Dishes cleaned in a dishwasher should be fresh and sparkling after every cycle. The best dish washing detergents are sure to give you clean plates and cutlery every time. There is nothing worse than opening your dishwasher after the cycle has completed, only to find that your plates and cutlery are still covered in gunk and grime from last night's dinner.
A common misconception when this happens is that the dishwasher itself is not doing a proper cleaning job. A lot of people don’t realize that it is actually the detergent failing them. Luckily, this is a much easier fix than investing in a new dishwasher. Switching out your current cleaning agent for a new one can make a world of difference for the cleanliness of your dishware.
When shopping around for the best dish washing detergent, you’ll quickly see that there is no shortage of options.
There are several types of dish cleaners to choose from, including gels, powders, and tablets or pods.
This is just one of the many variables to consider in addition to things like cost and eco-friendliness. No matter what dish washing cleanser you choose, they all have the same primary function - to get your dishes as clean as possible. To make this happen, the top dish detergents contain similar ingredients. Here are some of the most common detergent ingredients and the primary function of each:
Some dishwashing detergents also contain perfumes, anti-caking agents, gelling agents, and anti-foaming agents. Using a detergent that contains none of these components will leave your dishes still caked with food, water spots, and a wide array of bacteria.
For this reason, looking into the ingredients of potential dishwashing detergents is crucial.
Forms of Dishwasher Cleaning Agents
The three common types of dishwashing detergents on the market are gels (or liquid detergents), powders, and single-dose units that come in the form of packs, tablets, or pods.
Gel or Liquid Detergents
A lot of people assume that gel dishwashing detergent is precisely the same as the product you would use to wash your dishes by hand. It might look and feel the same, but it is quite different.
A dishwashing liquid you use to wash dishes by hand should not be used in a dishwashing machine, but instead, you need to use one that is specifically designed for a machine wash.
A liquid-based detergent is poured directly into the dishwasher dispenser and is easier to use than a detergent that comes in powder form. Your gel will come in a bottle that is easy to handle and pours the liquid smoothly without the risk of spillage.
Liquids are also less abrasive than powders since the first ingredient is water, but the main downside is the slight increase in price.
Powder detergents have been referred to as the "poor man's dishwashing agent" since it is the most budget-friendly option of the three types of detergents. But don't let this nickname fool you; powder detergents can be just as effective as gel-based detergents.
With a powder detergent, simply measure out the recommended amount of powder using the scooper that is provided. Add the powder to the detergent chamber of the dishwasher and then start the cycle.
The main perk of powder detergent is the cost - a large box of powder is relatively cheap and will last for what feels like a lifetime. Canstar Blue, a home and garden resource based in Australia, says that
“traditional powders are a viable option for stain removal and easy rinsing. Although it may be abrasive for fine tableware including glasses, you may like to consider it as an option for pots and pans to remove burnt-on stains."
Single-dose detergent units - like pods, tablets, or packets - have become the trend in recent years. Dish washing tablets come in the form of a tiny brick that contains a concentrated amount of dish washing powder. They can also come in the form of a pod and be entirely composed of dish washing gel instead of powder.
No matter which type of single-dose unit you choose, the main point is to have your dish washing detergent separated for you ahead of time in a single dose. These are by far the easiest to use since there is no measuring involved. Take a pod or tablet and place it into the dishwasher detergent chamber.
The precise dosage of each unit means that your dishes will be cleaned with the optimal amount of detergent, not too much and not too little. When using a tablet, you'll notice a small (usually red) ball in the center. This serves as a rinse aid that ensures no detergent residue left on the dishes, leaving them sparkly clean after every cycle.
The major disadvantage of the single-unit detergent is that it is by far the most costly way to get your dishes clean.
Choosing the Best Dishwashing Detergent
Considering the ingredients of detergent is one of the first things to do. More and more research has been released on the importance of choosing a detergent without harming agents that are detrimental to the environment. There are also ingredients that can be abrasive on your dishes, specifically delicate glassware.
