3 Not So Obvious Differences Between Dish Soap vs Hand Soap

After a strenuous day of errands and meandering about town, you head to the kitchen sink to wash your hands, only to find your favorite lavender hand soap has run out. Reaching for your trusty dish soap instead, you pause—is dish soap safe on hands? Alternatively, is hand soap effective on dishes?

Although both products are considered soap, there are key differences that set them apart.

To answer the immediate question: An occasional dish soap vs hand soap crossover won’t cause any long-term damage to either your hands or the tea mugs you need to quickly wash.

However, for the sake of softer hands and cleaner homes everywhere, let’s break down three subtle differences between the two—as well as recommendations for when you’re left shaking an empty bottle. 

Bacteria-Combatting Abilities: Dish Soap vs Hand Soap 

As an important middle-ground between these types of soap, they’re both equally effective at combating germs and bacteria.

In fact, nearly all products marked under the umbrella term “soap” remove germs from the skin with the help of running water—even shampoo and body wash. Bacterial counts can drop up to 90% when hands are scrubbed for 15 seconds and up to 99.9% when washed for 30 seconds.1 

So, then why not have bottles of shampoo lying around the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, and tucked away in the glove compartment? Besides the absurdity of the image, the answer comes down to three factors: ingredients, effects on the skin, and grease- and dish-cleaning abilities. 

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#1 Ingredient List 

The main difference between hand soap and dish soap lies in the ingredient list. The unique formulas of each of these products determine what they’re effective (and not-so-effective) at cleaning. 

You’ve likely noticed how hand soap typically has a thinner, lighter consistency, whereas dish soaps can be heavier and more viscous—taking longer bouts of scrubbing to completely wash off. This is in part due to the different hand soap and dish soap ingredients.

The average bar or liquid hand soap tends towards hand-healthy, natural, and biodegradable ingredients that nurture the skin such as: 

  • Glycerin 
  • Salts 
  • Fatty acids 
  • Essential oils (for scent)

The average liquid dish soap, on the other hand, often contains harsh synthetic materials that are tough on grease (and tough on hands) such as: 

  • Phosphates
  • Drying alcohols 
  • Surfactants
  • Triclosan and triclocarban 

Of course, even among hand soaps and dish soaps, ingredient lists are ubiquitous. For example, when looking for hand soaps that nourish sensitive skin and moisturize (while fighting germs and bacteria), look for plant-based, skin-safe hand washes.

#2 Effects on Skin 

If you’ve ever been completely out of regular bar or liquid hand soap and turned to, say, dishwasher soap to get the job done, you’ve likely experienced the dramatic differences between soaps. The effects of hand soap vs dishwasher soap on your skin are immediately apparent, with dishwasher soap leaving your hands dry and a little pink from how long it took to scrub off. 

There’s a reason why people use those cliché yellow rubber gloves when cleaning dirty dishes for long bouts. The average dish cleaning soap can cause the following effects after continued use: 

  • Strip your hands of their natural oils 
  • Irritate and dry the hand skin 
  • Cause allergic reactions to sensitive skin 

Whereas quality, natural hand soap should benefit your hands in these ways: 

  • Provide hydration
  • Leave your hands with a smooth and soft feel 
  • Keep the natural oils on your hands

So unless your dish soap is explicitly safe for hands, such as Archipelago’s Natural Dish Soap, opt for something softer like a body wash when you’re all out of hand soap.

#3 Dish-Cleaning Ability 

If you find yourself needing to use hand soap in a pinch to clean some utensils before serving a meal, you’ll probably be satisfied with the results. But, you may run into some trouble when you attempt to clean that stubborn lasagna off of your pan. 

In the dish soap vs hand soap debate, it should come as no surprise that dish soap is much more effective at getting dirty dishes clean. In addition to its ability to quickly cut through food grease, it beats out hand soap for the following reasons: 

  • Works in all water types and temperatures, unlike hand soap 
  • Foams more than hand soap, saving product 

If you’re wondering how to wash dishes with a soap that will be both efficient and safe, you’ll want to be mindful of the ingredients, as mentioned earlier. This is because another downside to using hand soap when washing dishes is that many contain additives that are skin-safe but not food-safe. We recommend reaching for baking soda next time you’re out of your regular dish soap. This household staple safely cuts grease and attacks food debris, among a plethora of other household cleaning problems.2

Softer Hands, Cleaner Dishes with Archipelago 

With all of the natural, skin-safe soaps available, there’s no need to continue welcoming harsh soaps into your home. Seek out natural cleaning products that will be safe for both you and your home.

At Archipelago, we ensure that you don’t have to think twice before washing the dishes glove-free. We’ve formulated a dish soap that is gentle on the skin yet tough enough to make your dishes shine. All of our home cleaning products contain plant-based and clean ingredients like citric acid, mint, and lavender that keep your hands feeling smooth and smelling good. 

Shop our Home Cleaning and Hand Care lines to make every trip to the sink feel like a mini-vacation. 


  1. Harvard Health. The handiwork of good health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/The_handiwork_of_good_health 
  2. Good Housekeeping. 22 Cleaning Problems You Can Solve With Baking Soda. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning/tips/a25577/baking-soda-cleaning-uses/