Dish soap is not insecticide

Q. What is the difference between “dish soap” and “insecticidal soaps” for use in the garden?

I thought my dish soap would do just as good and be just as environmentally friendly.

Is that true?

Carole from Youngstown

A. Insecticidal soaps are an option for those gardeners who seek more organic options in the home garden and landscape.

In general, they are a cheap alternative as well.

One container of insecticidal soap can go a long way and can be shared with gardening friends and neighbors.

Insecticidal soaps are used to control soft-bodied insects that are harmful to the plants gardeners want to grow and be healthy.

These ‘bad’ insects include spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, leafhoppers, thrips, plant bugs, many larvae and other insects.

It does not harm most of our beneficial insects if used properly.

Just like other chemicals, insecticidal soaps will have a list of insects controlled on the label.

If the soap does not have a label that details how to use it on plants to control insects, it is not meant to be used on plants.

The label will give details of how to use the products, how to protect pollinators and which specific insects it controls.

Dish soap is not insecticidal soap.

Advertising for dish soap includes details of removing grease, softening hands and other benefits for cleaning dishes.

If dish soap removes grease, it also removes natural waxes that protect leaves.

If dish soaps soften hands, they have additives that can cover leaves and are phytotoxic.

Dish soap is too harsh on plants and is not labeled to be used on plants for insect control.

Just spend the extra dollar or two to get a real insecticidal soap. But treat it like any other chemical – read the label.

You’ll find it doesn’t control all insects. You’ll notice the list of plants that it should not be used on because some plants are more sensitive to insecticidal soap than others.

Insecticidal soap is a great tool in our efforts to reduce the impacts of ‘bad’ insects on our good plants. Use it wisely.

To learn more about using insecticidal soaps, go to

Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Call the office plant and pest clinic at 330-533-5538 to submit your questions. Regular clinic hours are 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays.

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