If you eat, chances are it always seems like it’s time to do the dishes. It’s a tedious chore, but dishwashers make it easier. If you’re a new dishwasher owner, or you just don’t know what the best dishwasher detergent is, then we’ve got you covered.
Choosing the best dishwasher detergent is a little more difficult than it sounds, believe it or not. Maybe you’re used to rinsing your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher and just want something simple. Or perhaps you would prefer to load your dishwasher and let it do all the work, even with stubborn grease and burnt-on food.
If you’re looking for help in choosing the best dishwasher detergent, look no further. We’ve compiled as much information as possible on all the different types of detergent out there, along with a list of which detergents are the best.
Dishwasher Detergent FAQs
With all the choices out there, how do you even know what you should look for? Are liquids and gels better, or is powder the way to go? What about those little pods that are so popular today? How do they each work? Can you use regular dish soap in a dishwasher?
There are liquid and gel detergents, powdered detergents, and the ever-ubiquitous pods and tablets. Many brands make all of these, and we will explore not only which brands have the best dishwasher detergent, but which types of detergents work the best.
Liquids and gels
If you’ve ever done your dishes by hand, you’re aware of liquid dish soap. Dawn, Palmolive, and other brands manufacture liquid dish soap. However, there are liquid and gel dishwasher detergents, too. Gel detergents make up about 20 percent of all dishwasher detergent sales right now. Pods and tablets make up the bulk of the market.
Many people don’t seem to like powder detergents much because they worry that powders don’t dissolve well. They’re happier with the tablets and pods, but gels are gaining popularity as well.
Dishwasher detergent is essentially bleach and enzymes. The bleach cleans away stains, and the enzymes dissolve food. In a liquid form, though, the bleach destroys the enzymes. As such, liquids and gels may not work on stuck-on food as well as powders and tablets.
Is that really the case, though? Theoretically, they shouldn't do the job. However, when tested, certain brands of gels worked much better on dishes with burned-on food than anything else.
You might remember using powdered detergent way back in the day, or watching your parents use it. Powdered dishwasher detergent isn’t nearly as popular today as everything else on the market. The biggest reason for that is that it’s too vulnerable to moisture. If you store your dishwasher detergent under your sink, it’s bound to get wet sometimes. That, in turn, destroys its cleaning power.
The problem is that water activates the ingredients in the detergent. If you have a leaky pipe or drain, or the area under your sink otherwise gets wet, your dishwasher detergent is toast. You need a new box. There’s also the fact that they can spill everywhere.
On the other hand, powdered detergents are the cheapest out there. You get the most value for your money with powder if you’re able to keep it dry and avoid spillage.
Tablets and pods
Tablets and pods are, by far, the most popular type of dishwasher detergent currently available. Pods are generally part powder and part liquid or gel, contained in a plastic-like case that dissolves. Tablets are compressed and concentrated powder. Both (ideally) have the proper amount of detergent for your load, taking the guesswork out of how much soap you really need to use.
Many pods and tablets also contain a rinse aid, which helps ensure your dishes come out without residue on them. If you recall the red balls that were part of the first dishwasher tablets, those were rinse aids.
Tablets and pods also combine things likes pre-washing and grease removal. You’re less likely to need to soak and scrub your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. Some dishwasher tablets even have formulas that help clean your dishwasher of old food and soap residue. That makes maintaining your dishwasher easier.
The drawback to these is that they’re more expensive than gels and powders. You spend more money to clean fewer loads. For people on a budget, the expense may be hard to justify despite their functionality.
Can I use regular dish soap, like Dawn, in my dishwasher?
You can if you want to clean up a billion cubic feet of suds. The dishwashing detergent you use in your sink creates a lot of suds that your dishwasher simply can’t handle. You also have no guarantee that your dishes will come out clean. Regular dish soap doesn’t rinse off dishes nearly as well without a dishcloth or sponge, so you’ll have to put them through additional rinse cycles to get them clean.
Dishwasher detergent, on the other hand, doesn’t create any suds, so you don't have any to clean up. It's also formulated to rinse more cleanly from your dishes, leaving less sticky, soapy residue.
How We Reviewed
We gathered our information from websites such as Good Housekeeping, and comparison websites like Canstar Blue and Reviewed. Our information on pricing comes primarily from Amazon, Walmart, Target, and similar retail websites. Finally, we used all of this information, plus customer reviews on Amazon, to compile our list of the best dishwasher detergent on the market today.
Overall price range of dishwasher detergent
The price range for dishwasher detergent is vast. How much you can expect to pay depends on what you want and what your budget is. You can generally find dishwasher detergent for anywhere from $3 for a box of powder up to $40 for eco-friendly dishwashing gel.
The Best Dishwasher Detergent for 2018
We’ve used all of this information to compile a list of the best dishwasher detergent out there. Keep in mind that there may be different products from the same brand on this list and that this list is no particular order.
- Gel with the grease-fighting power of Dawn
- More tough food-cleaning ingredients (vs. regular Cascade Gel)
- Also available in easy-to-use ActionPacs
Despite all the problems dishwashing gels have, Cascade Complete Dishwasher Gel is one of the best dishwasher detergents out there. It cleans very well on both normal and heavy settings, leaving very few hard water spots and soap residue. If you hate soaking and rinsing your dishes before you put them in your dishwasher, this gel may be the best dishwasher detergent for you. It cleans off grease and stuck-on food; something many other detergents just can't do. Customers say that it doesn't clean cooked-on food very well, though, so it's not the greatest detergent to use if you're cleaning a bunch of dirty pots and pans. Some customers say that it works its best when you use it in combination with something like Jet-Dry. Overall, this gets 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
- Budget-friendly, easy to store
This is Walmart's store brand, but even store brands can work well. Its three biggest pros are that it's cheap, it's easy to use, and it's very effective against hard water spots. This powder is also good at removing baked-on food, but you may still want to scrape off the biggest chunks before putting your dishes in the dishwasher. You might have some trouble measuring out how much you need for each load since it is a powder. However, it comes with clear instructions, so if you can find a good scoop or a measuring cup of the right size, you shouldn't have any problems. Customers say that Great Value works every bit as well as Cascade's powder detergent, and for a better price. They gave Great Value's dishwashing powder 4.4 out of 5 stars on Walmart's website.
