Consumer Reports Tests Dishwasher Soaps

nerdyshopperSeptember 14, 2011

Yesterday on my local news channel they had a special story from Consumer Reports. They finally came to grips with the fact that all washing products have to meet new government standards regarding phosphate content. So they tested a bunch of the newly formulated products. Most were horrer stories. Glass dishes that had been clear and clean were partly or totally obscurred by a heavy coating and looked horrible. The two exceptions that I recall were Cascade tabs and Finish but I'm not really sure of the latter. One of the worst was a product made by Method. I don't recall the other but it was a small market brand. Anyone else catch this announcement too? Please post what you recall for us if you did.

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That's interesting. I've been using the Method "Smarty" tabs for about 2 months in a Miele, and haven't had any issues with them. No film or residue on anything - clear glass wine glasses look just fine, nothing left on silverware.

I've always questioned C.R. as I used to subscribe and got a GE dishwasher on their "high recommendation" about 5 years ago. After being serviced about 8 times in a year, it went back.

But there was a radio piece on NPR a few weeks ago (someone had the audio clip) and they too were talking about people having issues with phosphate free detergent. One lady that was interviewed said that she was buying Cascade for years (didn't saw which one) and then tried the Action Packs and it wouldn't clean, so she'd have to run her unit 2-3 times. She said she called Cascade (or whoever makes it) and they said to manually pre-wash everything. They also had an interview with a dishwasher repairman, and he said that over the past 2 years, he's been getting dozens of more calls a week from people complaining that their units aren't cleaning well any more. He tells them to try a few different detergents and see if one works better - then they call back a week later saying tried a few brands and one of them did work.

So this is just one more thing you can thank the Government for - more regulation.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 11:59PM
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I don't have the issue at hand now, so this is from memory.

But, this article appeared in the most recent issue of Consumer Reports (I think its on pp. 6-8 or so); should still be available at news-stands or a local library.

As I recall, this article talks about cleaning ability of the newly reformulated dishwashing detergents in relation to water hardness -- they mostly don't do so well with hard water. I believe two different Finish tabs and the Cascade Complete All-in-1 pacs did the best in their tests.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 12:01AM
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Yes. They are saying that the test was done with very hard water and they simulate a month of washing glasses and glass dishes. Over the "month" some detergents left a white film on dishes. They showed it in a video. Wow.

I think these individuals with hard water should be adding a product like Lemi Shine. I think that would make a huge difference for them.

I know someone on the laundry forum just tried this in their DW and said it was amazing.

I assume with my Miele Optima and built in water softener this is not an issue? Same for you @fauguy.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lemi Shine

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 12:50AM
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Method Smarty was not near the bottom or even close. It ranked 4th behind Finish Quantum, Finish Powerball, and Cascade Complete pacs. The bottom honors were upheld by Costco Gel and some off brand called 365 Value.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 3:22AM
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365 Value is Whole Foods store brand.

You buy the dishwasher detergent tablets in the bulk bins section along with wild oats,nuts,and chocolate by the pound.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 4:17AM
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We don't have film/powder on our glasses, but I noticed it at my sister's. We use 7th Generation with a vegetable-based rinse aid (not 7th Gen brand). I don't think we have hard water here, but I believe hometown does.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 8:30AM
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The other thing that CR didn't mention was that it may be optimum to use LESS amount than what is on the detergent's package instructions. I LOVE my Method Smarty Tablets, and, believe me, I have tried them all. But most of the time I don't use the whole tablet. I break them in half, or sometimes I use three-quarters (putting the fourth quarter back in the package for the next time). One reason I don't use Finish Powerballs anymore, though I think they're a good product, is that they can't be broken easily. When I've used various DW powders (as I said, I think I have tried them all), I always got best results by using half-to-three-quarters the recommended amount. Very often the etching that CR reported comes from using too much detergent. The amount of detergent should vary depending upon how loaded is the DW, how dirty are the dishes, water hardness, and your own trial-and-error with a particular detergent on what gets the best results in your particular DW. I thought the CR report was lame and amateurish.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 8:31AM
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I reread the CR article and I congratulate those who worked from memory. You were all correct.

The article was an introduction to a possible problem. Most products have not yet been tested for etching or coating. The main suggestion was to add a rinse agent 'which helps keep glassware spot-free, even in hard water'.

However re Method Smarty Dish: it IS near the top (4th) in cleaning, but it DID coat or etch glassware and discolor aluminum. Cascade complete action pacs (3rd) did not cause the new problems. Many other good products have not been tested yet!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 8:45AM
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My folks had used Cascade powder for 50 years, through three dishwashers. All of a sudden they were getting the film, I assume from the new formulation. They don't have hard or soft water. It's right in the middle. Because of the recommendations here, I got them some Finish Quantum tabs and it's all better. (I use 7th Generation, but it doesn't work as well with their kind of machine.)