If you’re hoping for a detergent that is as environmentally-friendly as possible, find one that does not contain these toxic dishwashing ingredients:
You must also consider whether your home’s water is hard or soft when choosing the proper dishwashing detergent. Consumer Reports says that hard water can majorly affect the cleanliness of your dishes, and here’s why:
“Hard water has a total level of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals at 7 grains per gallon or 121 milligrams per liter or higher. Hard water can not only lead to the spotting and crusted-over heating element but also diminish how well your dishwasher cleans.”
One way to fix this problem is to choose a detergent that works well with a hard water supply. Adding rinse aid to the washing cycle could make a significant difference as well.
This consideration is a big one for anyone trying to make better decisions for the environment. Using pods or individually-wrapped tablets might not seem like the most eco-friendly choice. But some detergent manufacturers are taking extra steps to make their products better for the environment.
If you’re worried about your individually-packaged pod wreaking havoc on the environment, stop worrying. Grist.org says that “these pods are made of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) film, a synthetic polymer that does indeed dissolve in water.
It’ll first break down into an aqueous solution of PVA, then, when the right microbes are introduced, all the way down into carbon dioxide and water." It is, however, still relevant to look at the ingredients contained within the pods.
This is a biggie. We live in a world where convenience is everything, and not a minute of precious time can be wasted. This is why the single-dose pods were created in the first place - to make the process of washing dishes as simple as humanly possible. Measuring out the proper dose of detergent with liquid or powder agents takes time, and it also leaves room for error.
With a pod, the dose is measured out for you in the exact amount needed - never too much or never too little. This, in addition to saving time by not having to measure yourself, improves on overall convenience. So if convenience is your main concert, the single-dose pod or tablet is the best choice for you.
Cutting power means how well your detergent can cut through grease, oil, and fat. There is no point in washing your dishes in a machine if your detergent has no cutting power whatsoever. Cutting power is determined by the ingredients and how these ingredients work on a molecular level.
Grease can cut through soap because of the polar attractions between soap and water molecules.
This polar attraction leads the detergent to act as a surfactant. In other words, the soap is the link between the water and the grease, and “once the grease and water are linked, you can use gravity and friction to pull the soap and grease molecules away from your item along with the water molecules.”
You aren't hoping for any residue to remain on your dishes once the cycle is complete, but unfortunately, it still happens. There are a few reasons for the residue to be present, the most common having to do with the detergent reacting with your home's hard water supply. The residue is more likely to happen with a powder detergent since this type is more difficult to dissolve.
If your dishes are prone to residue, try out a liquid detergent or a single-dose unit containing a rinse aid tab. Rinse Aid helps to remove water from your dishes during the final stages of the wash cycle. It allows the water to roll more effectively off of your dishes during the drying phase, reducing water spots and unwanted reside.
Do you have a preferred scent when it comes to your dishwashing detergent? This is not as big of a concern as it would be for laundry detergent since the dishes won't leave the washer with that scent clinging to them.
Even so, some dishwasher users still love the floral smell that wafts from their dishwashing liquid or powder as they add it to the machine.
If you can go without the floral scent, however, you should do so. Try to purchase a cleaning agent without the use of fragrance or perfumes; these ingredients are unnecessary and not required to enhance your dish cleanliness.
Washing dishes is inevitable and something that you can expect to do every single day. For this reason, it is essential to consider cost and even think about how much that detergent costs you per load. This is easy to determine for pre-measured pods but a bit more difficult for liquids and powders.
A powder is by far the most cost-efficient way to wash dishes, followed by a liquid detergent and lastly single-use units.
8 Best Dishwasher Detergents Reviewed
1. Cascade Platinum ActionPacs
Best Dishwasher Detergent
If the main thing you want to get out of your dishwashing experience is convenience, the Cascade Platinum ActionPac is the only detergent for you. The name is fitting since these little pods take extreme action to cut through grease and wash away messes that have been stuck on for 24 full hours.
They have earned the Good Housekeeping seal of approval and Cascade is the most trusted name for dish detergent users in North America. To use these detergent pods, add one to the dishwasher dispenser chamber and shut it closed. There is no measuring involved whatsoever, and the pods aren't individually packaged so you won't waste precious time unwrapping each pod.
Since these packets are extremely concentrated, they have been proven to be 6x more effective than the National bargain brand pods. One super size container washes 62 loads of dishes.
