We updated this story in January 2022 to include newly tested products and product updates from previous testing along with tips and advice from our Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab about how to help your detergent work harder for you.
A dishwasher detergent has a big job to do. It has to cut through and remove all types of baked-on, dried-on foods from dishes, flatware, and cookware, yet leave delicate glasses spot- and film-free. It also has to work in different water hardnesses and be safe for your dishwasher — whether it's full-sized or a countertop dishwasher — and everything you put in there. Finding a great one can mean the difference between getting spotless results the first time and having to run it again — or worse, rewashing items by hand.
In our Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab tests, we've found that dishwashing powders, gels and tablets or packs all work well. Which form you choose pretty much depends on your personal preference and how much money you want to spend. Powders are usually the most economical, single-dose packs or tablets are the most convenient and, therefore, usually the most expensive, and liquids or gels fall somewhere in between. In our tests, we see the biggest differences between brands, not forms of the same brand, so if you find a brand that cleans well in your machine and water hardness, any form should work for you!
How we test to find the best dishwasher detergents
When we test dishwasher detergents in the GH Cleaning Lab, we apply our own greasy spinach mix to plates, bowls and flatware. The glasses get coated with milk, beaten egg yolk is brushed on bowls and plates, and coffee cup rims are "kissed" with lipstick. We bake mac and cheese and baked beans on to casserole dishes, fry a hamburger in a skillet and make a serving of oatmeal in a saucepan. Everything gets dried or baked-on for two hours before we load up the two identical dishwashers we use for all our detergent testing.
Post-cleaning, we visually check every item for un-removed food bits and greasy residue and the glasses are closely examined for spots and leftover film in a special light box. Every detergent is tested exactly the same way for more reliable results. Here are top dishwasher detergents according to GH Cleaning Lab tests:
- Leaves glassware shiny and spot-free
- Cut grease
Cascade is synonymous with great dishwasher detergent performance and these Actionpacs are as good as it gets. Part powder, part gel, they have the optimal combination of grease cutters and grime fighters to remove the stuck-on stuff, but also have ingredients to minimize spotting and protect glassware from harmful etching that can leave it looking dull and cloudy. We love them so much, we use them in other GH kitchens to clean up after all the testing we do.
Price per load: ~27 cents
- Works well in hard water
- Can clump if exposed to moisture
If price is a primary concern, Walmart's store brand, Great Value, is just what its name says, a great value. At just 13 cents per load, this is an updated version of the formula that was the overall best powder in our last test of dishwasher detergents. It cut through our baked-on grime with ease and left glassware and flatware sparkling, even in the cycles we ran with hard water.
Price per load: ~13 cents
- Bleaches stains
- Contains enzymes
- Pours easily
- May separate over time
Cascade's Gel contains hard-working ingredients, like enzymes, to dissolve starchy oatmeal, dried egg and melted cheese. Plus, with the addition of Oxi bleach in this new formula, tea and coffee stains are a thing of the past. In our last GH Cleaning Lab dishwasher detergent test, it was our top-tested gel formula and the only one to sport a child-resistant cap for safety. Bravo!
Price per load: ~21 cents
- Works in all dishwashers
- Clean very well
- Won't dissolve in your hands or burst in the package
From the company that makes our top-rated GH Seal star dishwashers, Miele Ultra Tabs Multi work in Miele or any brand dishwasher. The solid brick of powder detergent is easy to use and neat to store and dissolves completely — including its water-soluble wrapper — once it's dispensed. Each tablet has three layers of powerful cleaning ingredients that in our tests erase stuck-on grime and leave stainless steel cookware and flatware shiny and glassware squeaky clean.
Price per load: ~42 cents
- Contains bleach and rinse aid
- Tackles soil, stains and spots
These tablets pack powerful cleaning: Each Finish Quantum is a three chamber tablet that cleans away stuck-on foods, bleaches out stains, and rinses away residue to leave everything shiny. In our Cleaning Lab tests, Finish was a top-performing detergent tablet zapping even our tough-to-remove messes like dried red lipstick stains and burned-on cheese.
Price per load: ~28 cents
- No plastic packaging or wrappers
- Comes with a reusable tin
- Some tablets can come broken
For those who prefer to eliminate plastic packaging from their cleaning products, Blueland's Dishwasher Starter Set is a great option. The unwrapped solid dishwasher tablets are shipped in a compostable paper pouch along with an aluminum "forever" tin. Simply transfer the tablets to the tin and recycle the pouch. When you need more, order just a new refill pouch. In GH Cleaning Lab tests, Blueland exhibited very good cleaning results and were easy to use and store. Some of the tablets may come broken, but Blueland makes up for the loss by including extra tablets in the pouch.
Price per load: ~45 cents
No matter how meticulously you load your dishwasher or how often you clean your dishwasher, it's your dishwasher detergent's job to cut through dried-on foods, prevent spots and film and ensure good drying results. And there are steps you can take to help whatever brand or form of detergent you use to do that job better. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Buy only what you can use up quickly. Stocking up on dishwashing detergent may seem like a good idea, but you shouldn't. Buy only what you can comfortably use up in about two months. Dishwasher detergent works best when it's fresh. Moisture and age can cause it to clump, separate and lose effectiveness.
- Fill the dispenser as your machine recommends. Most detergent labels recommend completely filling both dispenser cups. We think it's a better idea to measure and match the amount of detergent to the hardness of your water and soil on the load. Use more if your water is hard, less if it is soft.
- Place tablets in the dispenser. You may be tempted to just toss them into the bottom of the machine, but don't. Doing so can cause them to dissolve and be flushed away before the main wash portion of the cycle. By placing them in the dispenser, they'll be released at the optimal time.
- Run the faucet before starting the cycle. If cold water sitting in your pipes goes into the machine once you press "start", it can impact cleaning performance. Instead, run the hot water at the nearest sink to purge cold water from the line and guarantee that only hot water enters the dishwasher.
- Use a separate rinse aid. While most detergents contain ingredients to help eliminate spots and film, they can get washed away during the cycle. By using a separate rinse aid, like GH Seal star Cascade Power Dry, it's dispensed directly into the rinse cycle where it's most effective.