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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. Why? Because Dawn is technically a detergent, not a soap.

I’ll admit, I used to use Dawn all the time growing up as many probably have. But with age comes education…and now I know better. In this post, I’ll break down everything you need to know about washing your vehicle with dish liquid…aka dish soap.

Is dish liquid bad for a vehicle’s paint?

While dish liquid like Dawn is unlikely to cause paint damage, dish liquid is technically detergent, not a soap formulated for automotive use. Dish liquid will strip wax off your vehicle, leaving it unprotected.

As a best practice, you shouldn’t remove an existing paint protectant (like wax) during the normal wash process. To protect the paint, you can either use wax, a synthetic paint sealant, or apply a ceramic coating for the ultimate level of protection. 

Frequently Asked Question

Is it ever okay to use Dawn to wash my vehicle?In very specific cases where you intend to purposely strip off an old wax or sealant, Dawn can be used as the stripping agent as product of last resort. However, there are better products for this task, typically sold as surface prep soaps or sprays. Any time you intend to perform paint correction, you want your paint 100% free of wax or other films to actually remove scratches. 

Why washing a car with dish liquid is controversial

Washing with dish liquid is controversial because some argue it will dry out plastics and rubber seals with time, while others downplay the real impact of dish liquid.

The truth is that dish liquid and many other detailing products like degreasers can dry out seals over time with repeated exposure. If you occasionally use dish liquid for wax removal, it’s not the worst thing you can do to your paint in my opinion. That said, I don’t recommend it.

Dish liquid can leave behind a film

Dish liquid manufacturers also use varying levels of surfactants and salts which can leave a film on your vehicle…another reason I don’t recommend this stuff. Who wants to remove dish liquid film? Hope I’ve made my stance clear at this point ;)

Why car soap is better for your paint than dish liquid

Unlike car soap, dish liquid doesn’t contain lubricants or protectants you need for a wash mitt to easily and safely slide dirt off a vehicle. To avoid scratching your paint, you always want your suds to slide right off, and not simply cling to the paint (as dish liquid tends to).

Many car soaps also leave behind wax, adding a tiny layer of protection each time you wash.

I prefer Meguiar’s Gold Class as my everyday car wash soap; it cleans and conditions the paint well, and it’s affordable for beginners.

Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Shampoo

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Check out my post on car soap vs foam vs shampoo to learn the difference between car soaps and foams. In a nutshell, snow foam is used to pre-treat a vehicle, while car soap is intended for regular maintenance washing.

Learn to wash your car properly and see better results!

If you finished reading this post, you probably care enough to start using actual car soap! Washing your vehicle is much more than dirt removal with the cheapest product you have, and it helps to learn the basics to actually get the results you want.

If you’re ready to learn the basics of washing and detailing, check out our video course, Washing and Detailing for Beginners. You’ll learn how to wash and detail the interior and exterior like a pro, and how to keep your vehicle looking beautiful for weeks.

Ready to improve your washing and detailing skills?

This video course unpacks the fundamentals of washing and detailing. From exterior cleaning and blemish removal…you’ll learn the secrets that will give you spotless pro-level results!

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