This automatic dishwashing detergent comes with the grease-fighting power of Dawn, making it able to cut through any grease or caked-on food particles. Because of its action-packed power, there is no need for a pre-wash, saving you money on utilities and promoting eco-friendly behaviors all at once.
Nearly a decade ago, Cascade removed phosphates from their detergents to comply with local, state, and federal regulations.
Although this is much better for the environment, there was a lot of concern that the lack of phosphate would affect detergent cleaning capabilities. This has not been the case at all; you can feel confident in the power of Cascade and not worry about harmful phosphates.
2. Finish Quantum Max
Best Dishwasher Detergent for Septic Systems
The detergent tablet brought to you by Finish is another convenient and easy-to-use choice for washing dishes, especially if your home runs on a septic system. The signature Powerball found in the center of these tablets activates its three dishwashing ingredients as soon as each cycle is ready for it. This detergent tablet has been proven to wash away baked-on lasagna, scrub off dried oatmeal, and attack burnt-on scrambled eggs.
The three main actions of each Quantum Max Powerball tablet include: break down of tough messes, grease-cutting actions, and finishing shine boost. All of these actions work together to leave you with sparkling dishware, glassware, and silverware. Powerball tablets remove tough stains the first time around without the need for a pre-wash.
Not only does it provide a clean product, but this detergent works to protect glassware, remove stains from hard water, and clean in short cycles. The pre-measured dose makes things simple, as does the wrapper-free packaging.
However, there have been a few reviewers to comment on the lack of cleaning power compared to Cascade ActionPacs. For the most part, though, the consensus is that Finish tablets get the job done effectively and tackle the toughest messes the first time around.
3. Miele Dishwasher Tabs
Best Dishwasher Detergent for Bosch
60, 72, 80, 120
Water-soluble wrapping (dissolves during wash)
The name Miele isn't as well-known as detergent brands like Cascade or Finish, but that doesn't mean it should be overlooked. These Miele dishwasher tabs feature a powerful formula packed with stain-fighting and grease-cutting enzymes. They were designed explicitly for Miele dishwashers, but they can be used in any dishwasher that is compatible with detergent tablets.
When you remove a tablet from the box, you’ll see that there is a plastic coating around it. This wrapping does not need to be removed; it will dissolve as the dishwasher runs, allowing the detergent to be released.
The formula is phosphate-free, so these tabs pose no harm to the environment.
One drawback, according to a few reviewers, is that two tabs are sometimes required for heavily-soiled dishes. On the other hand, some reviewers say that ½ tablet is highly effective, so it really depends on water quality and dishwasher efficiency.
The other downside is that they are quite pricey, so if you can get a thorough wash by cutting each tab in half, I highly recommend trying this method.
4. Ecover Automatic
Best Natural Dishwasher Soap Tablets
Fragrance-Free or Citrus
Anyone in the market for a detergent containing natural and organic ingredients should be considering the Ecover Automatic Dishwasher Soap Tablets. Ecover prides itself on its bio-degradable and phosphate-free formula using renewable plant-based and mineral ingredients.
None of their products contain fragrance, dyes, or chlorine so you can rest easy knowing that your detergent is safe for the Earth and your family.
The company even uses 100% recycled cardboard for packaging the product. Ecover is on a mission to save the environment one detergent tab at a time. They do this without sacrificing the power of the detergent - it washes away grime and gunk as well as any chemical-laden detergent on the market.
However, it is still recommended that you give your dishes a quick rinse before loading them into the dishwasher. This is a small price to pay for saving the Earth, and this quick task will also help to keep your dishwasher running smoother for longer.
The other minor downside is that each tablet comes individually-packaged, so you'll have to remove it before placing the tablet into the washing chamber.
5. Kirkland Signature
Best Automatic Dishwasher Detergent
Anyone hoping to get the biggest bang for their buck needs to try out the Kirkland Signature Automatic Dishwasher Detergent Pacs. Compared to every product on this list, this package of 115 dishwasher pacs is the most cost-efficient option.
Each little pac is more powerful than it looks, delivering streak-free sparkling dishes and cutlery every time you run the dishwasher.
Not only that, but they are also easy and convenient to use and work flawlessly on grease and tough stains. Kirkland has recently released a new and improved formula, making these pacs more eco-friendly without sacrificing any of the washing power.
