Dishwashing is probably subject to more variables than any other household clean-up job. In theory at least, any detergent or soap can be used for hand dishwashing, except an automatic dishwasher detergent. However, soap has become almost extinct as a dishwashing product and many laundry detergents are not very acceptable. Laundry detergents, may leave spots and streaks, the powders may not completely dissolve, or may discolour certain metals with soaking. A light-duty liquid hand dishwashing detergent is the best choice.


Regardless of brand, certain characteristics are important in a hand dishwashing liquid: lasting suds, effective cleaning performance, mildness to hands, safety for dishes and other washables, storage stability, pleasant fragrance and appearance, convenient packaging and dispensing. In formulating a product to meet these criteria, manufacturers, in general, use certain basic ingredients.



Surfactants or surface active agents are the primary ingredients in a liquid hand dishwashing detergent. Often a combination of surfactants is used to produce good grease cutting capability and soil suspension, mildness in water of varying degrees of hardness, and a high, stable suds level. All surfactants in these detergents are biodegradable.

Stability and Dispensing Aids

Stability and Dispensing Aids are added to keep the product homogeneous under varying storage conditions, and to provide desirable dispensing characteristics. Alcohols, hydrotropes, and salts are often used.

Fragrance and Colour Additives

Fragrance and Colour Additives are what give a product its “personality,” and are important, though present in extremely small amounts.

Mildness Additives

Mildness Additives may include moisturizing agents, certain oils and emollients, certain protein compounds, or other neutralizing or beneficial ingredients.


Preservatives are added, if needed, in small quantities to help prevent any microbiological growth in the product which could cause colour or odour change, poor performance and separation of the ingredients.

Antibacterial Agents

Antibacterial Agents are sometimes added to provide antibacterial protection for the hands.

Performance Factors

Performance Factors
Hand dishwashing liquids are relatively easy for consumers to compare. Users can experiment by trying various brands and deciding which product features are important to them: performance, price, sudsing, fragrance and “feel,” or perhaps the packaging. Usage is often based on the amount it takes to produce a rich, thick layer of suds.

Though detergents are not as affected by water hardness as soap is, some additional product may be necessary in very hard water. An important difference in the quantity of liquid hand dishwashing detergent required is the concentration of the surfactants vs. water in a product. More concentrated products are more efficient and may be more economical to use than the more dilute ones. Grease removal is more effective in warm water than in cold water.


Just as you exercise care in the manner in which you use and store other household cleaning products, you should properly dispose of empty dishwasher detergent containers or small amounts of leftover products by following some simple procedures.

  • Get the most for your money and USE THE PRODUCT UP! If you find you cannot use all of the product you purchased, give it to a friend, but make sure the label with directions and precautions is still legible.
  • Check the label for special instructions for disposal. Unused hand dishwashing detergents can be disposed down the drain. Many communities recycle the empty plastic containers. Check your local recycling guidelines and recycle containers when possible.
  • Don’t mix products when disposing of them.
  • NEVER reuse an empty dishwashing detergent container for another purpose. The label instructions and precautions for one product may be dangerous to someone trying to use those instructions for a different product.

Read all labels thoroughly and use products only for intended purposes and as directed.