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A dishwasher has one purpose: clean your dishes so you don't have to. While the kitchen appliance does most of the work, you still need to add detergent before hitting the start button and not every dishwasher detergent is created equal. Of course, you want a powerful and reliable product, with a five-star reputation that it effectively removes food residues, degreases, and leaves a shiny finish in its wake—but, that's not the only consideration you should have.
First, dishwasher detergents come in the form of gels, liquids, powders, and packs. When choosing a type of detergent, your decision is mostly based off of preference. However, be sure to check the amount in the package, as this will tell you how much you're paying for each load of post-dinner or snack dishes. For instance, detergent packs are convenient, but they're typically not as economical as liquids and powders. Also, you must remember to pick them up with dry hands, otherwise they'll dissolve. (Although, you'd likely get the hang of this pretty quickly.)
Beyond that, there are various scents to choose from, including some unscented options, as well as eco-friendly formulas, rinse aids, and hard water solutions. Feeling overwhelmed with choices? We scoured the internet to bring you the crème de la crème of automatic dishwashing agents, so your plates, cups, bowls, mugs, and more always look sparkly and fresh.
Here, the best dishwasher detergents on the market.
Best Overall: Finish Powerball Quantum Dishwasher Detergent Tabs
Amount: 22-84 tabs | Type: Powder, gel, and liquid tabs | Scent: Clean
Each tab has three chambers of cleaning power
Leaves a shiny finish
High price per load
Scent can be strong
When it comes to the best dishwashing detergents, Finish Quantum is in a league of its own. After purchasing, you'll receive a bag of single-use tabs. Each of these tabs has three chambers and each of those chambers has a different type of dishwasher detergent. One of the chambers has pre-portioned powder, another has gel, and the last has liquid.
The powder scrubs and works on breaking down stuck-on food. The gel cuts through grease and washes away residues, and the powerhouse liquid helps your dishes dry quickly while delivering a brilliant shine. While you can expect to pay a little extra per load, the convenience and effectiveness of this trifecta more than pays for itself. It's also a match made in heaven for glassware.
Best Budget: Cascade Complete Gel Dishwasher Detergent
Amount: 75 ounces | Type: Gel | Scent: Fresh and citrus
Easy to pour
Removes baked-on messes
Citrus scent can stick to plastic dishes
Can discolor the interior of your dishwasher
On a budget? You can't go wrong with Cascade Complete. Formulated with tried-and-true Dawn soap, this dishwasher gel effectively removes food that's been stuck on for 24 hours, including baked-on messes and greasy residues. It's easy to pour, dissolves quickly, rinses totally clean, and leaves your dishes with a fresh scent.
Not only that, but this wallet-friendly, 75-ounce jug of detergent ultimately does more with less. Quick math will show you it costs less than half the price per load, compared to others in its category. Anyone who likes to find a single product they love and stick to it will be treated in more ways than one.
Best Gel: Better Life Naturally Crumb-Crushing Dishwasher Gel
Amount: 30 ounces | Type: Gel | Scent: Unscented
Doesn't leave scent behind
May leave a faint residue
Can produce a lot of foam
If you're partial to gels, look no further than Better Life. The brand's Naturally Crumb Crushing concentrated dishwasher detergent fights stubborn messes with a blend of plant-based ingredients including coconut, soap bark, and corn. These earth-sourced cleaning agents do a surprisingly good job of not only removing food from your dishes, but also leaving them super shiny.
Now, the detergent can leave a light film on some dishes. Additionally, it can produce a good amount of foam in your dishwasher when working its magic. However, you'll likely enjoy how it doesn't leave behind a scent and is a greener addition to your home.
Best Liquid: Palmolive Eco Dishwasher Gel Detergent
Amount: 45–75 ounces | Type: Liquid | Scent: Lemon
Affordable price tag
Easy to pour
Can leave stains on dishes
Palmolive is best known for its liquid dish soaps, but the brand makes an impressive dishwasher formula, too. This sizable jug contains enough detergent for almost 100 loads, and the squeeze spout makes it easy to pour. The phosphate-free formula is a great option for the environment as well, since detergents are one cause of nutrient pollution in lakes and rivers.
