Dishwasher Detergents

Monday, 10 November 2008 | Tags: , , ,

Using a dishwasher is more convenient, and more efficient, since dishwashers actually use less water than doing dishes by hand. But which detergent gets the job done? We test a few different brands to see which sparkles best.

The Basics

  • Detergents come in three different forms:

    • Powders can be a little messy, but they tend to be the most economical.

    • Gels give you more controlled dispensing and dissolve quickly and so begin working immediately. Gel also comes in pre-portioned gel packs for each individual wash.

    • Tablets are pre-measured, pressed powder individually wrapped for one load. Tablets can cost as much as double that of normal powder per load.

  • Some detergents contain rinse agents that help to reduce soap residue, thus eliminating streaks and spots.

  • If you run your dishwasher regularly, buy the bigger economy size to save money. If you don’t run it often, buy a smaller size, since moisture breaks down the chemical compound over time, making it less effective.

Be Aware

  • Phosphate running into our streams and lakes is harmful to the environment so try to buy phosphate-free detergents. To help decrease phosphate released into our lakes and rivers, the Canadian government has mandated that all laundry and dishwasher detergents sold in Canada must limit phosphates to 0.5% by the year 2010.

  • You may consider a biodegradable brand to help do your part, but be sure to look for “phosphate free” on the label.


In addition to putting some detergents to the test with run-of-the-mill dishes at home, we also did several loads of greasy dishes with caked on food from a busy diner. We tested:

  • Bargain brand (powder): 16¢ per load
  • Cascade (powder): 33¢ per load
  • Seventh Generation (powder): 44¢ per load
  • Sunlight (gel): 33¢ per load
  • Electrasol (tablet): 53¢ per load

Clean Test

  • In the end, there wasn’t a clear winner – they all performed about the same.
  • Electrasol got the dishes a little cleaner and more sparkly, especially the glasses, but we’re not sure it’s worth the extra cost.
  • The powders seemed to be the best wash for u.
  • Cascade, with its “pure rinse formula” didn’t seem to have much of a difference from the other powders.


We’d put our money behind an economical, phosphate-free bargain brand.


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