You might have heard about using dish soap to wash your hair on the internet. Maybe you’re out of normal hair shampoo and your hair is a greasy mess. Or, maybe you heard that using Dawn as shampoo can help remove buildup, dandruff, or hair dye.
You’re wondering, can you use dish soap to wash your hair? While you can wash your hair with dish soap, it’s not recommended for long-term use as it strips your hair of natural oil. Commercial dish detergents like Dawn dish soap have an alkaline pH while the hair’s natural pH is acidic. Using strong alkaline products on hair is especially not recommended for color treated hair, or those with dry hair or dry scalp.
While I’m not a scientist, nor a hair expert, I do have a lot of long, thick, dry, hair. And I’m always interested in DIY or alternative solutions to everyday household items. I was curious about using dish soap as a shampoo and did some investigating. We’ll go over the differences between dish soap and regular shampoo, the pH levels of each, and what you need to know if you decide to use dish soap in your hair.
Dish soap is made for greasy dishes (not hair)
People know dish soap fights grease, so it should work on banishing greasy hair too, right? Not necessarily.
Dish soap is formulated to effectively remove baked on grease from your dinner dishes and pots and pans. In a nutshell, dish soap is so effective at removing grease, you’re left with dry hair if it’s used as a shampoo replacement. When it comes to healthy hair, a reasonable level of oil is not a bad thing.
And don’t even think about getting dish soap in your eyes—it stings!
Why use blue Dawn dish soap for hair?
Apparently influencers are adamant about using a specific type of dish soap—blue Dawn dishwashing liquid to be exact. This is the brand’s original dishwashing liquid soap. There are many other types of Dawn dish soap in various colors and fragrances, but blue Dawn dish soap is the OG and free of other unnecessary ingredients.
Although if we’re honest, many store-bought shampoos have added fragrances and dyes too (including Dawn).
Compared to most other commercial dish detergents, using Dawn as shampoo creates a more alkaline environment for your hair. Stronger alkaline cleaners are more effective at removing grease and buildup (on dishes and on hair!).
For example, blue Dawn has a rough pH of 9.0 to 9.2.¹ Compare this to Palmolive Dishwash Hand Liquid Original which has a pH of 7.2.
Keep in mind that each whole number change on the pH scale represents a 10-fold change. This makes Dawn a much stronger alkaline solution, which is more effective at banishing grease and buildup.
Do you have to use blue Dawn dish soap? No. Over at Bustle, a writer used Green Works Natural Dishwashing Liquid to wash away several days of grease buildup in her hair.²
The takeaway: The more alkaline a solution is, the more effective it is at removing grease. But strong alkalis have drawbacks too in hair care, as you’ll see in the sections below.
What about the pH level in shampoo vs. dish soap?
If you’re really wondering, can you use dish soap to wash your hair, first consider the pH level. When it comes to haircare, the pH level in shampoo can mean the difference between healthy, luscious locks, or dried and frizzy hair.
It’s also important to note that the pH of a hair shaft is different from the pH of your scalp. According to an article from PubMed Central (PMC), the pH of a hair shaft is 3.67, while the scalp’s pH is 5.5.³
What does this mean?
If you recall, a pH of 7 is neutral. Anything below pH 7 is considered acidic (low pH), while anything above 7 is alkaline, or basic (high pH) . So our hair and scalp are naturally slightly acidic.
The PubMed article (“The Shampoo pH can Affect the Hair: Myth or Reality?”) studies 123 different shampoos and their corresponding pH levels. The researchers conclude that:
The takeaway: Shampoos with lower pH (slightly acidic) cause less frizzing. Dish soap is alkaline.
What is pH balance in shampoos?
Shampoos all have varying levels of pH with some having lower pH (acidic) and some with higher pH (alkaline).
While everyone has different hair needs, the majority of people would benefit from a pH-balanced shampoo (leaning slightly to the acidic side).
A pH-balanced shampoo helps with overall hair and scalp care: ⁴
- Closes hair cuticles: The cuticle is the outer layer of hair which opens and closes depending on the products used. Alkaline products (including Dawn dish soap) and some shampoos) cause cuticles to open. A good shampoo keeps hair cuticles closed which is how nature intended.
- Protects color: If you have color-treated hair, it’s especially important to have a pH-balanced shampoo to preserve hair dye or hair color for as long as possible.
- Protects hair from damage: A pH-balanced hair shampoo protects hair from over-dryness by moisturizing the hair from the inside (cortex) to prevent split ends, limp or lackluster hair. Less damaged hair results in better hair growth.
- Preserves the right amount of oil: Oil, when it comes to hair care, gets a bad rap, but a healthy amount of oil is necessary on both scalp and hair to keep it healthy and strong. Using alkaline products such as dish soap in your hair actually strips away healthy oils. With long-term use of alkaline shampoo, your scalp produces more oil to compensate for the dryness, which leads to quicker oil and dirt buildup.
The takeaway: Similar to other liquid dishwashing soaps, blue liquid Dawn dish soap has a pH level ranging from 9.0 – 9.2 (which falls squarely in the alkaline category).
