Dawn is actually pretty effective at stripping old wax off your vehicle.

If you’re like many, you may not apply wax to your vehicle by hand (especially when it’s really cold), but your vehicle simply needs a nice layer of wax on your paint at all times to protect it. This is why many automotive car soaps contain wax. You basically wash the soap off, but a thin layer of wax remains.

Pretty easy for most people who don’t want to break out a polisher or apply wax by hand.

Why washing a car with dish soap is controversial

Since dish soap like Dawn is primarily a degreaser capable of removing stuck-on substances from a frying pan, many firmly believe it also can dry out plastics and rubber rather quickly if not careful.

Right? Well maybe, but maybe not. Many bloggers simply say this to sell you on their own soaps or products without doing much research on the topic.

But can dish soap dry out plastics and trim on your vehicle?

It’s possible, but there isn’t much evidence to support dish liquid is any worse on plastics or trim than many other products used in auto detailing.

There are simply a lot of automotive products sold that will probably do this with repeated exposure to plastic. Online forums are filled with people who spread this…myth? Whatever you want to call it. I haven’t seen any studies on this (and doubt there are any) so I’ll let you make that decision.

When dish soap may be an okay option for your car

There are times when it may be okay to use Dawn if it’s all you’ve got –like stripping off old wax or tree sap from the clear coat before you compound or polish a scratch out. Prior to claying your car or doing any type of light scratch removal, you need a completely bare surface. This would be an appropriate use case for dish soap if it’s all you have.

On the other hand, they do make several automotive soaps designed to remove waxes that probably do a better job at this.

A better alternative for removing dirt

Instead of dish liquid for removing dirt from your car, I highly recommend a good snow foam or premium car shampoo. ‘Snow foams’ are basically special car wash shampoos formulated to create that thick foam you probably have seen at car washes, and are used to fill foam cannons or foam guns that attach to a pressure washer lance or garden hose. This allows you to wash your car so much faster than with a bucket…and it’s safer.

If you want to learn how foam guns/cannons work, you may want to read this blog post I wrote where I discuss how to get started with them.


To conclude, using a dish soap like Dawn is fine for beginners if it’s all you have, but many soaps will simply leave your car looking better over time. The more protection you add, the less you will actually need to wash your car. You also want to protect against salt and other harmful corrosives, so simply washing with dish soap and never applying wax simply isn’t a good idea.

One last note

At the end of the day, if you have finished reading this post, you probably care enough about your vehicle to purchase something that will also do more to protect it, like a dedicated car soap. As long as you keep your vehicle protected that’s really what matters.

I know some people swear by using Dawn, and if that’s you…more power to you! Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are.

Beyond soap, there is so much more to explore as a DIYer or amateur detailer.

Download your free copy of my free eBook, 25 Essential Detailing Products for Beginners and hit the driveway this Saturday with some new products to take your game to the next level.

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