Best dishwasher detergent for every family. Testing, comparison, and reviews of 10 brands, with 3 clear winners (that are environmentally friendly, too)!
About a year ago, I noticed our dishes were…kinda gross. Somehow, whatever brand we’d been using was leaving residue on our glassware, dishes and utensils. It resulted in a bit of a soapy taste being added to pretty much everything. Not ideal when you’re hoping for clean dishes!
Needless to say, we switched brands. But honestly, I just kind of randomly chose an unscented “natural” brand, figuring that would fix the problem.
Since then, I’ve started wondering about all the different brands on the market. I wondered if there’s a clear overall winner in terms of getting things clean without leftover taste and smell residue. Ideally, it would also leave clean dishes without costing an arm and a leg. And come from a company that feels good to support (and is maybe even a bit eco friendly?).
Growing up, my family always used Cascade, but now that I’m an adult I find the various Cascade brands (Cascade Complete, Cascade Platinum, etc.) to be a bit to scented for my liking, plus I prefer to use more natural options for cleaning, and for beauty and body care whenever possible.
Because I love a good research project, I figured I’d test out some of the top brands I know other friends and family use.
What follows is my journey to find the best, be it powder, pods, or gel.
Worth noting, I actually bought and tested all of these, so my reviews aren’t influenced by anything other than how well the formula actually performs!
And while I can’t say it was the most scientific of studies, I did my best to keep testing conditions fairly constant across each test group.
Best Dishwasher Detergent
To find the best, I tested 10 different brands, using the methodology described below.
I realize not everyone is as committed to this cause as I am.
Maybe you just want to know the results?
Of the 10 dishwasher detergent brands* I tested, 3 brands came out as my top picks.
They all scored a near-perfect 33.5/35 on my tests. When price comparing, I found Better Life was also the best budget option (prices change over time and between retailers).
- Best Overall (3-Way Tie): Nellie’s Dishwasher Powder, Method Dishwasher Packs, Better Life Dishwasher Gel
- Best Powder: Nellie’s Dishwasher Powder
- Best Gel: Better Life Dishwasher Gel
- Best Pods: Method Dishwasher Packs
- Budget Pick: Better Life Dishwasher Gel
* The 10 dishwasher detergents reviewed include: Nellie’s Dishwasher Powder, Method Free & Clear Detergent Packs, Better Life Dishwasher Gel, Finish Quantum, Puracy Dishwasher Packs, Ecover Citrus, Grab Green Pods, Seventh Generation Powder, Mrs Meyers Clean Day, and Nature Clean.
How Did I Decide on the Best Dishwasher Detergent? Testing and Methodology
I’ve gone into detail about how each brand performed in my tests below. However, I also want to share how I tested, compared, and decided on the detergent winner.
To start with, I bought and tested 10 different dishwasher detergents.
I evaluated them in my own dishwasher across a range of different tests. I then compared/contrasted each detergent to determine my winners.
For each test and criteria, I scored each detergent on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best). I then multiplied the initial score by a weight to indicate how important that criteria is, as explained below.
Dirty Dishes Test
This test measured cleaning power; basically, how well it actually gave you clean dishes and was grease fighting, and which cleaned the best. Worth noting, I didn’t use rinse aid.
In my view, this is the most important criteria. I weighted it accordingly, giving it a full weight of 100%.
Maximum possible points in this criteria is 10/10 (10/10 points x 100% importance weight).
This test measured whether a detergent left a soapy taste residue on our dishes. This is a fairly important measure, so I assigned it full weight in terms of importance.
However, in my testing I found all the detergents performed well. Put another way, none of the detergents left a soapy residue in my testing.
As such, I cancelled this score from the overall points, as all detergents scored equally.
Ease of Use Test
This assessed user experience. Was the dishwasher detergent easy or annoying to use? Did the packaging keep it contained or allow spills? Did the dishwasher pods explode in the package? Did they properly dissolve or get stuck at the bottom of the dishwasher?
