It’s important to not only thoroughly clean your dishes but to also protect your dishwasher. To do so, you want to choose the best dishwasher detergent for your needs. You likely invested time and money into choosing the right dishwasher for your family but even the finest dishwasher can only do so much. Take the time to choose the best dishwasher detergent and it can eliminate the need to rinse dishes, dissolve stubborn grease and grime, guard against stains, and leave your dishes clean and spotless. All dishwasher detergents provide the chemical energy necessary to clean dishes but they all work differently in your machine. Try a few of the best dishwasher detergents listed below to determine which works best for you.
- BEST OVERALL: Cascade Complete Dishwasher Pods
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Biokleen Free & Clear Dishwashing Detergent
- BEST LIQUID: Palmolive Eco Dishwasher Detergent Gel
- BEST POWDER: Cascade Complete Dishwasher Detergent Powder
- BEST POD: Cascade Platinum Plus Dishwasher Pods
- BEST ECO-FRIENDLY: Ecover Automatic Dishwashing Tablets Zero
- HONORABLE MENTION: Finish All-in-One 94ct Dishwasher Detergent
Types of Dishwasher Detergents
If you’ve ever pulled a plate from your dishwasher and found that it was still dirty, it may be time to change your detergent. Dishwasher detergents are sold in three different forms: gels, powders, and single units. Your personal preference plays a significant role in your choice but you should acquaint yourself with the options.
Gels are generally the least-expensive dishwasher detergent option but also have the least cleaning power. Gels are less effective than other types of dishwashing detergents because they do not combine bleach and enzyme agents that effectively remove dried food stuck on dishes. Still, gels are ideal for glasses and delicate dishes because their water-based formulas are less abrasive.
Powders are either poured or scooped into your dishwasher’s dispenser. They can be messy but do have solid cleaning power. A box of dishwasher powder is generally less expensive than other forms of dishwasher detergent and allows you the flexibility of determining the amount used. That’s helpful when you have a small dishwasher or if you are washing a small load. Of course, you don’t want to use too much powdered detergent, because it can create a foam that may leak onto your floor. One caveat: If you have delicate tableware, powders are likely too abrasive. Powders perform best on pots and pans with burnt-on stains.
Single-Load Pods or Tablets
Single-load pods or tablets are concentrated dishwashing powder or gel packs that dissolve as they go to work. You place the pod or tablet either in the dispenser or the main area of the dishwasher, depending on your appliance.
Dishwasher tablets and pods deliver precise amounts of detergent so they don’t generate excess foam. Many detergent pods and tablets contain rinse aids or other additives that improve your dishwasher’s cleaning capabilities and help remove any detergent residue from your dishes. Dishwasher detergent tablets and pods also include chemicals that pre-wash, degrease, and even clean your dishwasher as it cleans your dishes.
What to Look for in the Best Dishwasher Detergents
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of dishwasher detergent that seems right for you, take a careful look at these specifics that can impact the detergent you should use:
The minerals in hard water can make it difficult for the chemicals in dishwasher detergents to function effectively, so clean dishes may appear spotty. If your home has hard water, look for detergents that are sodium-based and formulated to soften hard water. Also consider the use of a rinse aid, which will help remove any residue from the dishes. Another idea is to place a cup of white vinegar––which functions as a rinse aid––upright on the top rack of your empty dishwasher and run a normal wash cycle.
Sometimes you remove dishes from the dishwasher and find that they aren’t as clean as you expected. You may need to spend a few extra seconds preparing your dishes to be cleaned. Pre-rinse dishes (no need to scrub!) and make sure large food chunks are removed. Also, place items in the dishwasher to allow space between items so that the dishwasher’s spray arms and jets can effectively target all areas. Don’t overfill the dishwasher or put dishes in incorrect areas (such as glassware on the bottom or plates on the top). The dishwasher is designed to work with specific dishes and flatware in predetermined locations.
Most detergents are manufactured with fast-dissolving formulations but detergents fail to dissolve when the water is too hard or too cold. As noted earlier, you should purchase sodium-based detergent to counteract hard water. If hard water and temperature aren’t the issues, double-check your wash cycle settings. Program your dishwasher to run on the longest, hottest cycle. If your hot water takes time to reach your sink faucet, it will also take time to reach the dishwasher. Run the water in your kitchen sink until it’s hot before you start your dishwasher.
