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

Thinking of grabbing the Dawn dish soap and washing your vehicle? You may want to stop and read this post. Why? Because Dawn is technically a detergent, not a soap—AND dishwashing detergent provides less lubrication than regular car wash soap.

Dishwashing liquid is one of the best cleaning products out there…it just isn’t the right product for washing cars!

I’ll admit, I used to use Dawn dish soap all the time growing up as you may have. But with age comes education…and I’ve learned there are just better and safer products specifically designed to clean a car’s surface.

In this post, I’ll start with the basics and end with the types of soap best used on your vehicle’s paint.

Is dish liquid bad for a car’s paint?

Dish liquid like Dawn is unlikely to cause paint damage by itself, but it doesn’t lubricate well and can also strip wax off of a vehicle’s clear coat.

Why Dish liquid doesn’t lubricate like car soap

Dish liquid cuts through grease well, but doesn’t contain protective wax or additives for lubrication. As a result, it’s easier for your wash mitt to drag dirt across the clear coat and leave scratches. Some dish soaps also contain abrasive materials, which can leave swirl marks when using circular motions.

Since dish detergent is foamy, you end up sliding globs of foam across the surface instead of soapy water. You ideally want runny soap to carry away dirt instead of foam tends to stick to the surface.

Dish liquid strips wax and other protectants

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

So to keep the surface slick… just use normal car soap ;)

Dish liquid can leave behind a film

Detergent may also leave behind a thin white film when dry, due to added surfactants and salts. Like anything with salt, everything tends to look dull or faded over time, like a dark t-shirt worn in the ocean. 

Frequently Asked Question

Is it ever okay to use dish detergent to wash a vehicle? In very specific cases where you intend to purposely strip off an old wax or sealant, nonabrasive dish soap can be used as the stripping agent as a 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 remove scratches.

Why washing a car with dish liquid is controversial

Washing with dish liquid is controversial because some claim it prematurely dries 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.

What kind of soap is best for car paint?

Car soap or shampoo is the best choice for automotive use—not dish detergent, hand soap, laundry detergent, baby shampoo, or other household cleaners. 

Quick Tip: The best car cleaning soaps don’t have the strongest cleaning properties, but they are formulated to trap dirt and keep it sliding off your paint.

At the end of the day, the best soap for automotive paint depends on personal preference. Cheaper car soaps tend to be less concentrated and won’t last as long. Other car shampoos will contain additives like wax to add warmth or shine.

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 using cheap products; you must learn a few car wash fundamentals to 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!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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