Whether you wash dishes by hand every day or use dish liquid on the big stuff to cut through grease, your plates, silverware, and glasses should come out of the sink spotless. That’s why we tested a dozen liquid detergents to see which are worth buying. In our testing, we found that even sub-par cleaning products can get dishes clean with some extra scrubbing, but the best dish soaps will save you time standing at the sink, elbow-deep in suds.
The recommendations in this guide are based on thorough product and market research by our team of expert product reviewers. The picks are based on examining user reviews, product specifications, and, in some limited cases, our experience with the specific products named.
You might think of Dawn as the dish detergent used to clean up wildlife after oil spills—some bottles of Dawn Ultra actually sport pictures of baby ducks as a reminder. And while we can't assess how well it works on oily wildlife, we can tell you that throughout our own use Dawn Ultra excels at cleaning dishes.
It makes quick work of basic meat, spinach, oatmeal, milk, and egg stains; scoffed at the challenge of removing burnt sugar, burnt cheese, and lasagna from dishes; and dissolves bacon grease better than any other dish soap we found, leaving only the slightest haze at the end.
Dawn Ultra is pleasant to use with a mild, fruity fragrance, a thicker texture, and a distinctive blue color. Even better is that this product is able to get through a dishpan full of grimy dishes without too much effort. If you want an effective dish soap that can get your hand-washed dishes very clean, Dawn Ultra is the one for you.
The best-performance among our eco-friendly liquid dish soaps, Seventh Generation is effective on most food stains. What keeps it from being our top pick is that it can't quite compete with Dawn on removing bacon grease, instead leaving them with a greasy feel. But if you don’t eat greasy foods regularly, it may not be a problem. This brand does a fine job cleaning basic and tougher stains.
Seventh Generation Dish Liquid Free & Clear is plant-based, undyed, unscented, and the bottle is made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. If you prefer to wash dishes with an environmentally friendly brand, or have sensitive skin, Seventh Generation Free & Clear could be your go-to.
Palmolive is a surprise contender, a dark horse among dishwashing liquids. Just soaking in a dishpan of Palmolive suds lifts almost every stain off of dishes, even without scrubbing.
Palmolive won't do as well against burnt sugar stains, and bacon grease leaves dishes with a small amount of haze. Still, I'm convinced that Palmolive can clean your dishes to a high standard. The caveat: Its startling green color and intensely sweet fragrance might not please all users.
Joy has a bright, lemony scent that permeates the room when used, and might remind some of the smell of their grandmother’s kitchen.
Joy isn’t always easy to find on supermarket shelves these days, but as a heritage brand, it still has a following. We find it to be effective on many stains, though it may behind some food on our glassware after a scrub. Unfortunately light haze of bacon grease is be to expected on dishes after soaking in a solution of Joy.
An environmentally friendly brand, Puracy uses plant-based ingredients derived from coconut oil to clean dishes. It also contains natural ingredients that make it gentle for sensitive skin—Himalayan pink sea salt and aloe vera. The company claims that the salt restores balance and purity to your skin, and the aloe vera makes Puracy gentle on skin.
This product is more watery than most other dishwashing liquids, but is still able to clean dishes. In our opinion, it's the second-best eco-friendly brand. It has a hard time on sticky residue and doesn't do well with bacon grease.
One of the most pleasant to use in our opinion, Method comes in an attractive, recycled-plastic pump bottle that looks good on the side of the sink. It is also extremely convenient to use: A couple of pumps will dispense enough soap for a sinkful of dirty dishes. Its fresh citrus fragrance is delightful, and it comes in other scents if you don’t like clementine. Method aces all sensory criteria for us, but it has trouble removing things like milk stains from glasses, so it didn’t make it to the finals.
Available in many supermarkets and a top-seller on Amazon, Mrs. Meyer’s is one of the most popular environmentally friendly brands of dish soap. The company comes out with new scents every season, so if you’re not crazy about one scent, you can try another. Lemon verbena is available throughout the year, and its floral citrus smell is not too aggressive or overpowering. That said, the detergent’s performance isn't effective against crusty stains.
Ivory dish detergent is a heritage brand that you may know from their bars or hand soap. It cleans adequately and the hinged top makes it easy to squeeze out some of this viscous, heavily-scented product. Even with a hard scrub, though, some food stains may remain on your dishes.
Choosing the right dish soap is no easy task, because there are simply so many out there. Here are some things to consider.
Simply put, you want a dish soap that can effectively clean oil and grease from your dishes without harsh chemicals when doing your dishes by hand. Some people prefer natural dish liquid, while others just want that conventional dish soap that’ll make the grease slide right off. While making your decision, remember to carefully read all of the ingredients on the label, especially if you’re in the market for eco-friendly or cruelty free dish soap.
Eco-Friendly Dish Soaps
Of course, it’s hard to define what “eco-friendly” means. If you’re committed to using products that you think are easier on the environment, read the label carefully.
Scary-sounding ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate (a surfactant, detergent, and sudsing agent) and methylisothiazolinone (a preservative) can be found in some “greener” brands. The main difference between conventional and eco-friendly brands: The eco-friendly brands contain more plant-derived ingredients.
Many of the products we found were scented. Fragrances can be found in both types of dish soaps and can cause allergic reactions. If you have trouble with them, choose a fragrance-free brand. Fragrance-free products do not contain ingredients that impart a smell.
Cindy Bailen loves writing about major appliances and home design and has spent over 15 years immersed in that. In her spare time, Cindy hosts pledge programs for WGBH-TV in Boston and other public television stations.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.