This means that no pre-rinse cycle is required, another eco-friendly perk of this Kirkland detergent. Consumer Reports recently released its ranking for best detergents of the year based on extensive testing.
Sure enough, Kirkland ranked high on the Consumer Reports best dishwasher detergent list, with CR saying that these pacs “are tough on messes, earning an Excellent rating in our tests for cleaning dishes, and do a superb job keeping washed-off food from winding up on dishes.”
And it doesn’t hurt that the price per load comes out to just 11 cents.
The lemon citrus scent is pleasant according to most reviewers, but one Kirkland Amazon reviewer claims that it leaves a "strong residual smell when the washing cycle is complete." If you have a sensitive nose or aren't a fan of citrus, perhaps you should choose a fragrance-free dish detergent instead.
6. Grab Green Natural
Best Dishwasher Detergent Powder
Fragrance-Free, Grapefruit & Cranberry
Yes, when hard water is present
Anyone looking for the most traditional powder washing method will love what the Grab Green company has to offer. The Grab Green Natural Detergent Powder is naturally-derived, fragrance-free, and cruelty-free.
The powder comes in a large pouch that can be sealed shut with the velcro lining. Each Grab Green pouch comes with a scoop for accurate measuring.
Even though this is composed of all-natural ingredients, this detergent will tackle your toughest dish loads. The powder is extremely concentrated, so you get a fantastic value of 80 loads per pouch. Powders aren't diluted like liquid detergents, so you only need about half the amount to get the same results.
The philosophy at Grab Green is that cleaning is not only about what you remove, but what you add as well. The company leaders have spent years finding the perfect balance of plant and mineral ingredients that offer optimal cleaning powers. Based on the way customers are raving about Grab Green, the company has succeeded in this mission.
However, there is one potential downside to using Grab Green. If you suffer from hard water in your home's water supply, you might want to opt for another detergent.
A few reviewers have expressed concern about a residue left on their dishes, which is standard for homes with hard water. There are detergents out there that can counteract hard water issues, and this doesn't seem to be one of them.
7. Bubble Bandit
Best Dishwasher Detergent with Phosphates
There aren’t many detergents that contain phosphate these days since many industry leaders are foregoing the ingredient for a more eco-friendly formula. Phosphate has gotten a bad rep, but there is little proof on its potentially harmful environmental impacts.
However, there is a lot of proof on its ability to clean dishes with a streak-free shine and flawless finish.
Bubble Bandit uses natural phosphates and has taken steps to remove all of the useless ingredients found in many detergents.
This makes it one of the most powerful detergents on the market; it is even used in commercial dishwashing facilities to wash massive loads of dirty dishes. You only need about two tablespoons per washing cycle, giving you about 60 loads per bag.
There are currently 17 state governments within America that prohibit phosphates within detergents used for residential purposes, including Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
If you live in one of these states, you can only use this detergent for commercial or institutional dishwashing. Environmentalists typically aren’t on board with Bubble Bandit detergent, but the naturally-derived phosphate in this dishwashing detergent has not been proven to have a harmful effect. If you want to give it a try, run your first few loads using Bubble Bandit with an empty machine.
Users have noticed that the first few cycles show up with residue on the dishware. This is due to the built-up mineral deposits within the dishwasher, but the detergent will help to clear out these deposits.
8. Cascade Advanced Power
Best Liquid Dishwasher Detergent
I already covered one Cascade product on this list, but some prefer the Advanced Power Liquid since it is a liquid instead of a single-dose packet detergent. Similar to the pods, this liquid detergent comes with the boosting power of Dawn for added shine and streak-free dishes. It can power away food that has been left on dishes for up to 24 hours.
The 125-ounce bottle has an easy-pour spout and handle ideal for measuring out exact detergent doses. It is a bit more cost-efficient than the Cascade pods but just as effective.
The cost per load is not much at all. Depending on how much detergent you use and how often you wash your dishes, you can make this bottle last for upwards of 6 months.
There have been a few less-than-stellar remarks about using this detergent with low-quality washing machines. One reviewer says that this works in high-quality appliances with no problems, but when it comes to a lower-quality machine, the Cascade pods work better.