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 1:09PM
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This article is in the October 2011 issue of CR, pp. 8-9. It reprints results of CR's previous scores for 23 dishwasher detergents, adding "early findings" from 12 of these products that were run through a new test: 20 washes in "very hard" water (grains not specified), which simulates a month of use.

While Finish (Quantum & Powerball Tabs, respectively) were the top two products for cleaning (scored 79 & 78) on the prior test, Finish quantum left a glass film in the hard water test, and the Finish Powerball tabs were not yet run through the new test. Method Smarty, 4th place before, scored 66; but it is not a good choice in hard water.

Cascade Complete All-in-1 pacs (which I use and like), scored 77 (3rd place) in earlier testing; but it neither left a glass film nor discolored aluminum in the new hard water test. The only other products which did not cause problems in the new test were Finish powder (15th place; score 36), The Laundress (21st place; score 31), and Whole Foods' 365 (last place (23rd); score 29).

Presumably CR will print a more complete report when the 11 products they have "not yet tested" in hard water are run. The interim conclusion from this report is to get Cascade Complete All-in-1 if you have hard water and/or bothered by glass film or discolored aluminum; get any of the top three if you have soft water or aren't.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 4:02PM
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WalnutCreek Zone 7b/8a

Thanks for this info. I was not aware that dishwasher detergents had to undergo formulation renovation in order to meet governments regs. However, I do know that recently a white film has been on most of the metal items in the dishwasher (and maybe on the actual plates, etc.- I just can't see it, resulting in my having to handwash each item individually and scrubbing the white reside off. I was so glad to read these messages. I will now put the Cascade Complete All-in-1 pacs on my grocery shopping list; hopefully, this will fix the problem.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 4:29PM
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Doublecheck that you are getting the regular Cascade Complete packs, and not the ones with Dawn in them - the regular ones can be harder to find in larger quantity, making them less cost effective. The ones with Dawn suck, comparatively. I actually get the Cascade Complete packs delivered by subscription from Amazon. Took me a few months to get the delivery schedule right, but now, it's like clockwork! And much more economical.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 8:07PM
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@ walnutcreek, adding LemiShine will remove the white residue on your dishes. I've never needed it but I know a few people who have and loved it.

I gave up Cascade a few years ago as I couldn't stand the chemical/chlorine smell left on my dishes after washing. I've used Finish Powerballs and several "green" brands and been much happier. No smell and no residue here.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lemi Shine

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 8:55PM
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Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one with white residue issues. Our pots and pans were affected the most by this & their enamel finish is basically destroyed--dull & rough to the touch. We were using the Cascade Complete Gel and the Action Packs & we're on city water. We switched to Target & Walmart brand gels and the problem seems to have resolved (not to mention it is way cheaper!), but I still handwash all the pots just to be safe. Can't wait to see CR's final results.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 10:04PM
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I wonder what type of aluminum discoloration they are talking about?

Most of my pots/pans have the T-Fal on the inside, but a few older ones are just regular aluminum on the inside. I've noticed with those, that after washing, either in the dishwasher (Miele tabs or Method tabs), or when washed by hand (Dawn), that there is a "rainbow" color on the inside-bottom on the aluminum. It's hard to see unless you hold it up at the light and look at it from an angle.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 12:39AM
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@fauguy, I have good 5 ply stainless pots but the rivets the hold the handles on pot/lid are aluminum. I only put them in the dish a few times but that rivet changed color. Hard to describe but it became "duller" looking. I could tell it was affected by the detergent.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 9:38AM
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To those with aluminum pots: aluminum is very reactive with alkaline solutions. It will be attacked and gives off hydrogen in the process, but not enough hydrogen for concern with dishwasher products. I have had aluminum pots turn black in the dishwasher though. Those probably had a copper alloy content. Acids won't do this normally unless very strong. But a little Lemi Shine citric acid provides citrate to tie up the calcium and magnesium in hard water. That prevents the film, but not the alkaline attack.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 10:40AM
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My Calphalon anodized aluminum turned silver in the dishwasher--could this be from the detergent? It happened around the same time as the damage to the enamel coated pots and the white film residue.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 9:07AM
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WalnutCreek Zone 7b/8a

@Livebetter - I use LemiShine in every dishwasher load, and while I think it is marvelous, it has not stopped the white buildup on the metal items which includes cutlery items. Are you speaking of the granular type or the liquid type LemiShine?

@badgergrrl - I have noted on my grocery list not to get the type with Dawn. If I cannot locate it, I will do as you suggested and order from Amazon.

