For the busy household, a dishwasher is an essential part of the kitchen, taking away the hassle of a big clean up session at the sink. But your dishwasher can lose its cleaning effectiveness if it is not given the right detergent to do the job. A good dishwasher detergent needs to be tough enough to cut through dried on food from your dishware while leaving your glasses and delicate dishes gleaming and water spots free. And it also needs to content with the different levels of water hardness without losing its cleaning ability.
Sounds like a tall order, but there are some super-effective dishwasher detergents out there to suit all styles of dishwashers, cleaning jobs and budgets. We put the spotlight on the eight best dishwasher detergents currently on the supermarket shelves so you can really clean up.
The Best Dishwasher Detergent
With approximately 78 washes per tub, this powder from Cascade scoops our best dishwasher detergent’s top pick. Packed into neat pods – or ‘actionpacs’ – there’s a lot going on in each sachet. The platinum powder takes on tough stains and dried on food while tackling grease, before rinsing clean, leaving your dishes and glassware with a lovely shine. The outer pac dissolves quickly too, without clogging up the detergent cup. And so confident are Cascade in Complete, they say it can even work on food left to dry on plates for 24 hours. One of the best powder detergents, each pac is pre-measured so there is no waste, giving you several weeks’ worth of family dish cleaning, at a decent price too.
Pre-measured, 78 ‘pacs’ per tub
Works on 24-hour stuck on food
Quick dissolving outer plastic pac
Leaves a brilliant shine on glassware
- Weight3.3 pounds
If you don’t want to fuss about with several detergents and products to get your dishes clean and streak free, then check out Finish’s all in one Powerball. The compressed dishwasher powder tablet is familiar, with the white, blue and red sections doing their own job – breaking down and dissolving food residue, cutting through grease and a finishing rinse for a water spots free shine. You do need to unwrap each one of the tablets before placing in the dispenser, but they are solid so won’t crumble in your fingers. And the fresh-smelling compressed powder detergent has been designed to make light work of pots and pans and even hard water. One downside though– the plastic tablet wrapper is not recyclable.
Pre-measured ‘Powerball’ tablets
Cleans, dissolves grease and shines
Works with hard water
Good value 98 tablet pack
- Weight2.22 pounds
Using natural citric extracts and enzymes for a lemon-fresh clean, Lemi Shine is a powerful dishwasher detergent that is gentle on the environment. Our premium pick is at the top end of our review budget, but each pouch gives you a decent 65 pods, combining powder and gel for a deep-down dish clean. With no phosphates or chlorine, each pod is biodegradable and can work even with hard water and can be effective against stubborn, caked on food and stains. Users report that there is none or little residue left on their dishes and their glassware is left with a natural shine. Lemi Shine may not be as effective on grease but overall the cleaning power is impressive for a natural product and there are additional rinse aid products if you need an extra boost. And the lemon scent leaves your dishes smelling lovely and clean.
Dual chamber power/gel pods
Natural citric extracts for fresh cleaning
No phosphates, chlorine or artificial fillers
Works well in hard water
- BrandLemi Shine
- Weight2.2 pounds
Many of us prefer not to use too many chemicals in the kitchen so if you want a more natural dishwasher detergent, Ecover could have your answer with Zero. Made from plant-based and mineral ingredients, these dishwasher tablets are phosphate free and biodegradable so kinder on the environment. But that doesn’t mean these tablets slack when it comes to cleaning up all those dirty dishes. When tested, the pre-measured powder detergents work effectively per load, even on stuck on food and leave your glasses pretty streak free. And they don’t have any unpleasant chemical smell. There is a price to being environmentally conscious, as each box only contains 25 tablets, but the price point is well set, at around the $5.50 mark so good value, for you and the environment.
Made from plant-based and mineral ingredients
Tough on dirt and grease
Fragrance and phosphate free
- Weight1.1 pounds
Another product from Ecover, and this time it’s their deliciously fresh smelling citrus dishwasher soap tablets. Available in a box of 45 tablets, the formula has been recently improved to give them even more dirt and grease busting power, while leaving your dishes and glasses nicely streak free. With no artificial ingredients or chemicals, you can be sure that these tablets are phosphate free and are biodegradable too. And their plant-based ingredients are impressive at getting those dirty dishes clean, even in hard water. But users do have one negative about Ecover Citrus dishwasher tablets, and that’s each tablet is wrapped in plastic you have to remove. Is it recyclable, but could be done without?
