Dawn dish-washing soap went from a household product to a participant in environmental causes when it was found to be effective in cleaning up after oil spills. Birds were bathed with Dawn after the Exxon-Valdez spill in 1983 and the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.
Dawn was created in 1973 by Procter & Gamble. It joined lemon-scented Joy dish soap in the P&G product lineup. Dawn is the best-selling dish soap, according to a New York Times story that cites Information Resources, a market research firm.
Surfactant is the ingredient that allows for the removal of dirt and grease from a garment. One end of the surfactant molecule clings to dirt and oil. The other end, which loves water, keeps the isolated dirt from returning to the fabric. Natural-occurring surfactants come from plant oils and animal fats. Synthetic surfactants are made from petroleum.
The International Bird Rescue Research Center discovered in 1978 that Dawn dish soap worked best for removing oil from birds. Later, Dawn began donating product and money for environmental cleanup of oil spills.