We Tried Dozens of Different Dishwasher Detergents — These Are the Ones We’ll Buy from Now On

published Jul 21, 2021
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Dishwashing liquid being poured into ramekin.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Just as no two people load the dishwasher the same way, no two dishwashers seem to perform the same. There are so many variables: the brand and model, the kind of water used, how it’s loaded, if plates are rinsed or scraped, the setting, and, last but not least, which detergent and how much. 

That’s why we take notice when we discover a dishwasher detergent that’s so good, those variables seem to just dissolve away. And so we’ve been wondering: What are the best dishwasher detergents out there? The only way to find out was to do some testing. We gathered up all sorts of detergents — pods, powders, liquids, etc. — and got to testing. These are the ones that are the the most likely to make your dishes sparkling clean with no spots and cloudy residue — no matter how unique their particular dishwashing situation.

How We Tested the Dishwasher Detergents

We gathered up dozens of dishwasher detergents, across all the major categories, and assigned testers for each category. And then the testers used each one as they normally would for a few weeks. They took notes to see how clean their dishes came out, if there was any cloudy residue left over, how easy the stuff was to measure out, and more. These are the winners.

The Best Dishwasher Pods: Cascade Complete or Cascade Platinum

If the words “#1 Brand” on the label don’t sway you, maybe the 68,984 Amazon reviews averaging 4.8 out of 5 stars will? Or maybe the fact that both Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports give Cascade the top-tier rating? In our tester’s experiments, we found that whether the dishwasher was set to eco-friendly sensor mode or 1-hour quick wash, Cascade’s pods power through the worst messes, dissolving food and removing stains, like coffee, tea, and greasy, tomato-based sauces. Mugs and plastic containers look like new! Dishes and glassware come out sparkling — with no spots or cloudy residue. And if you have hard water, never fear: All Cascade detergents have water softeners built in.

Read more: I Tried the Bestselling Dishwasher Detergent on Amazon — Here’s What I Thought

Cascade Complete is a consistent workhorse, but the newer and slightly more expensive Platinum is even more concentrated. Both incorporate Dawn, which is, hands-down, our favorite dish soap for greasy plates. And, as required of all other dish detergents, they’re phosphate-free. 

Pods cost more per load than powder or gel — about about 22 cents versus 10 cents for gel and about half that for powder — but they have two big advantages. First, we’ve found that pods take the guesswork out of how much detergent you actually need. No figuring out halfway on a scooper — pods are portioned out perfectly. Just tuck the pod in the detergent compartment, and they dissolve completely. 

Second, they include a combination of detergents, so one little pod can do it all! According to Consumer Reports, the best-performing pods clean better than the best gels because the pods have more detergents — like a pre-treat solution, degreaser, and rinse aid — targeted at different things. Plus, according to the manufacturer, they’re much more concentrated. 

Best Powdered Dishwasher Detergent: Grab Green Automatic Dishwasher Detergent Powder

Kitchn’s Editor-in-Chief, Faith Durand, swears by this non-toxic dishwasher powder, and she’s won many Kitchn editors over, too. It’s free of dyes and chlorine bleach and made with naturally derived ingredients. A three-pound bag cleans 80 loads, but it turns out it’s so powerful you can use half the recommended amount. Our tester says, “Just after one cycle, I could tell that this was the solution I was looking for. The glasses seemed less cloudy and the dishes were C-L-E-A-N.” 

Best Eco-Friendly Dishwasher Detergent: Ecover Automatic Dishwasher Tablets

These biodegradable tablets get stellar reviews on Amazon and Good Housekeeping, and our tester loves them, too. She says, “They work exceptionally well” — no pre-rinsing or scrubbing required. And they’ve got a lot of other great stuff going for them. The detergent is made with only minerals and plant-derived ingredients (no bleach), and the company is a Certified B Corp. The box is made from recycled materials, but each tablet is individually wrapped in plastic (not ideal). Still, this plastic is recyclable in many areas, and it means you don’t have to worry about the tablets disintegrating if you live somewhere humid or they accidentally get wet. 

For those who get the best results with less detergent, you can split the tablets in half — something you can’t do with pods — and still get the no-need-to-measure benefits. Plus, dishwasher tablets are pretty great for cleaning other things, too. 

Best Liquid Dishwasher Detergent: Cascade Complete Gel

Think of gel like dishwasher powder that’s already been dissolved into water. It’s similarly customizable (use as little or as much as your dishes and dishwasher seem to need), and it’s cheaper than pods! Because it’s already liquified, you won’t have to worry about undissolved granules getting left behind in the detergent compartment, or stuck to your dishes.

Of all the liquid detergents out there, we found that Cascade Complete is the one that can scour off the toughest stuck-on foods (bye bye, petrified oatmeal!) and leave no hard water spots behind. That’s why for best liquid, we’re going with Cascade Complete Gel.

What’s your favorite dishwashing detergent? Tell us in the comments below.