Pack of 45 dishwasher tablets
Fresh and natural citrus fragrance
Uses plant and mineral based ingredients
Cleans, cuts through grease and shines
- Weight15.7 ounces
The name Better Life sets the bar high for this natural dishwasher gel, and for its eco-credentials it certainly makes the grade. This is one of the few natural dishwasher gels you can currently buy, and the ingredient list is impressive. Better Life gel is phosphate, bleach, fragrance, preservative and dye free and made from 100% plant and mineral agents, including coconut, corn, sodium silicate and citric acid. So far so good, but how does this gel clean? Users are pretty impressed with Better Life, and it does a good job of cleaning up dirt, stubborn food and grease. You may need a rinse aid (white wine vinegar is a good natural alternative) to get those glasses really water spots free but that’s no deal breaker. However, although it’s concentrated, you still need to do a quick pre-rinse and then use a decent amount for each wash, so perhaps not the most economical buy.
All-natural liquid dishwasher detergent
Phosphate, bleach, fragrance and preservative free
Plant-based and mineral ingredients
Works on stubborn stains and stuck on food
- BrandBetter Life
- Weight1.88 pounds
Cascade has recognized the growing call for more natural cleaning products and with Pure, they have created a gentle gel dishwasher pod that’s still tough on dirt, water spots and stains. Formulated with no phosphates or bleach, and using more ‘bio-based’ ingredients, the Pure actionpac pods are also dye-free. The formulation is lightly scented with lemon essential oils for a natural odor. Perhaps not as effective as other Cascade dishwasher detergents on heavily soiled pots and pans or caked on food, Pure still does a decent job of everyday dishes and most notably, doesn’t seem to leave any glass-dulling residue.
Phosphate and bleach free formula
Biodegradable and dye-free pods
Infused with natural citrus oil
58 pre-measured pods per pack
- Weight1.9 pounds
Certified 100% biodegradable, and free of phosphates and chlorine, Planet Automatic is a natural dishwasher detergent that won’t break the bank. Each of the 20 dishwasher pods are ‘free and clear’, meaning there are no artificial nasties, or added fragrances or dyes and come packed in a resealable pouch for freshness. And when popped into the dishwasher, these pods are pretty good at getting all those dishes clean, including an effective water spots reducing ability. You may need a rinse aid to boost the shine factor on your glassware but if you want to do your bit for the planet, Free & Clear gel pacs are a good way to get those everyday dishes clean.
20-pod pouch of biodegradable dishwasher
Phosphate, chlorine, fragrance and preservative free
Dye-free, clear liquid and pods
Not tested on animals
- Weight13.6 ounces
Best Dishwasher Detergent Buying Guide & FAQ
What to Look For in a Dishwasher Detergent
To ensure you are choosing from the best dishwasher detergents, you should always check for the following:
There are three types of dishwasher detergents you can buy – gel/liquid, powder or tablets. We look at the three types in more depth later on in this buyer guide, but when choosing you need to be sure the formula works with your dishwasher, the type of water you have and your budget.
The quality of the dishwasher detergent packaging is essential keep its contents dry and free from contaminants. Moisture can quickly ruin your detergent, make it lumpy (if it's a powder) and reduce its cleaning effectiveness. As dishwasher detergents can be caustic and even poisonous if ingested, it's also important to look for child-proof packaging if you have youngsters in the house and keep it stored high and away from inquisitive little hands.
Some dishwasher detergents can leave a residue on your cleaned dishes, meaning they may need to be rinsed again. Look for detergents that clearly state no/minimal residue or contains a rinse additive. Rinse aids can also be bought separately.
Chemical-based dishwasher detergents are often better on tougher stains but can leave some residue on the dishes. A popular ingredient is phosphate and is great at shifting stuck-on food and stains. Alternatively, you can choose more natural, chemical free detergents that uses ingredients such as lemon for its cleaning power, but these tend to be gentler.
Ingredients That You’ll Want to Avoid
You don’t have to have a dishwasher detergent full of chemicals to get your dishes clean. Especially if you want more environmentally friendly detergents, there are certain ingredients you will want to avoid:
Although good at absorbing dirt, this polymer contains methacrylic acid, which can cause damage if it gets into the eyes, irritate the respiratory system and cause allergic dermatitis. Polyacrylates can also be poisonous to aquatic life.
