Is Dish Soap An Acid Or A Base?

One of the most common household products we use for our day-to-day living are dish soaps. Effective in keeping our kitchenware clean and spotless, there are many dishwashing liquids that we can choose from in the market.

Since we use them every day, knowing more about the supplies we use is necessary for our health and safety. After all, nobody wants to use cleaning products that may cause significant health issues or irritations.  Aside from the ingredients of the dish soap we use, we must also be aware of its pH levels. Let us start with distinguishing it from an acid or base.

What does acidic and basic mean?

There are three categories when it comes to a solution’s pH level. Scientifically, pH talks about the potential of hydrogen of a certain substance. Hence, depending on the specific solution we are talking about, each of them has different capacities and properties that distinguish them from each other.

The three levels of the pH scale are the following:  acid, neutral, and base. Since a pH scale range from 0 to 14, each level has their own specific range for them to be called “acidic”, “neutral”, or “basic.”

The pH values of the three levels are the following:

Acidic substances range from 0 to 6.9 on the pH scale, Neutral substances are in the perfect 7, and Basic substances are from 7.1 to 14.

For example, another household supply we use is vinegar, which is around 2 or 3 on the pH scale. By these numbers, it will mean that vinegar is an acidic solution when we use the pH scale as a reference. On the other hand, Borax has a pH level of 10, which will mean that the product is basic, or in the current situation, alkaline.

Let's set this straight – bases are not always alkali

By definition, alkali is the term for the ionic compounds or salts that can dissolve in water. This happens because these elements accept hydrogen ions and react well with water.

On the other hand, bases are solutions that can react well with acids and water. When they combine with other acids, the base will neutralize the latter. One type of base is an alkali – such as sodium hydroxide, as it dissolves in water. However, not all bases can dissolve in water – such as copper oxide, and are, therefore, insoluble.

What does alkalinity have to do with acidity and bases?

To sum it up – bases may or may not dissolve in water. Alkali is the type of base that dissolves in water.

Hence, not all bases can be considered as alkali. The matter of alkalinity will be important later on, once we determine whether dish soap is an acid or base.

What is the pH level of dishwashing liquid?

As was mentioned earlier, we can determine if a solution is acidic or basic by knowing its pH level. But how is this possible? Simple. We do a test.

Testing the pH level of a dish soap

Depending on the manufacturer and the type of dish soap, the numbers will change due to their specific ingredients. If you want to know the pH level of the brand you use, you do a test in the comfort of your home.

You will need the following:

  • Dish soap
  • pH strips (they are usually available in Amazon and Walmart)

Steps in using a pH strip

  1. Put some dish soap in a container.
  2. Depending on the strip you have, you may need to dip the strip in the solution.
  3. Wait until the recommended time and take out the strip.
  4. Observe its color and compare it with the corresponding pH levels on the box.

Most dish soaps in the United States have a pH level of around 9 or 10. If we use the pH scale as a reference, this will mean that in general, dish soaps are basic instead of acidic.

The importance of alkalinity in dish soaps

Do you remember us talking about alkalinity earlier? Why exactly is it important when talking about dish soaps?

There is a reason why we mentioned alkali earlier.

Since we already established the fact that most dish soaps are a base, you may be wondering if it is alkali (since not all bases are alkali).

To answer this question, imagine this: what happens if we mix a dish soap solution with water? You’re right, the mixture itself will be diluted. Because they contain properties that can dissolve and mix well with water, therefore, we can also consider dishwashing liquids as alkaline.

What is the suggested alkali level of dish soaps?

Most commercial and hand-made dish soaps contain a pH level of 9 and above. This level is still safe for a person’s skin and will not usually cause any chemical burns and irritations. However, some reactions will vary as skin sensitivity is always an inconsistent factor for many people.

Why is the alkalinity of a dish soap high?

Considering that there are dish soaps with a lower pH scale in the market, you may be curious as to why most commercial products have higher pH compared to others. The reason for this is that the higher the alkalinity of the soap is, the more effective it will be in cleaning your dishes.

As a matter of fact, most of the cleaning products we use come in basic solutions, as they are best for cleaning dirt and getting rid of stains, oils, and other organic material. For example, baking soda, which is what many of us use for a variety of cleaning tasks, has a pH level of 9.

How do dish soaps work?

Let us get into the science of how basic solutions work. For this topic, we will focus on dish soaps and how they are effective in keeping our kitchenware clean.

When it comes to dishwashing liquid and oils, we can consider them as enemies. Dish soaps contain molecules that both love water – which are called hydrophilic, and hate them, which are hydrophobic. As a result, when we use soap to clean our plates, or body in general, the grime will be trapped in the tug of war and will instead stick to the water until they are washed away.

Why does acidity and base matter when it comes to soaps?

Dish soaps and other household products can help us get our work done. However, if they are incorrectly used, it is possible for them to cause harm instead.

When a solution is too acidic or too basic, this may cause a significant chemical burn to the people using them. Hence, it is important to know how to handle these products or you may irritate your skin in the future. Unfortunately, if the pH level of a certain product is not enough for its purpose, it will not be harmful but will just be a waste of your time and money. For example, if you are afraid of using a harsh soap and used one with a pH level of 5, it may not do anything for your dishes.

As a recommendation, the best pH level for dish soaps is around 7 to 10. Anything higher than that range may dry out your hands and strip its natural oils away.

The pH levels of the most common food and household supplies

In our daily lives, most of the products we use contain pH levels. Take a look at their levels and see whether they are acidic or basic below.

Acidic pH levels

  1. Vinegar – 2.5 to 3
  2. Coffee – 4.8 to 5
  3. Carbonated drinks – 2.5 to 3
  4. Orange juice - 3

Did you know? Most acidic food tastes sour.

Neutral pH levels

Neutral solutions contain 7 pH levels.

  1. Pure water
  2. Natural shampoos
  3. Milk

Basic pH levels

  1. Bleach – 11 to 13
  2. Ammonia – 11 to 12
  3. Oven cleaner – 11 to 13

Did you know? Most basic food tastes bitter.

Is there a dish soap with a neutral pH level?

There are a couple of pH neutral soaps you can find at big grocery stores. Most of them are already effective in making your kitchenware sparkling clean. If you tried them and you find them to be ineffective, switch to soaps with mild levels instead.

Are dish soaps safe to use?

Of course. As long as they are not harsh on your skin, you will benefit from using dish soaps in your kitchen. Aside from getting rid of the obvious stains and grime, they will contain antibacterial properties to prevent bacteria from building up.

What to do when buying dish soap

Did you notice red patches on your hands or fingers? Aside from allergies and eczema, your dish soap may be the ones causing this to happen.

If you are sensitive to the soaps you use, we recommend in testing them yourself as pH levels are not usually included on a soap’s packaging. There are also some ingredients that you need to be aware of, as they may not be compatible with your skin type.

Other chemicals you need to watch out for

Formaldehyde enhances the scent of your dish soap. However, it may cause skin irritation, allergies cancer, and organ defects.

Triclosan has antibacterial and antifungal properties. However, it may cause eye irritation, endocrine problems, and cancer.

Cocamide DEA gives dish soaps the “suds” effect. However, it may cause severe drying of the skin and increases the risk of cancer.

Note: Since there are many harmful agents that may be included in commercial dish soaps, many consumers switch to using homemade soaps. If you decide to do so, it is important to remember that you will still need to test its pH level even if you are only using natural ingredients.