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Dishwasher detergent buying guide

Compare tablet, powder and gel detergents, plus DIY alternatives.

Dishwasher detergent is essential for getting your dishes squeaky clean. Compare tablet, powder and gel types to decide which is the right product for your machine.

Compare some of the best dishwasher detergents

NameAvg. price
TypeSizePhosphate free?Purchase
Finish All in One Max
Finish All in One Max
$39Tablets78 tabletsYesBuy now
Cascade Complete Gel
Cascade Complete Gel
$6Gel75 ozYesBuy now
Puracy Natural Dishwasher Detergent Packs
Puracy Natural Dishwasher Detergent Packs
$14Tablets50 tabletsYesBuy now
Seventh Generation Auto Dish Powder
Seventh Generation Auto Dish Powder
$22Powder2 75-oz boxesYesBuy now
Cascade Platinum Plus
Cascade Platinum Plus
$19Tablets70 tabletsYesBuy now
OxiClean Extreme Power Crystals
OxiClean Extreme Power Crystals
$18Tablets41 tabletsYesBuy now
Finish Advanced Liquid
Finish Advanced Liquid
$5Gel75 ozYesBuy now
Data obtained April 2019. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.

What is dishwasher detergent?

Dishwasher detergents are water-soluble cleaning products made specifically for washing dishes in a dishwasher. There are three main types: tablet, powder and gel.

  • Tablets are small blocks of concentrated dishwashing powder that are put in the dispenser, or simply placed in the main dishwasher area.
  • Powder can be poured or scooped into your dishwasher dispenser. It might be a better choice if your home has smaller washing needs and doesn’t require a full tablet.
  • Gel is similar to dishwashing liquid used for washing dishes by hand. It can be poured into the dispenser and is usually the middle ground between powders and tablets in terms of pricing.
  • Most efficient
  • Usually includes a rinse aid to help minimize spots
  • Comes in pre-measured amounts
  • Helps reduce time spent soaking and scrubbing
  • Usually more expensive
  • Only comes in one size, so there’s less flexibility for different loads
  • Cheapest option
  • Effectively removes stains
  • Lasts a long time before needing replacement
  • Adjustable dosages
  • Can be abrasive for delicate tableware, including glass
  • If overused, dishes may get a powdery residue
  • Loose powder can be hazardous for those with kids or pets
  • If not stored properly, can be activated by water
  • Slow-pouring gel is easier to control than powder
  • Easier than powder to clean if spilled
  • Water-based composition is less abrasive on tableware
  • Works instantly and does not need time to dissolve
  • May leave spots or a light film on dishes
  • More product is required than when in tablet form

DIY dishwasher detergent alternatives

Several DIY detergent alternatives are also available. They’re typically compatible with most dishwashers, but may not perform as well as the commercial formulas. Keep in mind that using certain ingredients could void your dishwasher warranty. Check yours before trying a new DIY detergent.

When trying a DIY alternative for the first time, test a small batch first. The effectiveness of the formula can vary depending on your individual dishwasher and the type of water in your house.

Commonly used DIY dishwasher detergent ingredients include:

  • Borax
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar (during rinse cycle)
  • Salt
  • Citric acid
  • Essential oils for fragrance
  • Grated soap
  • Baking powder
  • Lemon juice
Keep in mind that if baking soda is used regularly, its grittiness could wear away prints on tableware and older china. Also, vinegar can eventually damage the rubber in your dishwasher and, if mixed with salt, can cause discoloration in metal tableware and pans.

3 tips for making dishwasher detergent more effective

  • Keep detergent fresh and dry. Store your detergent in a container away from moisture to prevent lumps. Only pour it into a cup when you’re ready to run a cycle. When powder detergent gets lumpy, throw it away.
  • Use the right amount of detergent. Using the correct amount is important if using powdered or liquid detergent that is not pre-packaged.
  • Determine how hard your water is. Depending on whether your water is soft or hard, your dishwasher will need a different amount of detergent for peak performance and to avoid damaging your dishes. As a rule of thumb, harder water needs more detergent. You can find out how hard your water is by checking your state/council website or by asking your water company.

Bottom line

Using the right dishwasher detergent can help you get squeaky clean dishes without having to scrub and soak them first. Compare different types to suit your washing needs and preferences.

How did we choose these products?

To choose our list of the best dishwashing detergents, we compared factors like type, price, efficiency and environmental-friendliness.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between dishwasher detergent and dishwashing soap?
Dishwashing soap is made for washing dishes by hand. If used in the dishwasher, dishwashing soap can produce excess suds and cause your dishwasher to overflow, potentially causing leaks or flooding in your home and damage your dishwasher’s drainage system. Only use dishwasher detergent inside your dishwasher, since it’s been specifically formulated for this purpose.

What is rinse aid?

Rinse aid, or rinsing agent, is used in the rinse cycle to eliminate residue from food and detergent. It can enhance your dishwasher’s dry performance, minimizes water spotting on plates and glasses and prevents film from forming on dishes. It’s usually already included in tablets, but not in powder or gel detergents.

How safe is dishwasher detergent?

Many popular brands of detergent contain harmful chemicals. Ensure your detergent is stored out of reach of children and pets, in a child-resistant container and close the packaging properly each time. Detergent can be very dangerous if swallowed. Only fill your dishwasher with detergent just before starting a cycle. Afterwards, clean any residue immediately.

There are many safe and eco-friendly options available, but remember to check the labels before you buy anything.

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