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Let’s hear it for the inexpensive underdogs of the dishwasher detergent world, the scrappy fighters that clean till the end. Cascade and Finish are the top-selling brands, but Consumer Reports’ dishwasher detergent tests found that a warehouse brand is best of all.
Our tests reveal a wide range of performance between the best and worst dishwasher detergents. Not to mention a wide range of prices, from 5 to 36 cents per load.
“Overall, the best-performing detergent pacs clean better than the best gels,” says Joe Pacella, the engineer who oversees Consumer Reports’ dishwasher detergent tests. “That’s because many pacs contain a pretreat solution, degreaser, bleach, or rinse aid to boost cleaning.”
These single-dose units—also known as packs, packets, tabs, and tablets—deliver a conveniently premeasured amount of detergent. And that convenience is boosting sales.
“Consumers prefer single-dose units and gels, making them the best-selling types,” says Kelly Moomey, a senior market analyst covering cleaning products for CR. Sales of powder detergents have been dropping, which is why we don't include them in our latest tests.
Lab Tested for Your Kitchen
CR's testers apply a baked-on food mixture to eight ceramic dinner plates and load them into a dishwasher along with bare plates and drinking glasses to fill up the machine. After a normal wash cycle completes, we use imaging analysis to determine precisely how clean each dish is and whether any water spots are present. Then we run a set of clear glass dishware and stainless steel plates through a wash cycle with very hard water and use a spectrophotometer to assess whether any haze or discoloration formed on the dishware and metal.
The best dishwasher detergents we test earn Excellent ratings in getting dishes spotless, and do so while resisting water spots and white film. The worst dishwasher detergents, mainly gels, are barely better than water for removing baked-on messes.
Below, you'll get a closer look at six of the best dishwasher detergents we test, listed alphabetically.
In our dishwasher detergent ratings, we calculate the price per load, which you’ll see stated in the ratings, because detergents vary in the number of ounces or pacs in each container. The prices below, however, reflect overall prices and in some cases are for multipacks.
Member's Mark (Sam's Club) Ultimate Clean Dishwasher Pacs
CR’s take: Member’s Mark Ultimate Clean Dishwasher Pacs garners an Excellent rating for cleaning dishes while also preventing water spots and hazy film on the glassware. The combination of sparkling performance and low price also makes this dishwasher detergent a CR Best Buy. Price per load is 10 cents, the most affordable in the single-dose category.
Cascade Platinum ActionPacs with Dawn
CR’s take: Cascade is a widely sold brand, which is why you’ll see eight of its detergents in our ratings, the best of which is Cascade Platinum ActionPacs with Dawn. It’s the most expensive of the detergents we test, at 36 cents per load, but these pacs earn an Excellent rating in our tests for cleaning while also leaving dishes sparkling and free of any water spots.
Cascade Platinum ActionPacs +Oxi
CR’s take: Cascade Platinum ActionPacs +Oxi are tough on messes, earning an Excellent rating in our tests for cleaning dishes, and they do a superb job keeping water spots at bay. The addition of Oxi is meant to specifically tackle burnt-on foods. Price per load is in the upper range, at 35 cents.
Cascade Free & Clear ActionPacs
CR's take: Cascade's Free & Clear ActionPacs are formulated without chlorine bleach, heavy perfumes, and dye. The detergent's Excellent ratings for cleaning and resisting water film proves that those additives aren't necessary for getting dishes squeaky clean.
Finish Powerball Quantum
CR's take: Powerball Quantum tablets are the only detergent by Finish that CR recommends. All of its other formulas we tested are at the bottom of the single-dose category because they don't clean very well and fail to resist water spots. This one rates Excellent in both of those tests.
Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus Packs
CR’s take: Seventh Generation’s detergent packs prevents water spots and film, and earns a Very Good rating for cleaning dishes, meaning it may struggle with baked-on food. The formula is free of fragrances, dyes, and chlorine bleach.
For more on dishwasher detergents and ways to boost your dishwasher’s cleaning performance, check out our buying guide.
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