An antimicrobial agent often found in cleaning products, this ingredient can be an irritant for your skin, eyes and lungs and is known to be toxic to fish.
- Sodium hypochlorite
As a bleach, this chemical also acts as an antimicrobial. However, it's corrosive to eyes and skin, and will cause serious gastric burns if swallowed.
While not all preservatives are unsafe, this chemical can cause unpleasant allergic reactions. Always look for a dishwasher detergent that states it is MIT free.
- Artificial fragrances
Many ‘fragrances’ are made up of many artificial ingredients which are not that good for you, including phthalates, which have been linked to hormone disruption. If you think you are allergic to fragrances, then try and find a fragrance-free detergent or do your research if the product states ‘natural’ to ensure that it is.
Types of Dishwashing Detergents
There are three different types of dishwasher detergents to choose from:
- Tablets or pods: These packaged single dose units conveniently deliver a pre-measured amount of detergent and can also contain associated products, including pre-treat solutions, degreasers and rinse aids, meaning you don’t have to pre-soak dishes, or rinse them again once you take them out. Tablets are also the most popular type of dishwasher detergents, and are either gel or powder based, packed into a dissolvable thin plastic sack or ‘pod’. However, tablets are typically more expensive than other types of dishwasher detergent.
- Liquids and Gels: Usually cheaper and can last longer than pods or tablets, liquid or gel dishwasher detergent isn’t always the most effective. As dishwasher soap is effectively bleach with added enzymes, in liquid or gel form, the bleach can affect the enzymes meaning they don’t always work as well when it comes to dissolving more stubborn food stains. But liquid and gel are less likely to clog your dishwasher detergent compartment.
- Powders: The traditional form of dishwasher detergent, powders have dropped in popularity as it's harder to keep fresh (moisture can make it clump and lose its cleaning power) and can also build up and clog the detergent drawer over time. But on the plus side, powders are the cheapest option and can be good value.
Best Dishwasher Detergent FAQ:
Q: Which form of detergent is best for homes using hard water?
A: Liquid dishwasher detergents tend to work well in both soft and hard water. But whatever your preferred type of detergent, if you do have hard water in your home, then look for a product that has a hard water softener, ideally a sodium-based softener although other chemical water softeners are also used so read the label carefully.
Q: What will happen if I just use regular dish soap on a dishwasher?
A: You will be overwhelmed by suds! Unlike dish soap that is designed to sud up copiously to help with the hand washing, a dishwasher can't handle that amount of soap foam. Dish soap will also leave a residue on your dishes as it won’t rinse off so well. Dishwasher detergent on the other hand, doesn’t create any suds and is usually formulated to rinse cleanly, without leaving any unwanted residue.
Q: Why do I have undissolved dishwashing detergent in the dispenser?
A: The presence of undissolved detergent in the dishwasher dispenser can be caused by several reasons:
- You have put in too much detergent
- It is the residue from old or caked detergent
- The wash setting has been too cool or too short for the tablet or powder
- The dispenser tray was wet when you poured in the powder detergent
- The spray arm inside the dishwasher was jammed or blocked.
If you have ruled out all of the above and the dishwasher detergent is still remaining undissolved, then it could be a mechanical fault with the machine. In this case, you need to get an engineer to check it out.
Q: Can I really make a homemade dishwasher detergent?
A: It is possible to make your own dishwasher detergent, but for effective deep cleaning, it's best to buy a detergent specifically formulated for the job. However, if you find yourself short and the dishwasher is full, you can whip up a homemade stand-in. For a basic dishwasher detergent, you will need baking soda, dish soap and salt.
- Add three drops of your usual dish soap to the dishwasher’s detergent dispenser
- Pour in baking soda until the dispenser is 2/3 full
- Add salt until the cup is almost full
- Run the dishwasher as normal
The baking soda is the main cleaner, with the dish soap adding a little soapy lubrication and the salt helps to soften the water. You can also use white wine vinegar as a rinse aid.
Our Top Pick
Our Best Choice is Cascade Complete, which comes in pre-measured 'actionpacs' for all round deep cleaning and shine. With 78 pacs per tub, Cascade is great value as an everyday dishwasher detergent that can step it up on dirty plates that have been left to dry over night. And, as the plastic outer is super-quick to dissolve, there is no mess - just fast and effective cleaning power.