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Types of Dishwasher Detergents: Which is Best?

When it comes to dishwasher detergent, the sheer amount of options available can be overwhelming.

Got a dishwasher? Use the right detergent. Learn the types of dishwasher detergents and which is best.

When it comes to dishwasher detergent, the sheer amount of options available can be overwhelming. There are powders, gels, and tablets, and even combinations of powder and gel, each with their own set of ingredients. There are mega cleaning tabs, ultra tabs, and store brand powders, too. They all do the same thing though, right? They clean your dishes!

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. While you may think that all dish detergents are created equal—the dishwasher runs the same cycle whether it’s a gel or tablet—they aren’t. If you choose the wrong one for your needs, you can end up with all sorts of issues, including:

  • Caked-on food particles
  • Water stains
  • Cloudy white substance on your dishes
  • Undissolved tablets
  • Frustration with dirty dishes

Nobody wants streaky, cloudy dishes. You want sparkly clean dishes without a ton of elbow grease, which means you have to be aware of what will work best with your dishwasher and water. But with all the varieties of dishwasher detergent out there, how do you know which option is best for you? Let’s take a look at what each type of dishwasher detergent is best for and what it may lack.

Tablets and gel packs

The pros:

  • Best cleaning power
  • Convenient and reliable
  • Usually contain rinse agents

The cons:

  • Cost more than other dish detergents
  • Can be less effective if you have hard water
  • Aren’t environmentally friendly

Tabs are widely considered to have the best cleaning power, plus they’re convenient and reliable. Part of the reason they’re so effective is because they commonly contain additives —like rinse agents—which is what helps leave your glassware streak- and cloud-free.

On the downside, they cost more than the other detergents and they aren’t terribly effective for areas where there’s hard water. Tablets are also way less environmentally friendly than the other options because they require more packaging per dishwasher load than powders.

Liquid gels

The pros:

  • Good cleaning power
  • Less expensive than tablets or gel packs

The cons:

  • If they contain a rinse agent, it usually isn’t effective

Like gel packs, regular gels are also considered one of the best methods for that punch of cleaning power, but if they contain rinse agents, they usually aren’t as effective as the ones found in tablets. To get streak-free dishes with a gel, you’ll probably have to add a separate rinse agent to the dishwasher before running it, which means you’ll be investing in two products to do one load of dishes.

Powder

The pros:

  • The best option for hard water
  • Can tailor the amount to your cleaning needs

The cons:

  • Not terribly convenient
  • Needs an additional rinse agent

If you have a hard water issue, you might want to steer clear of the tablets and go with a powder detergent, simply because you can easily use more of it. If you have really hard water you’re going to need more detergent than normal, because otherwise you’re going to end up with streaky cups and limescale deposits, among other things. And, as with gels, you’re probably going to need to add a rinse agent to the process if you use a powder, because even if the powder contains a rinse agent, they aren’t really that effective.

Now that you know about the various types of dishwasher detergents, you'll be able to make a better-informed choice for your own needs.

Resources—The American Cleaning Institute, CanStar Blue

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