Dish Soap

Tuesday, 13 November 2007 | Tags: , , , , ,

With so many types of dish soap on the market these days, including aromatherapy-themed and environmental options, we put a few brands to the test to see if price makes a difference for a clean winner.

The Basics

  • Dish soaps contain surface active ingredients (surfactants) that work to loosen food residue and lessen the amount of elbow grease required to clean.

  • With concentrated dish soaps (e.g. labelled “ultra”), you don’t need to use as much, so they should last longer. However, if you use the same amount out of habit, it’ll end up costing you more.

Other Considerations

  • If you’re an aroma-junkie, you can spend ages in the soap aisle smelling your options. Just remember that you’re usually washing baked-on grime and the combined odour may turn unpleasant.

Be Aware

  • Since most dish soaps use petroleum-based oil, environmentalists recommend alternatives made with vegetable oil. You’ll pay a little more, but vegetable oil is a renewable resource, unlike petroleum. 

  • Colour dyes and fragrances do nothing to help clean our dishes, but they’re washed down the drain into our water supply. Consider fragrance-free/dye-free options.

  • Also look for phosphate-free options. Phosphates are polluting our water supply and governments are putting in place regulations to reduce phosphate use. By buying phosphate-free, you’re helping get the message out to manufacturers.
  • There is some controversy surrounding the use of antibacterial soaps and cleaners. If you practice safe food-handling and wash your dish cloth regularly (don’t wait until it gets stinky), paying extra for anti-bacterial may just be overkill. 

  • There are no regulations on labelling a product as hypoallergenic or biodegradable. Just because you see it on the label, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.


We tested these brands in everyday situations, as well as some tough, caked-on messes to see which did the best job.

  • Generic Antibacterial Brand: 14¢ per 50 ml
  • Ivory Classic: 20¢ per 50 ml
  • Sunlight (lemon scented): 22¢ per 50 ml
  • Palmolive: 28¢per 50 ml
  • Seventh Generation (environmentally friendly): 44¢ per 50 ml

Everyday Dishes Test

The only thing we discovered for sure is that we hate doing dishes!

  • No one soap brand stood out in this test.
  • Ivory was popular with some testers because of its smell, while others found it too heavily perfumed.

Caked-on Mess Test

We mixed up a sticky concoction including eggs, flour, water, mustard and evaporated milk, then baked the guck solid in the oven and left the dishes sitting for three days before attempting to clean them. Then we soaked the crusty dishes in sudsy water for five minutes.

  • None of our caked-on dishes were easy to get clean, no matter what soap we used.

  • The Generic and Sunlight seemed to require the most cleaning effort.


After all of our tests, no brand stood out as the clean winner. We were swayed toward the Seventh Generation mainly for its environmentally-friendly promise.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/tara.toulouse Tara Toulouse

    When I first start washing the dishes the water is nice and sudsy, but after what seems like only a few dishes the suds and bubbles disappear and then it starts feeling like I’m washing my dishes in plain water. Any idea why this happens? Is it the soap I’m using? I’ve tried Ultra concentrated and regular stuff, and they both do the same thing. What should I look for in the ingredient list to get my suds to last?

    • annaandkristina

      Hi Tara, it may have something to do with your water. If it’s hard water, suds don’t last as long. You might want to try finding one of those scrubbers that you can put the soap in the handle and it comes out through the sponge. E.g. http://well.ca/products/oxo-good-grips-soap-dispensing-dish_69258.html?affid=SB (We haven’t tested this one in particular). That may help.

      Thanks for watching our shows!