The Best Dishwasher Detergents to Add Sparkle to Your Dishes
Remove stuck-on grime and protect your dishwasher with these top-rated dish detergents.
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- BEST OVERALLCascade Complete Dishwasher PodsCheck Latest Price
- HONORABLE MENTIONFinish All-in-One 94ct Dishwasher DetergentCheck Latest Price
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCKBiokleen Free & Clear Dishwashing DetergentCheck Latest Price
It’s important to now 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 so much research and money into choosing the right dishwasher for your family but still, 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, it will 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 slightly differently in your machine. Try a few of the top-rated detergents listed below to determine which works best for you.
- BEST OVERALL: Cascade Complete Dishwasher Pods
- HONORABLE MENTION: Finish All-in-One 94ct Dishwasher Detergent
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Biokleen Free & Clear Dishwashing Detergent
- LIQUID PICK: Palmolive Eco Dishwasher Detergent Gel
- POWDER PICK: Procter & Gamble 95788 Cascade Dishwashing Detergent
- POD PICK: Cascade Platinum Plus Dishwasher Pods
- ECO-FRIENDLY PICK: Ecover Automatic Dishwashing Tablets Zero
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 other options outlined below.
Gels are the least-expensive dishwasher detergent option, but also have the least cleaning power. Dishwasher gels differ significantly from liquids used to hand-wash dishes. Basically, dishwashing liquid is designed to produce suds and isn’t as easily rinsed from dishes as dishwasher detergent. Those suds may damage your dishwasher and plumbing and leave dishes with a film.
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 soap 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 you are less likely to 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 want. 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. Of course, you also don’t want to 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 your 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 to avoid unnecessary tearing. Then completely close the package. Do the same with packaging for tablets and pods.
Store dishwasher detergent out of reach of pets and small children. Dishwasher detergent contains sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate. If ingested it can cause chemical burns and severe pain on mouths, lips, tongues, and throats.
Our Top Picks
The top-rated products listed below were chosen for quality, price, and customer satisfaction to help you find the right dishwasher detergent for spotless dishes.
1. BEST OVERALL: Cascade Complete Dishwasher Pods
Cascade was the first brand of dishwasher detergent that allowed you to skip pre-rinsing dishes, even those that sat for hours, 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.
2. HONORABLE MENTION: Finish All-in-One 94ct Dishwasher Detergent
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 such as grease and tea.
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 94 tablets per package.
3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Biokleen Free & Clear Dishwashing Detergent
Biokleen Free and Clear is an eco-Friendly, non-toxic, plant-based, detergent with no artificial fragrance, colors, or preservatives. But that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. The powder-based detergent is extremely concentrated, so you only need a little to get the job done.
Biokleen does not contain phosphate and 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.
4. LIQUID PICK: Palmolive Eco Dishwasher Detergent Gel
If you prefer a liquid dishwasher detergent, consider Palmolive. The detergent gel is made with natural ingredients and grease- and food-dissolving environmentally friendly enzymes. Plus, it contains no artificial colorants or preservatives.
The detergent is available in great-smelling fresh lemon or apple-citrus scents. Gel detergents work best as a pre-wash cleaner for heavily sodden pots and pans or as a nonabrasive cleaner for delicate tableware. Palmolive Eco gel is friendly to lakes and streams, and will not upset the enzyme balance in septic tanks.
5. POWDER PICK: Procter & Gamble 95788 Cascade Dishwashing Detergent
Cascade Complete powder detergent is one of the oldest and most effective dishwasher detergents on the market and also one of the least expensive. 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 in a heavy plastic container. The box is 60 ounces.
6. POD PICK: Cascade Platinum Plus Dishwasher Pods
Cascade Platinum Plus Actionpacs 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, 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. It’s one of the more expensive picks on this list, but you don’t have to purchase a separate rinse aid.
7. ECO-FRIENDLY PICK: Ecover Automatic Dishwashing Tablets Zero
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.
FAQs About Dishwasher Detergent
You probably think using dishwasher detergent is pretty straightforward, but there are some common misconceptions that 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, 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.