In my view, something with “automatic” in its title should be super easy to use.
While important, this criteria wasn’t as important to me as actual cleaning power. How spotless my dishes get, and whether a dishwasher detergent can dissolve stuck on food residue and get crusty bits off my dishes and glassware is definitely the most important!
So I weighted this criteria at 75% importance.
Maximum possible points for this criteria is 7.5. (10/10 points x 75% importance weight).
Customer Service Test
While not super important to performance, it’s nice to know a company is helpful and cares enough about it’s customers to answer a question. I weighted this criteria at 50% in importance.
All brands started with a score of zero. To get a full mark, the company had to respond within one working day of my inquiry.
Companies that didn’t respond by the time of publishing got a score of zero. I’ve since gone back and updated the post as I heard from companies that initially didn’t respond. These companies lost one point per business day it took to respond, beyond the first day.
For example, Nature Clean responded within 4 days, so their points for this category were marked as 10 possible points minus 4 point penalty x 50% = 3 points.
Maximum possible points awarded is 5. (10/10 points x 50% importance weight).
This one is fairly subjective, I’ll admit.
Most of the dishwasher detergents I tested were fragrance free or more natural scents. This is personal preference, as I don’t love things that are too fragranced.
However, I wanted to offer some point of comparison. For this test, I asked was the scent pleasant or overbearing? I weighted this criteria as 50% in importance.
Maximum possible points were 5. (10/10 points x 50% importance weight), with natural or no scent getting higher scores.
This one is important! Just not as important as performance, so I weighed this one at 75%, same as the Ease of Use test.
Basically, I worked out price based on what I could find online, in USD. I then compared prices per load across all brands to determine value for money, and assigned points based on the comparative price.
Maximum number of points is 7.5, and cheaper was considered better. (10/10 points x 75% importance weight).
Best Dishwasher Detergents by Points Breakdown
Based on this scale and scoring system, a perfect score would be 35. Here’s how the points broke down by dishwasher detergent brand:
- Method Free + Clear Dishwasher Pods (Total Points = 33.5): Dirty Dishes Test (10), Ease of Use Test (7.5), Customer Service Test (5), Scent Test (5), Price (6)
- Nellie’s Dishwasher Powder (Total Points = 33.5): Dirty Dishes Test (10), Ease of Use Test (7.5), Customer Service Test (5), Scent Test (5), Price (6)
- Better Life Gel (Total Points = 33.5): Dirty Dishes Test (10), Ease of Use Test (7.5), Customer Service Test (5), Scent Test (5), Price (6)
- Finish Quantum Powerball (Total Points = 30.5): Dirty Dishes Test (10), Ease of Use Test (7.5), Customer Service Test (5), Scent Test (3.5), Price (4.5)
- Puracy Dishwasher Pods (Total Points = 30): Dirty Dishes Test (8), Ease of Use Test (7.5), Customer Service Test (5), Scent Test (5), Price (4.5)
- Ecover Citrus Dishwashing Tablets (Total Points = 27): Dirty Dishes Test (10), Ease of Use Test (6), Customer Service Test (0), Scent Test (3.5), Price (7.5)
- Grab Green (Total Points = 26.75): Dirty Dishes Test (7), Ease of Use Test (5.25), Customer Service Test (5), Scent Test (5), Price (4.5)
- Seventh Generation Dishwashing Powder (Total Points = 26.25): Dirty Dishes Test (7), Ease of Use Test (6.75), Customer Service Test (0), Scent Test (5), Price (7.5)
- Mrs Meyers Clean Day (Total Points = 24.5): Dirty Dishes Test (7), Ease of Use Test (7.5), Customer Service Test (5), Scent Test (3.5), Price (1.5)
- Nature Clean (Total Points = 24): Dirty Dishes Test (7), Ease of Use Test (7.5), Customer Service Test (3), Scent Test (5), Price (1.5)
Detailed Dishwasher Detergent Reviews (Winners Only)
Below you’ll find more detailed reviews of how each of the top performing detergent performed in my test. I haven’t included reviews for all the detergents, but you can see full score breakdown by category later in this post!