Here are a few popular shampoos with their corresponding pH levels courtesy of the database on Salon Worthy Hair.⁵
|Product||pH Type||pH Level|
|AG BALANCE Apple Cider Vinegar Sulfate-Free Low pH Shampoo||Low||4–5|
|Pantene Pro-V Curl Perfection Moisturizing Shampoo||Balanced||5.3–6.7|
|Aussie Kids G’day Grape 3N1 Shampoo||Balanced||5.3–6.7|
|Herbal Essences Hello Hydration||Balanced||5.3–6.7|
|Balea Med Neutral Skin Shampoo||Neutral||5.5–7|
|Biosilk Clarifying Shampoo||Neutral||6.5–7.5|
|Brilliant Blonde Purple Shampoo Low pH Formula||Low||4|
|Castile Soap Shampoo (liquid, Undiluted, Such As Dr. Bronners)||High||8.9–10|
|Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, Original Scent||High||9.0–9.2|
What you need to know if you decide to use dish soap to wash your hair
While dish soap is not an ideal shampoo substitute for regular use, using it in emergency situations won’t kill you. Just avoid getting it in your eyes.
However, since we’ve already discussed how dish soap can strip away your hair and scalp’s natural oils, some people with sensitive skin should NOT use dish soap to wash hair. Do NOT use dish soap on hair if you:
- Have dry scalp, or sensitive skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis.
- Have color-treated hair (unless your end-goal is to remove some color).
- Have dry hair.
Tip: If you’re planning on using Dawn dish soap for your hair, do so at your own risk. Use a small amount, avoid getting in your eyes, and rinse thoroughly. Follow up with a good conditioner to restore moisture.
The takeaway: can you use dish soap to wash your hair?
Yes, you can use dish soap to wash your hair in certain situations, but don’t make it a regular part of your hair care routine. Dish soaps are alkaline in nature and strip all oils from your hair and scalp. Avoid getting in your eyes. Don’t use on color-treated hair. Follow up with a good conditioner.
And, why not use regular shampoo?
If you were expecting me to try dish soap in my hair and write about it, sorry to disappoint. My hair and scalp are dry enough as is.
Can you use dish soap as clarifying shampoo?
If you’re thinking of washing hair with dish soap to remove buildup, there are a few things you should know.
First, let’s look at what a clarifying shampoo is used for. It helps remove traces of hard water minerals or chlorine (if you regularly have a dip in the pool). A clarifying shampoo also helps to deep clean your scalp before any hair treatments such as hair dye.
If you have color treated hair, it’s best to stick with proper clarifying suds specifically formulated to preserve hair dye as dish detergent can strip hair color.
So, if you plan to use Dawn soap (or another dish soap) on oily hair with build up, use it no more than once or twice a month as it leaves your hair and scalp feeling dry. Remember to follow up with a good nourishing conditioner.
Can you use hand soap or bar soap to wash hair?
Yes, you can use hand soap or bar soap as shampoo if you’re in a pinch, but it’s not great for the long-term health of your hair. Those with dry, thick, coarse, curly, or long hair might want to skip this idea altogether—your hair could end up in knots! And those with dry scalp or dandruff may notice their scalp and hair feeling even drier than usual.
This is because soap bars and other detergents made for washing hands have an alkaline pH which doesn’t jive well with hair’s natural acidic levels.
Shampoo bars on the other hand, are different from regular soap bars in that they are designed to wash hair rather than skin. They contain nourishing oils that leave hair and scalp feeling moisturized, not dry.
Can you use Dawn dish soap for dandruff?
Using Dawn dish soap isn’t the best bet for controlling flakes.
According to the University of Michigan, it’s best to use a regular shampoo frequently, “to remove the scales as quickly as they form. In addition, the detergents in the shampoo will cause smaller, less visible flakes to shed. Some people mistakenly think that dandruff is caused by a dry scalp that will improve by shampooing infrequently or by applying oily substances to the scalp. This will actually aggravate the condition by preventing the shedding of cells.”⁶
Try alternating between a regular shampoo and anti-fungal shampoo to manage dandruff.
Can you wash your hair with dish soap to remove color?
While dish soap applied to freshly dyed hair may help remove some of the color before it has properly set, it will not remove all the hair dye. It’s not a substitute for proper hair treatments. At best, liquid dish detergent may lighten your color by a few shades, but it will leave your hair feeling bone dry. Remember to follow up with a good conditioner if you decide to do this!
👉Find more wellbeing topics on nourishing your body and soul with natural food, herbs, plants, and household products.
- P & G Safety Data Sheet, Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, Original Scent, http://sds.chemtel.net/webclients/cheneybrothers/540011SDS.pdf. Accessed December 2022.
- Mina, Courtney (14 July 2015). “Can You Wash Your Hair With Dish Soap? “, Bustle. Accessed December 2022.
- Gavazzoni Dias, M. F., de Almeida, A. M., Cecato, P. M., Adriano, A. R., & Pichler, J. (2014). The Shampoo pH can Affect the Hair: Myth or Reality?. International journal of trichology, 6(3), 95–99. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-7753.139078
- Minnesota School of Cosmetology, What is the Best pH for Your Hair?, https://www.msccollege.edu/blogs/hair/what-is-the-best-ph-for-your-hair/. Accessed December 2022.
- Smith, Camelia, (06 December 2022). “Shampoo pH Levels Database (257+ products list with popular brands) “. Salon Worthy Hair. Accessed December 2022.
- University of Michigan, What is dandruff?, https://uhs.umich.edu/dandruff. Accessed December 2022.