Best and Worst Dishwasher Detergents From Consumer Reports' Tests

Not all detergents are up to the task of getting dishes clean

The best and worst dishwasher detergents from Consumer Reports' tests.
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Let’s hear it for the inexpensive underdogs of the dishwasher detergent world, the scrappy fighters who 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. A second warehouse brand also cleaned better than most detergents we test.

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 39 cents per load.

“Overall, the best-performing detergent packs clean better than the best gels,” says Joe Pacella, the engineer who oversees Consumer Reports’ dishwasher detergent tests. “That’s because many packs contain a pretreat solution, degreaser, bleach, or rinse aid to boost cleaning.”

These single-dose units—also known as pacs, 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
During testing, our engineers load four identical dishwashers with glasses, bowls, and clear glass plates coated with a mix of baked-on foods, plus two stainless pots with baked-on macaroni and cheese. We run the dishwashers using the normal-wash cycle. When the cycle is complete, we use a scanner to determine precisely how clean each dish is. We repeat this test two more times. We also examine how well each dishwasher detergent helps dishes resist water spots, white film, discoloration of aluminum, and food deposits from the wash water, which can end up getting stuck on dishes after rinsing.

The best dishwasher detergents we test earn Excellent ratings in getting dishes and pots spotless, and do so while resisting water spots, food deposits, and white film. The worst dishwasher detergents are barely better than water for removing baked on messes.

Below, you'll get a closer look at three of the best dishwasher detergents we test, listed alphabetically, followed by the three worst, also 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 packs in each container. The prices below, however, reflect overall prices and in some cases are for multipacks. 

Best Dishwasher Detergents
Cascade Platinum ActionPacs with the Power of Clorox
Cascade Platinum ActionPacs with...

    Cascade Platinum ActionPacs with...

    CR’s take: Cascade is a widely sold brand, which is why you’ll see seven of its detergents in our ratings, including Cascade Platinum ActionPacs with the Power of Clorox. (Cascade Platinum ActionPacs+Oxi is similar to the tested detergent.) It’s the most expensive of the detergents highlighted here at 34 cents per load, but these packs earn an Excellent rating in our tests for resisting food deposits. That means that Cascade does a great job in preventing washed-off food from resettling on dishes and glasses.

    Kirkland Signature (Costco) Premium Dishwasher Pacs
    Kirkland Signature (Costco)...

      Kirkland Signature (Costco)...

      CR’s take: Kirkland Signature Premium Dishwasher Pacs are tough on messes, earning an Excellent rating in our tests for cleaning dishes, and they do a superb job keeping washed-off food from winding up on dishes. Price per load is 11 cents. Sparkling performance at a low price makes this dishwasher detergent a CR Best Buy.

      Member's Mark Ultimate Clean Dishwasher Pacs (Sam's Club)
      Member's Mark Ultimate Clean...

        Member's Mark Ultimate Clean...

        CR’s take: Another warehouse brand, another CR Best Buy. If you routinely put pots and pans in your dishwasher, consider Member’s Mark Ultimate Clean Dishwasher Pacs. This detergent garners an Excellent rating for cleaning stainless pots covered with baked-on mac and cheese. Sound easy? Only 3 of the 20 dishwasher detergents we tested aced this test. Member’s Mark comes close to the Kirkland above in terms of performance, but it had a harder time resisting food deposits.

        Worst Dishwasher Detergents
        Finish Gel
        Finish Gel

          Finish Gel

          CR’s take: Even the best gels we test can't match the overall performance of the lowest-scoring packs, and few can ace our tests for cleaning dishes. Finish Gel doesn’t even come close to getting dishes clean, earning a Fair in that test. That’s the second worst rating possible. It also left water spots on our dishes, though it did a slightly better job at preventing food bits from resettling on dishes and glasses.

          Great Value Dishwasher Gel (Walmart)
          Great Value Dishwasher Gel (Walmart)

            Great Value Dishwasher Gel (Walmart)

            CR’s take: At 5 cents per load, Great Value is the cheapest detergent in our ratings, but it also scrapes the bottom of the barrel with the lowest Overall Score of all 20 products we test. This gel fails to thoroughly wash dishes and pots, and it couldn’t fend off water spots and food deposits, either. The only test it aces is the film and discoloration one, which rates a detergent’s ability to prevent mineral deposits.

            Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus Packs
            Seventh Generation Ultra Power...

              Seventh Generation Ultra Power...

              CR’s take: Seventh Generation’s detergent packs are rated better than any gel we test, but the company's Ultra Power Plus is the worst of the packs. True, it prevents water spots and film, and earns a Very Good score for cleaning dishes. However, it’s no match for pots with baked on food.

               

              For more on dishwasher detergents and ways to boost your dishwasher’s cleaning performance, check out our buying guide

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              Dishwasher detergents Rated
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              Perry Santanachote

              A multidimensional background in lifestyle journalism, recipe development, and anthropology impels me to bring a human element to the coverage of home kitchen appliances. When I'm not researching dishwashers and blenders or poring over market reports, I'm likely immersed in a juicy crossword puzzle or trying (and failing) to love exercise. Find me on Facebook