While there’s no shortage of cleaning products available in any grocery, hardware, or big-box store, much of the time, a solution of warm water and a squirt or two of mild dish detergent is all you need to clean many common household objects. There are, of course, some clear exceptions to this—electronics being the most obvious. But beyond that, there are also certain utensils, pieces of furniture, and other goods that you can technically wash or spot-treat with soap, though it’s not recommended. Here are a few examples of household items you’re better off not washing with soap, and what you should use instead.
Though it’s possible to wash the items below (or at least parts of them) with dish soap, there are better, more effective ways to get them clean:
- Carpets and rugs. Although dish soap will usually get stains and dirt out of a carpet or rug, it may also soak into the fibers, making that spot somewhat sticky—even if you rinse it. From that point on, that patch of carpet will be a magnet for dust, dirt, dander, and other debris. Use a dedicated carpet cleaning product or white distilled vinegar (without baking soda) instead.
- Clothing (other than pretreating food stains). Ignore TikTok laundry “hacks” that involve using dish soap in your washing machine to brighten clothing. Not only can it damage the appliance—which wasn’t designed to handle soaps producing a high volume of suds—but it can also shorten the lifespan of your clothing, and leave them covered in a film and feeling stiff. There is one exception to this: Dish soap’s ability to cut through grease makes it great for pretreating food stains on clothing. But after that, put it away and use actual laundry detergent.
- Leather furniture and other goods. Dish soap or other all-purpose detergent-based cleaners can cause leather furniture, coats, bags, and other goods to dry out. Use saddle soap or a dedicated leather cleaner instead.
- Mirrors, glass shower doors, and windows. You use dish soap to wash drinking glasses in the sink, so why not use it on other glass and reflective surfaces inside your home? In short: Because they’re much harder to rinse off completely. This often results in a layer of soapy film that remains on the window, shower door, or mirror—attracting dirt and dust, and leaving behind streaks. Following extensive testing on multiple store-bought products and DIY solutions, Consumer Reports cleaning experts recommend using an ammonia-based window cleaner diluted with water.
- Treated water-repellant fabrics. Don’t wash water-repellant items like jackets and camping gear with dish soap or traditional laundry detergent, as they can strip away their weatherproof coating. Invest in detergent specifically formulated for water-repellant materials from brands like Gear Aid and Nikwax in order to prolong the life of your outdoor garments and gear.
- Wooden kitchen utensils. Wooden kitchen utensils should be hand-washed, as boiling them or running them through the dishwasher can cause them to split or crack. While using a little dish soap to remove stuck-on food isn’t going to do any major damage, you’re better off rinsing them with water immediately, then using a solution of one-part water and one-part distilled white vinegar to tackle any stains or dried food. And don’t forget to treat them using mineral, walnut, tung, or linseed oil.
- Wood floors and furniture. Using dish soap to clean solid wood floors or furniture (i.e., not vinyl or veneer) can strip their natural oils and protective finishes, leaving them more vulnerable to wear and tear. Fortunately, there are a variety of items you may have in your pantry right now—including mayonnaise and toothpaste—that you can use instead.
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