- Contains 6 - 17.6 ounce boxes of Ecover Automatic Dishwasher Tablets, Citrus (25 tablets per box)
- Tab conveniently fits in dispenser or cutlery basket
- No chlorine or chemical residues
You might not think that these eco-friendly dishwasher detergents would work very well, but that's not true. Ecover's Ecological Automatic Dishwashing Tablets are great for your dishes and the environment. It leaves glasses sparkling and virtually residue-free. For a standard load of dishes, it can leave hard-water spots and some residue, however, a good rinse aid like Jet-Dry should help take care of that. Even so, customers on Amazon rave about these tablets. One says that every green detergent they'd ever tried left residue on the bottom of their dishwasher, but Ecover's tablets do not. The primary problem customers have with Ecover's tablets is that they come wrapped in plastic. That kind of defeats some of the purpose of using eco-friendly dishwasher detergent. Regardless, they feel they're getting a good detergent while helping out the environment. These get 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
Cascade is very well-known for its dishwashing detergent, so it's no surprise that they'll show up multiple times when looking for the best dishwasher detergent available. These pods are a combination of Cascade dishwasher powder and Dawn dish soap. That gives it a little more "oomph" when it comes to cleaning greasy dishes. Overall, this works well on normal and heavy settings but can leave some hard water spots on flatware and other dishes. People who buy these pods say that it does an excellent job, but only if you rinse your dishes first. It also dissolves well on normal and heavy settings, so there's no soap residue left when your cycle is complete. They don't work well for flatware, with some customers complaining that these pods turned their flatware black. Regardless, they've given 4.5 out of 5 stars for this product on Amazon.
- Fights tough grease and helps dissolve tough, stuck-on food
- Rinses clear, even in hard water conditions for virtually spotless dishes
- Powerful de-greasers clean dishes without prewashing
- Compare to Cascade ActionPacs
Includes one pouch of 32 Up&Up Dishwasher Packs
This is another store brand, demonstrating again that store brands are not necessarily synonymous with poor quality. Up&Up is Target's brand. If you're looking for the best dishwasher detergent available at a reasonable price, consider this brand. It's a lemon-scented powder that cleans cookware very well. If you like to cook, then you need a detergent that will clean cookware as well as it cleans your other dishes. Its one main drawback is that it can leave a cloudy residue on your glasses. Despite that, some customers feel that this works better than Cascade for less money. Since it's a powder, you'll need to measure it out to be sure you don't overfill your soap dispenser. Up&Up gets 4.5 stars out of 5 on Target's website.
- Dishwasher detergent powers away 24-hour stuck-on food from dirty dishes.
- No Pre-Washing of dishes required.
- Cascade Complete is formulated with more tough food cleaning ingredients vs. regular Cascade to fight through layers of dish residue leaving behind nothing but shine. *vs. regular Cascade gel.
It's hard to argue with the quality of Cascade's dishwasher detergents; even their standard powder. Cascade Complete Dishwashing Powder works very well on normal and heavy cycles, leaving few hard-water spots and soap residue on dishes. This does not work well on cooked-on food or grease, despite being formulated with Dawn for precisely that purpose. Also, since it's a powder, you need a way to measure it to avoid making a mess when you pour it. Customers say that when you combine Cascade's dishwashing powder with a good rinse aid, you don't have to worry about the hard water spots at all. However, some customers say that it cakes in their dishwashers, meaning it might not dissolve properly. A few say that it leaves a sticky residue and leaves a funny odor on their dishes. Regardless, they give it 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
Miele's dishwasher tablets fall into the category of best dishwasher detergent in part for their three layers of cleaners. Miele formulated these tablets to work with their dishwashers, but these work well with other dishwasher brands, too. They not only clean your dishes without leaving a residue, but they can also help eliminate any strange odors inside your dishwasher. The main problem with Miele's ultra tablets is that they aren't cheap. You can get 60 tablets for $30 on Amazon, compared to similar products for $10 to $15 for the same amount. However, people who have bought this rave about its cleaning abilities, with or without a Miele dishwasher. Some say that the tablets are too big for a normal load and don't dissolve completely, so they cut them in half. Overall, they give these tablets 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
- Powers away 48-hour stuck-on food
- ActionPacs are formulated with the grease-fighting power of Dawn
- Rinse aid action with Shine Shield formula rinses away residues and leaves brilliant shine
These pods give you what's possibly the greatest value for detergent. If you're looking for the best dishwasher detergent out there, consider these. They leave hardly any hard-water spots or residue on dishes, glassware or flatware. Even with really dirty dishes, you can run your dishwasher on its normal cycle, and your dishes will quite likely come out sparkling clean. Customers on Google say they are easier to use than either powders or gels, and they do their job exceptionally well. However, you generally still have to rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Nevertheless, customers give these pods 4.5 stars out of 5 on Google.
This Sud's for You!
Ultimately, the best dishwasher detergent for you depends on your unique needs. It may also depend on your dishwasher model, as many dishwasher makers these days recommend a specific type or brand of detergent. However, you'll get good value out of Cascade's pods and gel, even if you have to pre-rinse your dishes. If money isn't an object for you, then we recommend Miele Ultra Tabs. They do the best job of cleaning dishes and are worth the price.