Best Overall (Tie) & Best Detergent Powder – Nellie’s
Nellie’s performed admirably across all tests, and it’s gained a spot as one of my favorites.
In terms of cleaning, it performed perfectly without rinse aid, getting all the dishes and cutlery in my test sparkling clean. It’s also scentless, and I found there was no lingering taste OR smell when I opened the dishwasher at the end of the cycle.
It comes with a small scoop which makes it easy to measure. If you live in a place with a small dishwasher, you don’t have to worry about it not fitting, as you can simply adjust the amount in the scoop.
I also appreciate that all Nellie’s products are plant based and mineral based and biodegradable, making it an eco friendly choice.
The company also got back to my customer service email within one business day, which I appreciated. In response to my question, they recommend customers who live in hard water areas consider using a rinse aid.
Overall Winner (Tie) & Best Tablets – Method Free & Clean
Method Dishwasher Packs tied with Nellie’s and Better Life as the highest-scoring and therefore best dishwasher detergents in my test, with both getting 33.5 points out of 35.
And Method tablets worked great! It cleaned perfectly without rinse aid and is scentless, meaning no lingering taste or smell on my dishes. According to the company, it will work great with hard water, too, also without rinse aid.
The tablets were also super easy to use. The pacs seemed to stand up well in the bag (no pod explosions), and were fairly uniform in size and shape. Method also passed the customer service test, responding within one business day.
Overall Best (Tie), Best Gel & Best Budget – Better Life Dishwasher Detergent Gel
Better Life is the third product with best overall status, scoring the same (33.5/35) as Method Packs and Nellie’s Powder.
Better Life performed equivalently to Nellie’s and Method on all measures, getting my dishes perfectly clean without rinse aid, and being really easy to use in gel format. Being liquid, it also means no worries that it won’t dissolve properly.
In comparing prices across brands and retailers, I also found Better Life to offer great value for money.
As with Nellie’s and Method, Better Life got back to me quickly on my customer service test, responding within a day with the following tip:
“For best cleaning result, we recommend to shake the bottle. For regular loads, squirt 1 tbsp. of gel into your dishwasher’s detergent cup. You may double up with 2 tbsp. if the racks are very full with dirty dishes or a little more crowded.”
In terms of scoring one for being environmentally friendly, Better Life gel is biodegradable and waterway friendly.
Detailed Testing and Methodology
If you’d like a bit more info about how I tested and compared all 10 brands, I’ve outlined it below.
The Dirty Dishes Test (Weight: 1)
It probably goes without saying, but my main criteria for evaluating these dishwasher detergents and comparing them is performance.
Any by performance, I mean do they live up to all the buzz words you hear in dishwasher detergent commercials.
Are they grease fighting, powerful cleaning, stuck on food residue dissolving? Does it get rid of stains?
And do they leave my dishes spotless and my stainless steel cutlery sparkling clean, without pre-rinsing, even when cleaning big messes?
To test this, I did my best to run an “apples to apples” or “food to food” comparison, running a load through my dishwasher with each of the following food residues, without doing any pre-rinsing dishwashing, and without the help of rinse aid.
- Caked on, dried pasta sauce smeared on a side plate. I then microwaved to ensure it was really baked on and didn’t attempt to rinse.
- Fork used to mash avocado on a bagel, with bits of avocado left on the fork and dried on (didn’t rinse).
- Peanut butter and honey smeared and drizzled on a plate (my dishwasher ALWAYS seems to struggle with peanut butter, and having a toddler means we have a lot of peanut butter!). Again, I didn’t rinse.
- Cream cheese on a knife that I didn’t rinse.
Best Dishwasher Detergents by Cleaning Power
Nellie’s, Better Life, Ecover, Finish, and Method were the best dishwasher detergents in my cleaning performance test, and left my dishes spotless and free of stains.
