Ever been tempted to machine wash your laundry using washing up liquid?
Perhaps you ran out of your normal detergent, or maybe you spilt oil on your clothing and you need a little extra help getting it out. If your washing up liquid is performing brilliantly on your greasy plates and pans why wouldn’t it give a great clean in your washing machine?
Well, mostly because washing up liquid is a soap.
That means it’s going to behave differently to a laundry detergent, which is what your washing machine has been designed to use.
Soap vs detergent in the washing machine
Firstly, what’s the difference between soap and detergent?
Soap works by attacking the chemical bonds that let dirt stick to surfaces; it then traps the dirt within its bubbles, allowing it to be washed away with water. Bubbles are really important to this method of cleaning.
A detergent works differently, and what makes it so effective is its use of surfactants.
Surfactants do several things.
They firstly form a layer on the surface of the water that decreases the water surface tension. When you get a decrease in water surface tension, it allows water to spread more evenly to wet the surface of our clothing more effectively. It’s almost as though it's made water wetter!
Surfactants can also have either a positive or negative charge. Whilst one end is attracted to water, the other end is attracted to dirt and grease. This helps detergents attach to dirt, break it up and let water wash it away.
No bubbles needed.
So putting washing up liquid (which is a soap-based product) into your washing machine is going to result in one thing… BUBBLES. And lots of them.
This could bring on an overflow situation - it’s similar to what would happen if you put washing up liquid in your dishwasher. A carpet of foam might get your kitchen floor clean but it’s not the most practical way to get the housework done.
Thankfully most modern washing machines have sensors that check the amount of bubbles in the drum. If there are too many, it triggers extra rinses until the suds are gone. Of course, this is a waste of water and energy so not good for our wallets or the planet.
An overload of bubbles can also stop the machine from pumping out the water, and when the drain pump can’t move all those bubbles… the motor will spin too quickly and overheat, causing a SUDS error to display.
What’s worse is that too much foam in the washing machine won’t even get your clothes washed well. The bubbles create a buffer between our clothes so they are unable to rub together as the drum turns. This is a crucial part of how a machine cleans our clothes, so if there’s no friction… the dirt stays put.
Avoid the scum.
Finally, washing up liquid in your washing machine can generate soap scum if you’re living in a hard water area. Soap scum on your clothes will leave them dull and dingy and can actually start to break down the fibres on material. Soap scum is also bad for your machine.
So next time you’re tempted to pour Fairy washing up liquid into your machine… think again. It’s really best to use products that have been especially made to use in a washing machine, like smol laundry capsules. They’ll dissolve properly in all wash temperatures, tackle the dirt and exit the machine without causing issues.
Overall, this means you should not use washing up liquid in your washing machine!
Alternatives to laundry detergent in the washing machine?
If you’ve not got access to any laundry detergent and need to run a load immediately, you could just use a stain remover. It can usually be added directly onto the clothing or into the washing machine in the same way you would use your detergent.
And if you’ve not got any stain gel it’s best at this point to just run a normal cycle with just no products at all. Choosing products that aren’t approved for your machine could prove expensive if the bubble build-up causes too much damage.
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