Ingredients that you’ll want to avoid
I already touched a bit on this a bit, but there are a few more ingredients you should try to avoid when deciding on a detergent. These ingredients might help with the overall washing process, but they tend to do more harm than good in terms of health and environmental impact.
Phthalates are common in many home and personal products, including cosmetics, plastic products, and detergents. These chemicals are typically used for the softening of plastic to make it more pliable, but in detergents, they are used as an artificial fragrance.
Phthalates have been linked with health problems like endocrine disruption, cancer, and reproductive issues.
Commercial use of polyacrylates is universal; it can be found in commercial and residential-grade dishwashing detergents. Sciencing.com says that “it acts by combining with dissolved substances in water and binding them together, allowing detergent surfactants (wetting agents) to act effectively.”
However, it has the potential to cause harm when not handled properly. Although a lot of sources deem it as non-toxic, it can cause irritation when coming in contact with the eyes or skin.
Ingesting it can cause severe sickness and even be fatal if swallowed in large quantities. If you have little kids roaming around the house, it is best to avoid a product that contains polyacrylates of any kind.
There are many uses of methylisothiazolinone, but the main one is to act as a preservative in cleaning products. You're better off to find a detergent that is free of methylisothiazolinone since it is highly corrosive and toxic if ingested or when it comes in contact with the eyes or skin.
It also has some adverse environmental effects and is harmful to marine organisms that are exposed to it.
This commonly found ingredient in detergents is used in conjunction with the chemical just mentioned methylisothiazolinone. Its purpose is to lengthen the shelf life of everything from fabric softeners to stainless steel cleaners.
Just like methylisothiazolinone, it can cause some severe eye and skin irritation and can be harmful to aquatic life as well.
Sodium Hypochlorite functions as a disinfectant and water purifier. It is often used for bleaching, odor removal, and surface purification. Aside from being used in dish detergents, it is commonly used to purify swimming pools. It may be useful, but the potential harms outweigh the benefits of Sodium Hypochlorite.
It can cause significant irritation to the skin, eyes, and throat when inhaled.
A lot of detergent manufacturers enhance their products with dyes for brighter and bolder colors. But did you know that the body can absorb these dyes? Dyes in dishwashing detergents aren't as likely to be absorbed as the ones in laundry detergents, but there is still a risk.
Green Cleaners Association in Canada says that “dyes in cleaning products are often unlabeled on the products' ingredient lists, but are often comprised of several different chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens.”
They have been linked to several types of cancers, especially when it comes to breast cancer in women.
Hard Water and Residue
Hard water is the main culprit of residue on dishes, especially when you aren’t using the proper dish detergent. If you’re suffering from hard water problems, the first thing to look for in a detergent is a water-softening agent.
The best dishwasher detergent for hard water will have water-softening capabilities that can counteract your hard water supply. Chemicals that help to soften the water are sodium-based, since “water softeners work by creating a reaction where calcium and magnesium ions in hard water swap with sodium ions to reduce the buildup that lingers on your dishes,” according to Bustle.
Incorporating a top Rinse Aid product into your dishwashing routine can also help to reduce residue and water spots.
Other Dishwashing Products
If you want your dishwasher to run as smoothly as possible, you need to clean it. Who knew it was necessary to clean the thing that cleans your dishes, but it can make a massive difference in the appliance’s overall performance. A dishwasher cleaner works by cleaning the inner mechanisms of the machine, keeping it like new.
According to Goodhousekeeping, “all the bits of food, grease, and hard water minerals that collect inside your dishwasher can cause odors and prevent your appliance from doing the best job possible.” Luckily, investing in one of the best dishwasher cleaners can help.
Rinse Aid is not responsible for cleaning off the gunk and grime on your dishes, but it is still a vital element of every wash cycle. A Rinse Aid product doesn't help to rinse, but it works during the drying cycle. During the drying cycle, it helps to remove water from dishware to prevent water spots from setting.
It contains chemicals - surfactants - that work to decrease the water surface tension. This means that the water does not settle in droplets on your dishes, but instead it rolls right off without settling and leaving those unsatisfactory spots. Many detergent tablets and pods come with Rinse Aid within the mixture so that you don't have to add it separately.
Just as you need to take measures to keep your garbage disposal clean, the same needs to be done for your dishwasher. Small food particles can become jammed in the machine's filter and other crevices, and over time, these food particles begin to rot.