When using this detergent, you should just be aware that it contains bleach. Not only can it leave stains on your dishes, but it should also not come into contact with fabric or be used for hand washing, according to the product label. Never mix bleach, or any products that contain bleach, with other cleaning products or ammonia, either. It can be very harmful to you and your family's health.
Best Powder: Ecover Dishwasher Powder
Amount: 48 ounces | Type: Powder | Scent: Citrus and unscented
Doesn't leave scent behind
High price per load
Not as convenient to use as detergent packs
If you prefer powder detergent, your best bet is Ecover Dishwasher Powder. The 48-ounce, recycled cardboard box contains enough detergent to wash up to 50 loads of dishes. Containing a blend of minerals and plant-based ingredients, the phosphate-free formula is environmentally friendly and biodegradable, too.
As for its effectiveness, you can count on this powder detergent to remove stuck-on food and leave your dishes sparkling. Plus, your plates, bowls, and mugs won't have a lingering smell on them. The only "downside" to this product is you are paying quite a bit more per load.
Best Packs: Cascade Complete ActionPacs Dishwasher Detergent
Amount: 18–156 packs | Type: Liquid and powder packs | Scent: Fresh
Has a built-in rinse aid
Can clean your dishwasher
Film may not always dissolve
Can leave residue on dishes
Cascade Complete ActionPacs are, hands down, the best dishwasher detergent packs on the market. Containing both food-dissolving enzymes and the grease-cutting nature of Dawn, they boast 25 percent more cleaning power than the brand's original formula. Not only that, but each pod has a built-in rinse aid and water softener, ensuring no residues are left behind, and is phosphate free.
These detergent packs even work overtime to clean your dishwasher, from the walls to the numerous racks. However, the pod does need to pop open and dissolve to do so. In some cases, you may find the film doesn't dissolve, leaving your dishes dirty and ready to be put through an additional cycle. You may want to start with a smaller amount of packs to make sure they work for you, before diving completely in.
Best for Hard Water: Amaze! Premium All-in-One Dishwasher Tablets
Amount: 32 tabs | Type: Liquid and powder tabs | Scent: Not listed
Has a built-in rinse aid
Glasses are not left cloudy
High price per load
Film may not always dissolve
Hard water can make doing dishes, well, hard. However, with this all-in-one detergent on your side, you can not only clean your dishes but also rid them of water spots, chalky film, and other mineral residues. The secret is a built-in rinse aid. It works to deliver a crystal-clear finish after doing the dirty work of cleaning your dishes.
It also shouldn't be overlooked that the liquid-powder formula is condensed into very convenient pre-portioned tablets. You can easily place one, wrapped tab into your dishwasher's detergent compartment, and then select your cycle. You pay a lot more per load than you would a more basic detergent, but ultimately are given energy and time washing dishes back.
Best Rinse Aid: Lemi Shine Shine + Dry Rinse Natural Dishwasher Rinse Aid
Amount: 8.45 ounces | Type: Liquid | Scent: Lemon
Removes mineral deposits
Can be hard to dispense
Doesn't help drying times
For a dishwasher rinse aid, Lemi Shine will be your new best friend. The brand's Shine + Dry rinse aid calls on the power of citric acid to reduce water tension, tackle leftover grime, dissolve residues, and prevent cloudiness. The formula, which meets the criteria from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for being a Safer Choice, is gentle on your septic system and ideal for homes with hard water, too. It works to remove traces of iron, limescale, calcium, rust, and other mineral deposits.
You'll notice that it leaves a streak-free finish behind, and that its ingredient list does not contain phosphates. Your silverware and glasses will both come out very shiny, even if the product proves to be hard to dispense.
