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At a time when coronavirus concerns have made hand sanitizer and hand soap hot commodities—so much so that they're out of stock at many retailers—you may find yourself considering alternatives. Take dish soap, for example. You know that it cuts through grease well enough to clean pots and pans, but is it a good idea to use it on your hands?
The answer is yes and no. The devil really is in the details, so we’re going to dive into similarities and major differences so you can decide whether using dish soap on your hands is right for you. However, we will say that it doesn't work the other way around. If you try using your hand soap to get last night's lasagna off some plates, you're going to have a bad time.
Does dish soap work like hand soap?
Soap works because opposites attract. No, really—if you looked at a soap molecule under a microscope, you’d notice that it is amphiphilic, meaning it has “dirt-loving” and “water-loving” ends. The dirt-loving end attaches itself to grease and oils and when you rinse water over it; the water-loving end pulls it away like a sail.
After that, surfactants make up the second major ingredient. They're substances that create more distance between water molecules so more dirt can fit in between them. Fun fact: Surfactants are why soaps cause water to foam up; the extra space can get filled by air.
Since dish detergent contains both these ingredients, it totally works as a hand soap, but there are some caveats.
The downside to using dish soap on your hands
There’s a reason there's the cliché of wearing yellow rubber gloves when doing the dishes. Dish soap does tend to be harsher on your hands. They’re designed to deal with baked-on grease, so they’re more likely to strip your hands of the natural oils, leaving them feeling dry and stiff. Our general rule of thumb is that the more delicate and sensitive your skin is, the less you should be using dish soap as hand soap.
Is dish soap antibacterial and good for disinfecting your hands?
According to the FDA, over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are no better than regular soap and water at preventing disease. For washing your hands, you should follow the CDC guidelines, such as washing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
Are there any dish soaps that are gentle on hands?
Because dish soap can dry out your hands and has the potential to aggravate your skin, we’d suggest using mild dish soap to wash your hands. We recently did a roundup of the best dish soaps and Dawn Ultra came out on top. We found that it cuts through grease on dishes, pans, and hands.