The odors The first step in fixing this is to use a dishwasher cleaner, but you can keep things smelling fresh and floral with a freshener.
Dishwashing Best Practices & Tips
The best thing you can do for your dishwasher is to choose the right detergent - you now have the tools to help you with that. But there’s more you could be doing to keep your dishwasher running smoothly. These tips won’t just keep your dishes sparkling clean, but it will lengthen the lifespan of this essential kitchen appliance.
Environmental Impact of Dishwashing Detergents
A lot of our human behaviors and everyday decisions have a severe impact on the environment, even the detergent we choose to use to clean dishes.
Some of the detergents on the market claim to be "eco-friendly," but it is your responsibility to do your research. Just because a company claims to deliver a product that does not harm the environment does not mean this is the case.
There are many considerations to make in regards to your dish detergent, especially if you are looking for one that is eco-friendly.
First of all, It is essential to consider the packaging. Is each detergent pod wrapped in a separate piece of plastic?
Next, you need to look into the actual ingredients. Does the detergent contain harmful phosphates, which have been proven toxic to aquatic animals when leached into fresh water sources?
If you have a septic system, it is even more crucial to put some thought into your detergent decision-making process. A septic tank only runs smoothly with biodegradable products, and it is essential to have good bacteria within the septic system so that waste can be properly broken down.
A detergent containing phosphate can cause serious harm to a septic system since it is antimicrobial and kills the good bacteria necessary for the septic to function.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is pre-rinse?
The pre-rinse (also called pre-wash) is the initial phase of the washing cycle that uses a powerful flush of warm water to wet the dishes. The purpose of this phase isn't necessary to clean, but prepare them for the main wash cycle that happens next.
Do I need to use a rinse aid?
This depends on a few things. If your home is prone to hard water, then yes, a rinse aid will do you a lot of good. With hard water, there is a higher likelihood of residue, but the rinse aid will help to ensure that no water is left on your dishes (meaning no waste).
It isn't 100% necessary to use a rinse aid agent if you have soft water, but it could still benefit your wash cycle, so it is worth a try.
Which form of dishwasher detergent is best for homes using hard water?
The top detergents for washing in hard water contain water softening agents within the ingredients list. The type of detergent - powder, liquid, or pod - doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as the detergent is sodium-based for optimal water softening.
What will happen if I just use regular dish soap on a dishwasher?
This is never a good idea. Even though hand washing liquid and machine washing detergent perform the same function - getting your dishes clean - they do not work in the same way. If you use liquid soap in your washing machine, there are a few potential problems you could experience:
Can I really make a homemade dishwasher detergent?
Yes! If you want to create your own DIY dishwasher detergent, this is entirely possible. You can find plenty of DIY dish detergent recipes simply by performing a Google search.
How much does a dishwashing detergent typically cost?
The cost of your dish detergent depends on the type of detergent, the brand you choose, and the quality of ingredients. This detergent buying guide by Consumer Reports shows that the cost when using a single-dose pod or tablet varies from 10 to 39 cents per load.
Gels/liquids cost 5 to 11 cents per load, and powders are the cheapest at as little as 3 cents per load.
Why do pods or tablet form cost more than powder and liquid detergents?
There are a few reasons for the higher cost of pods. The first is that there is much more involved in the manufacturing of pods. As opposed to loose powder or bottled liquid, each pod needs to be manufactured individually.
Reason #2 is that the detergent within a pod is much more concentrated, containing less water than the traditional gel. Because of this, you can count on a more efficient wash with each cycle.
Which type of dishwasher detergent works best?
Answering the question, “What is the best dishwasher detergent?” has been under debate for decades. The answer varies from person to person and depends on your home’s water quality, your budget, and your desire for eco-friendly ingredients.
Our mission is to find you the best products in quality and price. Once you start using dishwasher pods or tablets, don’t be surprised if you never go back to the more traditional washing powders and liquids.
This is especially true when it comes to the Cascade ActionPacs. Washing the dishes is now as easy as plopping in a detergent packet and hitting the Start button. You’ll never have to worry about streaks, stains, and unpleasant watermarks with the Cascade ActionPacs.
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