What Is Rinse Aid and Should You Be Using It?

updated Nov 10, 2020
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(Image credit: Christine Han)

Have you ever noticed that your dishwasher has a special compartment for rinse aid? I seriously just noticed mine. Of course, it’s been there all along, but I’ve never paid it any mind. And I’ve definitely never used it before. So, I wondered: What exactly is a dishwasher rinse aid, and should I be using it? Could my dishes be getting cleaner? Could they be rinsing more completely?

To answer all my rinsing-related questions, I reached out to Brian Sansoni, vice president of communications and outreach at the American Cleaning Institute.

Here’s what I found out.

What Is Rinse Aid?

A rinse aid, or rinse agent, is a surfectant — which is just a fancy way of saying that it reduces the surface tension of the liquid it is dissolved in (in this case, water). An even simpler way to put it: A rinse aid makes the water “wetter,” more likely to spread out or “sheet,” and (importantly for your dishes), less likely to form the kind of droplets that turn into water spots.

Should You Be Using Rinse Aid?

The main reason to use a rinse aid is to get rid of water spots, which can be particularly problematic if you have hard water. You probably have hard water if there is a white residue around your faucets or drains, soaps and shampoos don’t lather easily, or you see a ring around the bathtub. You’ll probably also see poor cleaning results from your dishwasher, like spotting or filming.

Another reason to use a rinse aid? It makes your dishes dry faster, which is helpful if you’re skipping the heat cycle to save energy, or if you notice that your dishes are still wet when your heat cycle finishes.

On the other hand, if you’re getting good results from your dishwasher, you may not need a rinse aid. Why buy yet another cleaning product when you can do without?

How Do You Use Rinse Aid?

The good news if you decide to give rinse aid a try is that it’s really easy to use. Many dishwashers have automatic dispensers which release the rinse aid into the final rinse cycle. Just put liquid rinse aid in like you do your liquid detergent. If your dishwasher doesn’t have a dispenser, you can buy a rinse aid basket (which hangs from the upper rack) or just look for a dishwasher pod that has detergent and rinse aid in one. Easy!

Which Rinse Aid Should I Use?

Finish is a familiar name in rinse aid, and they have both liquid and solid versions (with and without rinse aid baskets). For what it’s worth, the liquid stuff has a 4.8-star rating on Amazon with more than 12,600 five-star reviews. We also like Ecover Rinse Aid, which gets an A from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Do you use a rinse aid and swear by it? Share in the comments!