Oh, my. Okay. Hold on. There’s something we have to talk about. Not because I necessarily want to talk about it, but because a man with a large platform went out there and said a thing and now we have to talk about it.
The man in question: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, sometimes-beloved presidential hopeful. The platform: the Iowa State Fair. The thing he said: “Dish soap and soap are basically the same thing.” This lil’ nugget of wisdom was delivered as advice for teenagers going to college, presumably as a suggestion for saving some money while matriculating. The aim is laudable. The message itself, not so much.
Here’s the thing: Buttigieg isn’t 100 percent wrong. Dish soap and other soaps (encapsulating both hand soap and body soaps/washes) both contain a lot of similar ingredients. They’re both designed to do the same thing, which is to clean something. And they will both clean your body, and, I suppose, your dishes. But they are not—repeat, not—ideally formulated to switch hit between the two.
“Wash your hands with dish soap, and feel how dry they feel,” says Nathan Cook, assistant marketing manager for men’s grooming brand Baxter of California. He’s just explained some of the key ingredients the company uses in its skin-cleansing products, and he’s trying to illustrate why they don’t often show up in dish soap. “Glycerin is a moisturizer in our Vitamin Cleansing Bars and our Invigorating Body Wash,” he says, but “you don’t need to moisturize your dishes.” In fact, adding moisturizing ingredients to something that’s just made for plates and forks would be “a complete waste of money.”
There’s a wrinkle here, in that some dish soaps—say, Dawn Gentle Clean—are specifically formulated to be easy on your skin. But even then, they’ve been designed to accommodate the skin on your hands. And they still need to cut through the grease from those late-night nachos your microwaved after that evening at the bar, which is a lot tougher than the oils naturally produced by your skin. So, by virtue of its very purpose, dish soap is always going to be a little overpowered versus something that’s made with your skin—and your comfort—in mind.
Throw in the fact that your body has areas way, way more sensitive than your hands, and it’s pretty obvious that you don’t want to be scrubbing up with the stuff you use to wash your pans when you step into the shower each morning. It’s all about what the product is made for. Just like you don’t need to moisturize your dishes, you don’t need to scour your back with the rough side of a sponge to get it clean. “You can try,” says Cook, “but I wouldn’t recommend it.”