Based on cleaning performance alone, Nellie’s would win best powder, Better Life best liquid, and Ecover, Finish Powerball, and Method would tie for best dishwashing detergent pods.
The Ease of Use Test (Weight: 0.75)
This is a bit of a broad term, but the best way to describe it is, did I find this product easy or annoying to use?
This means different things for different types of dishwashing detergents (such as tablets vs liquid, for example).
- Does the detergent fit easily into my dishwasher’s detergent tray (and does the lid close).
- For pods, is each pod or tablet fairly uniform in size (while this doesn’t really effect me with a full size dishwasher, it’s important for those with a small dishwasher and detergent tray, as it’d be super annoying to have some tablets fit easily, and others not fit at all).
- Are the packs durable, so there aren’t any leaks and spills within the main packaging that gets on my hand when I reach in to grab one of the pods or tablets.
- Is the packaging suitable to ensure the detergent doesn’t spill or leak
- Does it fully dissolve when used?
Best Dishwasher Detergents by Ease of Use
Method, Nellie’s, Better Life, Finish Quantum, Puracy, Mrs. Meyers and Nature Clean all scored a perfect 7.5 in this criteria.
The Customer Service Test (Weight: 0.5)
While this isn’t as important to me as whether my dishwasher detergent actually works and is fairly easy to use and store under my kitchen sink, I do appreciate company’s that offer great customer support, and wanted to test and compare the different products on my list.
To do so, I sent a fairly generic email about whether their brand’s formula was suitable for use with hard water, and waited to see how long it took the company’s to respond.
You can see the text of my email and the results below.
I’m getting in touch with a quick question about your dishwasher detergent (PRODUCT NAME).
I have quite hard water in my area, and have found some of the dishwasher detergents I’ve used in the past don’t have enough powerful cleaning action to overcome the hard water, and get the food off!
I’m currently trying to find a new automatic dishwasher detergent brand to switch to, and wonder if the PRODUCT NAME formula works well with hard water?
Or do you have any tips in terms of what I should look for to find the best dishwasher detergent for hard water? I am open to using powder detergents, dishwasher tablets / detergent pods, or liquid/gel as long as it actually gets my dishes clean.
So how did the different dishwasher detergent brands do in my customer service experiment? The results are below:
- Grab Green: Received a same day response
- Better Life: Received a same day response
- Finish Quantum Powerball: Received a same day response
- Mrs Meyers Clean Day: Received a response within 1 business day
- Method: Received a response within 1 business day
- Puracy: Received a response within 1 business day
- Nellie’s Dishwasher Powder: Received a response within 1 business day
- Nature Clean: Received a response within 4 business days.
- Ecover: Have yet to receive a response
- Seventh Generation: Have yet to receive a response
The Scent Test (Weight: 0.5)
Basically, I wanted to answer the question, did it have a cloying, overbearing scent?
I’m not a huge fan of synthetic fragrances, so generally prefer something that’s going to get my dishes sparkling clean, without hitting me in the face with fragrance.
In this regard, the fragrance free / free and clean brands performed the best on this criteria: Method, Nellie’s, Better Life, Puracy, Seventh Generation, Grab Green, and Nature Clean got a perfect score.
Price Per Load (Weight: 0.75)
Because prices change based on different promotions, volume purchased, and across retailers, I hesitated to include this measure. However, getting great value is an important factor when buying something.
So, I broke it down by price categories, and looked across retailers to see how much I could find each product for at the time of writing. I then assigned points based on value as follows:
- Under $0.20: 10 points
- $0.21 and $0.25: 8 points
- $0.26 and $0.30: 6 points
- $0.31 and $0.35: 4 points
- $0.36 and above: 2 points
I hope this post was helpful, and you find similar results to me! If you found this post helpful, I hope you’ll share my reviews with others!
Saturday 5th of June 2021
I would be interested in knowing how the top 3 compared to Cascade, usind the same parameters. Did you happen to do that?