a clogged dish soap bottle

I, like everyone else alive, hate washing dishes in the sink. According to Procter & Gamble, washing dishes is the second most hated chore behind cleaning the toilet—and during the pandemic while we eat at home more often, we’re spending up to 25 minutes a day on the task.

Indeed, there are jobs that even a dishwasher just can’t complete. Part of my hatred for dishwashing is in scrubbing pots clean. The other part is dealing with the dish soap itself—an always-gunky bottle dripping extra gel cleaner onto the counter.

For the last two months, I’ve been testing the latest and greatest in dishwashing technology, in development for five years. Called Dawn EZ Squeeze, it’s a dish soap that sits upside down on your counter (kind of like shower gel), but with no cap. All you need to do is grab it, squeeze it, and squirt some soap into the sink or onto the dishes. You don’t even need to turn your wrist or adjust a nozzle. The soap squirts out in a thin stream, and somehow, it doesn’t drip even an extra drop after. Really. (I didn’t believe it either.)

[Image: Procter & Gamble]

The new product, which retails starting at $2.84, comes just a year after the release of P&G’s last dishwashing makeover, the Dawn Powerwash Dish Spray—a dish soap that you apply like window cleaner. But for P&G, EZ Squeeze is expected to be a bigger release, as traditional liquid soap represents the vast majority of the market (and Dawn itself is already the most popular dish soap in America).

“The spray is a habit change, because no one was using spray to wash dishes before,” says Corey Brugh, senior engineer, research & development, North America Dish at Procter & Gamble. “Certainly having a liquid soap that upgrades their experience…will be [more] intuitive to many consumers.”

Why rethink the UX of dish soap at all? It’s all born from consumer research. Over the past several years, P&G spent hundreds of hours interviewing consumers about dishwashing habits, even going into their homes to watch them do the dishes.

From that research, Jennifer Lo, Regional Brand Director at Procter & Gamble, ticks off all the strange rituals around dishwashing that might sound familiar. She talks about the impenetrable gunk that forms on the nozzle, and the annoyance of using a bottle that’s only one-third full—a situation that leads people to balance the bottle upside down on its nozzle against the faucet, or add water and shake it up.

“So that inspired us to think, how do we make that easier?” says Lo. “Ultimately, consumers are trying to use their soap, and to get to the last drop.”

Developing no drips

P&G’s immediate answer was not to change user behavior, but to better enable it.

“One thing we saw over and over again was consumers were turning their bottle upside down anyway, but when they do it, it’s super messy,” says Brugh. “So you start peeling back [the practice]: How do you enable this consumer behavior but make the experience better?”

The solution was a better nozzle. Current dish soaps use a mechanical nozzle that you pull open and closed. For EZ Squeeze, P&G’s first task was to develop something that could self-seal, every time, so that an upside-down bottle could work and there’d be none of that dreaded “residual dripping,” as it’s called in the industry.

What they developed is a patented nozzle that self-seals with a pocket of air. The reason this self-sealing cap works is that it’s designed in harmony with the shape of the bottle (which impacts how you squeeze it) and the viscosity of the soap inside.

[Image: Procter & Gamble]

“We look at the liquid, cap, and bottle as a device,” says Brugh. “You can’t optimize one thing without changing everything else.”

The bottle has a relatively flat front and back, but it’s reinforced with ribs you might notice on each of its sides, which support its structure from collapsing, like an exoskeleton, and makes it easier for a wet hand to grip. Coupled with the air coming in through the cap, this skeleton allows the bottle to bounce back, recovering its shape when squeezed.

“This is where we had hundreds of designs, to figure out the best shape that will work in this total device with the mechanical properties of this dishwashing liquid,” says Brugh, noting that P&G spent thousands of hours on computer modeling simulations to optimize the shape. “Think about your experience with those cheap store-brand water bottles. They’re curved to provide structure, but they don’t feel premium. But by the shape of this [Dawn] bottle…you want it to feel premium.”

As for the soap inside, I could swear it was thinner than typical Dawn as it sprayed out of the bottle and pooled toward the nozzle whenever I set it down. But P&G said it’s the exact same viscosity as their existing formula, albeit boosted with 4x the grease-cutting power.

Overall, it’s an impressive bit of design, packaged into the most democratic of products. This is simple dish soap, after all! And its clean, one-handed UX, built within a plastic bottle, is truly impressive. However, I can’t help but look at the plastic ring on which EZ Squeeze balances upside down, and imagine millions of them making their way into our waste stream. P&G clarifies that the bottle uses up to 35% post recycled plastic, but still, I wish the bottle were thinking as much about its end of life as our quality of life.