bottles of dawn dish soap lined up next to each other

Can You Use Dawn to Wash Your Car? Yes and No (Here’s Why)

Last Updated on August 28, 2023 by Chase Manhattan

Are you one of several car owners contemplating a DIY car wash with household items? You might be eyeing that bottle of Dawn dish soap on your kitchen counter and wondering, “Can I use this to wash my car?” Well, it’s a ‘yes’ and a ‘no.’ Intrigued?

As surprising as it may seem, using Dawn to clean your vehicle can either be a saving grace or a cardinal sin for your car’s finish. Depending on the circumstances and the car’s surface, the results can be drastically different. So, buckle up! We’re about to embark on an enlightening journey into the world of DIY car cleaning.

Chase Manhattan

Is Dawn Dish Soap Safe For A Car’s Paint?

The immediate response to this question is both yes and no. Dawn dish soap won’t directly harm your car’s clear coat, but it isn’t ideal for regular maintenance washing. The reason is that Dawn efficiently removes grease, which means it can also strip off the wax coating on your vehicle, leaving it unprotected.

Dish soaps that contain abrasive particles can indeed cause scratches. But as long as you’re using a regular, non-abrasive detergent, it won’t directly damage your car’s paint. However, over time, this can lead to clear coat degradation due to the absence of the protective wax layer.

Yes and No (What Happens When Washing With Dish Soap?)

When you wash your car with Dawn dish soap, it effectively removes all the dirt, grime, and grease that have accumulated on the vehicle’s surface. This sounds great in theory, but the problem lies in the soap’s effectiveness. A dish soap like Dawn is a powerful degreaser capable of removing not just the grease, but also the protective wax layer that shields the car’s paint.

Frequent use of dish soap for car washing can slowly erode the wax, leaving your paint defenseless against the elements. This could lead to your car losing its glossy finish and becoming prone to damage from the sun, rain, or even bird droppings.

Related article: How Long Does It Take to Detail A Car?

Is Dish Soap Safe For Ceramic Coatings?

Ceramic coatings provide an additional level of protection to the car’s paint. They are designed to resist chemical stains and harsh weather conditions, providing a high-gloss finish that doesn’t wash away. When it comes to washing a car with a ceramic coating, it’s best to avoid using dish soap.

Although Dawn dish soap can’t directly damage the ceramic coating, its degreasing properties can strip away the protective layer over time, reducing the lifespan of the coating. Therefore, if your car has a ceramic coating, it’s best to stick with a dedicated car wash soap.

Want to protect that precious ceramic coating? Read this: Best Car Soap for Ceramic Coating Care

Is Dish Soap Safe on Paint Protection Films?

Paint Protection Film (PPF) is a thermoplastic urethane film applied to painted surfaces of a car to protect the paint from stone chips, bug splatters, and minor abrasions. The film is non-porous, which means it repels water and won’t be affected by harsh weather conditions.

While dish soap won’t directly damage the film, its degreasing properties could affect the film’s performance over time. As with ceramic coatings, it’s best to use a car wash soap specifically designed for vehicles with Paint Protection Films.

ingredient list of dawn dish soap
Here’s an example of the ingredients present in dawn dish washing soaps. Keep this in mind as we move forward.

When To Use Dish Soap To Wash Your Car

Despite the potential risks, there are certain scenarios where using Dawn dish soap to wash your car could be beneficial. For instance, if you’re preparing to apply a new layer of wax or sealant, dish soap can be useful for stripping off the old wax.

Additionally, if your car has stubborn contaminants like tree sap or bird droppings, dish soap’s strong degreasing properties can help remove these substances. However, these cases should be the exception rather than the rule, and traditional car wash soap should be your go-to choice for regular maintenance.

When You Shouldn’t Use Dish Soap

As a rule of thumb, you should avoid using dish soap for regular car washing. The detergents and degreasers found in dish soap are too harsh for frequent use on your car’s paint. They can strip away the protective wax layer, leaving your car susceptible to damage from the elements.

If your vehicle has a ceramic coating or Paint Protection Film, you should also steer clear of dish soap. While it won’t immediately damage these protective layers, repeated use can reduce their effectiveness over time.

Pros and Cons of Washing with Dish Soap

Dish soap has both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to washing your car.


  1. Effective at removing stubborn grime and grease
  2. Can strip old wax, preparing the surface for a new coat
  3. Readily available and cost-effective


  1. Strips protective wax from the car’s paint
  2. Can dry out plastics and rubber with repeated use
  3. Not as gentle as dedicated car wash soaps
  4. Can reduce the lifespan of ceramic coatings and Paint Protection Films

How Does Dish Soap Affect Car Plastics?

While there’s debate about whether dish soap can dry out the plastics and rubber components of your car, it’s safe to say that it’s not the best option. Dish soap, especially those with high degreasing properties, can potentially dry out and degrade these materials over time, leading to discoloration and cracking.

you can see the difference here on each side of plastic from the dawn dish soap. One side is faded and the other is still shining
Here’s a side-by-side example of plasted treated with and without dawn dish soap

Frequently Asked and Related Questions

Can I use Dawn to strip wax from my car?

Yes, Dawn can be used to strip old wax from your car before applying a new layer. However, there are automotive soaps designed for this purpose that might be more effective.

Will dish soap damage my car’s paint?

While dish soap won’t directly damage your car’s paint, it can strip away the wax or sealant protecting the paint, leaving it exposed to potential damage.

What should I use to wash my car?

It’s best to use a dedicated car wash soap to clean your vehicle. These soaps are formulated to safely remove dirt and grime without stripping away protective layers.

In conclusion, while Dawn dish soap can be used to wash your car, it’s not the best option for maintaining your vehicle’s appearance and protection. Stick with products specifically designed for car washing to ensure your car stays clean and protected for years to come.

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