Best Eco-Friendly: Seventh Generation Dishwasher Detergent Gel
Amount: 42 ounces | Type: Gel | Scent: Lemon
Recycled plastic bottle
Scent isn't overpowering
May cloud glassware
Not as powerful as others
Seventh Generation products make green cleaning easy, and the brand's Dishwasher Detergent Gel is no exception. Thanks to a blend of earth-sourced minerals and plant-based ingredients, the formula is good for your dishes and the environment. You won't find any phosphate or gluten in its mix.
Additionally, the detergent calls on essential oils and botanical extracts to deliver the delicious lemon scent to your kitchen. Now, it may be less powerful and require you to rinse your dishes well before putting them into the dishwasher. It may also cloud your glassware, causing you to want to hand-wash your wine glasses. Be prepared to put in a little extra work from time to time.
If you're looking for a dishwasher detergent, you'll want to reach for Finish Powerball Quantum Tabs (view at Amazon) first. Containing a cleaning, scrubbing, and degreasing trifecta of powder, liquid, and gel, you can count on these pre-portioned packs to get the job done. However, if you want to keep your price per load at a minimum, grab the 75-ounce jug of Cascade Complete Gel Dishwasher Detergent (view at Amazon) that's easy to pour and can tackle baked-on messes.
What to Look for in a Dishwasher Detergent
When you're shopping for a dishwasher detergent, the first thing you want to consider is the form it comes in, or "type" of detergent you'd like to use. Your options are gel, liquid, powder, and packs. (Of course, there are also rinse aids and hard water solutions, which are more specialty, but well-worth considering if you have hard water.) Typically, packs are the most convenient to use, since the dirt-fighting formula is pre-portioned. Liquid and powder options, on the other hand, can cost less. You should consider both your dishwashing routine and budget before adding anything to your cart.
"Amount" refers to how many packs, tabs, or ounces of liquid or powder detergent are included with your purchase. Ideally, you want to get a higher amount at a lower price so each load of dirty dishes costs you less to run. However, if you're trying a detergent out for the first time, you may opt for the smaller amount, so you can guarantee that you like it. Typically, detergent packs come in cases that range from 20 to 200 packs. Liquid, gel, and powder detergent can be found in bottles as small as 8 ounces, or as large as 75 ounces, with the average hovering around 45 ounces.
It's important to consider scent, and how strong it is, when picking out your detergent. Scents can make or break your experience, especially if they linger on your dishes or within your space. Scents that are commonly found on shelves include lemon, clean, and citrus. You can also find unscented options. These are particularly ideal if you're sensitive to fragrance or don't want to worry about the lingering smell on your dishes.
What's the difference between dishwashing liquid and dishwashing detergent?
Dishwashing liquid is a type of dishwashing detergent. However, it's important to note that some dishwashing liquids are meant for hand-washing, whereas others are formulated for dishwasher use. Whether it's a liquid, gel, or powder, check the label and product description before buying a detergent to make sure it's intended for a dishwasher.
Can you use dishwasher detergent to hand-wash dishes?
Using dishwasher detergent to hand-wash dishes is generally not recommended. The formulas are usually concentrated and highly alkaline, which can irritate the skin. Similarly, you should never put liquid dish soap in a dishwasher. It won't work as effectively as proper detergent, and you will likely end up flooding your kitchen floor with water and foam. There are other DIY dishwasher detergent alternatives you can use instead, if you run out.
What causes cloudy glasses?
There are a few things that can cause glassware to become cloudy. Hard water is the most common culprit, since the high mineral content can create dullness and discoloration. Additionally, some dishwasher detergents also leave behind a filmy residue, or you may be using too much of your detergent. In that case, you'll want to try using less, as the reason for cloudy glasses is the amount of detergent used rather than the formula itself.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Theresa Holland is an experienced commerce writer specializing in cleaning products, lifestyle, and home improvement, who has been writing for The Spruce since 2019. For this story, she researched the various types of detergent, as well as the formulations, key ingredients, effectiveness, and eco-friendly nature of them. She also considered the price per load, scent, and packaging, and scoured dozens of products before making her final selections. She usually reaches for Finish Powerball or Cascade Complete when loading up her dishwasher at home.