Powder detergents readily absorb moisture and carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere. When that happens, the detergent may become lumpy and ineffective. To safeguard against this, open the package as directed and make sure the package is always completely closed. Do the same with packaging for gel tablets and pods.
Our Top Picks
We considered factors such as quality and customer satisfaction to determine the best dishwasher detergents for spotless dishes.
Cascade was the first brand of dishwasher detergent that allowed you to skip pre-rinsing dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. Each pod is formulated with grease-fighting agents and also contains a built-in rinse aid and water softener. Each pod is housed in a hard plastic container that blocks moisture and contains the exact amount of detergent needed to clean a full load of dishes. Just pop one in the dispenser and hit start. It dissolves quickly and unleashes cleaning chemicals early in the cycle.
Biokleen Free and Clear is an eco-friendly, non-toxic, plant-based detergent with no artificial fragrance, colors, or preservatives. This effective powder-based detergent is extremely concentrated, so you only need a little to get the job done. Biokleen does not contain phosphate or chlorine but does have sodium carbonate, citric acid, and hydrogen peroxide. These natural chemicals are known to power through grease, dissolve baked-on food, and remove stains. Each container has enough detergent for 64 loads.
You want sparkling clean dishes but you also want to live a more sustainable lifestyle—now you can have both. Palmolive Eco dishwasher Detergent Gel provides powerful cleaning action and its formula is phosphate-free. This detergent gel is made with natural ingredients and grease-dissolving environmentally friendly enzymes. Plus, it contains no artificial colorants or preservatives. It won’t leave behind residue and ample cleansers whisk away dirt, grease, and grime. The large-size bottle features an integrated handle and a clean-pouring squeeze spout for easy use.
Cascade Complete Dishwasher Detergent Powder is one of the oldest and most effective dishwasher detergents on the market and also one of the most cost-effective. No pre-rinsing is needed to dissolve food and leave glasses crystal clear and free of water spots. Like all powder detergents, it can clump if exposed to moisture so store it in a dry location or a heavy plastic container.
Cascade Platinum Plus Dishwasher Pods deliver premium cleaning power in a convenient, no-mess packet. Each packet is formulated with a power booster to give your dishes a powerful clean. The main difference between the Platinum Plus and Cascade’s Compete line is the addition of a presoak aid. It’s part powder and part gel with a water softener and rinse aid for a complete cleaning solution that will work on virtually any dish or pan, no matter how dirty. Enjoy spotless dishes without a separate rinse aid.
If you want a detergent that’s gentle for the planet but tough on your dirty dishes, consider Ecover. The fragrance and dye-free detergent uses a plant and mineral-based formula to break and dissolve stuck-on foods and messes, leaving you with clean, spotless dishes. Ecover’s detergent is biodegradable and phosphate-free so it won’t harm the environment. It’s not tested on animals, either. Each package contains 25 tablets.
Finish All-in-One tablets contain a pre-treating solution, degreaser, bacteria-killing bleach, and a rinse-aid to prevent spotting on glassware. The tablet cuts through the toughest grease to deliver a deep clean, and the iconic red powerball on the tab scrubs away the toughest dried-on food and stains. The only real downside to this product is that each tablet is individually wrapped. That means more packaging, resulting in more trash. Still, the wrapping ensures the tablets stay dry so they are less likely to disintegrate from moisture. There are 85 tablets per package.
FAQs About Dishwasher Detergent
You probably think using dishwasher detergent is pretty straightforward but some common misconceptions can cause issues. Below are some frequently asked questions about dishwasher detergent that can guide you toward better use.
Q. Is liquid or powder dishwasher detergent better?
Liquid or powder is a matter of personal preference. However, powder detergents contain both bleach and enzymes that effectively clean dishes. Liquid detergents will have one or the other but never both.
Q. Are dishwasher pods bad for your dishwasher?
No. Pods are designed to deliver precise amounts of detergent to your washer and completely dissolve.
Q. Why won’t my dishwasher detergent dissolve completely?
Your detergent may not completely dissolve because your water is hard or the water isn’t hot enough. Those with hard water should try sodium-based detergents.