My experience with putting aluminum products in the dishwasher has resulted in "grayed" items with absolutely no hint of shine.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 12:50PM
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badgergirl, There are several Cascade products, with confusingly similar names. Out here, Walmart carries Cascade Complete All-in-1 in the 48 pac size, for ~$13; slightly less than Amazon's ~$15 price. 48-pacs is the largest size I've seen for this variety; less good ones (e.g., with Dawn) do come in larger quantities, but they don't say "Complete" or "All-in-1". The smallest size I've seen is 16 pacs; there may be an intermediate size as well.

FWIW, avoid the yellow & green ones; the blue & green ones smell better (to me).

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 9:36PM
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One thing to take note. If you live in an area where the water isn't hard, then this isn't an issue. Phosphate is added to make detergent work in high mineral water. Many municipal systems, such as mine, provide very soft water so the absence of phosphates is actually a good thing.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 2:25PM
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That's not entirely correct. Phosphates benefit cleaning action as well as helping deal with mineral content.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 7:28PM
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@ walnutcreek, I believe it is granular.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 9:37PM
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you cant wash calphalon in a DW - it will destroy the anodized coating within 20 washes. It aint coming back either

the silver you see is the actual aluminum showing through

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 11:07AM
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Forgiveness please, if this isn't the correct thread.

I'm also puzzled about detergents, the old vs the new. We just tried cascade complete tabs (orange and green) and experienced weird things. We're just trying to understand why these happen...

A. Copper bottomed pot becomes new copper penny clean. It's a 35 year old piece of revereware that I never bother to polish.
B. Aluminum cookie sheet turns dull orange and green.
C. Different aluminum cookie sheet turns gun metal gray and dull (washed in the same load as B).
D. Also got really shiney stainless.
E. Also got the reported problem with Calphalon - after 3 years of washing it in the dishwasher.

On the plus side - the rest of the dishes are clean and free from film.

We were using Cascade plain powder pretty successfully until the white coating on everything showed up. At that time we tried Quantum tabs - but that didn't help the coating.

We "liberated" some phosphates and used as an additive with plain Cascade and our soft city water - the problem went away. The aluminum stayed pretty much aluminum colored.

If I use tabs, should I not put aluminum in the dishwasher? Why did the copper get so incredibly clean - is some acid being formed? Is it still safe to put silver or silverplated stuff in the dw?


    Bookmark   January 1, 2012 at 1:53PM
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I can concur with the findings - especially if one has hard water. We didn't have a dishwasher in our previous home and long before that we used "natural" detergents which worked just fine. Now we live in a place with hardness over 20 grains (working on the HOA to get a water softener!). We first moved in I used the Method tablets (with rinse aid in the dispenser) and the first load was terrible - white thick residue on everything. Switched to the Cascade complete packets and it was much better but took several trips through the washer to get the residue off. Then I discovered Lemishine, a tsp of Lemishine in the compartment along with a Cascade packet gave the best results.

that was with the Whirlpool that came with the condo (new in July 2010) that machine just died (motherboard) and we replaced it with the low end Bosch. First load in the Bosch I used the FInish Quantum tablets recommended by Bosch and 1 tsp Lemishine, and of course rinse aid in the dispenser. Results were very good. Next laod I went back to the Cascade packets with Lemishine just to see, and the dishes were even shinier - very clean. So I am sticking to tis combo!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2012 at 6:19PM
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We live in Baltimore, MD. It's city water, tested as very soft very soft, altho a littel chlorine smelling this time of the year.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2012 at 9:48PM
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"I think these individuals with hard water should be adding a product like Lemi Shine"

I think they may need new dishes/glasses - etching

"365 Value is Whole Foods store brand. "

yes, but it's not exclusive - they distribute to others as well.

"CR didn't mention was that it may be optimum to use LESS amount than what is on the detergent's package instructions. "

Yes, ESPECIALLY when the dishwasher manuf. recs. less or a specific amount. CR is notorious for adhering to "their" testing methodology even when it is at odds with a manufacturers directions for use. They make no note that a poor score may be caused by "operator error" - they just had out poor or failing marks and comment that an appliance performs poorly.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2012 at 7:09PM
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6 months ago we moved from a home with very soft water which was them filtered to remove iron. I used equal parts salt/borax/washing soda in my de with vinegar as a rinse aid. Worked great.

We are now on city water which my husband tested at 22 grains of hardness. Before hooking up a softner, the only thing that kind of worked was any commercial detergent in the prewash dispenser and citric acid in the main wash compartment or adding phosphates to the detergent.

If u can find de detergent for commercial use it will have phosphates in it already. Adding lemi shine (citric acid based) will counteract the alkalinity of the detergent.

It's crazy what we go through for clean dishes!

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 3:04PM
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Cascade Complete action pacs is no. 1. They left our dishes and glasses smelling of fragrance. Finish powerball tabs is no. 2, then Finish Gelpacs, then Finish Quantum Powerball Capsules, then Cascade with Dawn Actionpacs.

Method came in 14th. Kirkland Signature pacs came in 8th after all the Cascade family.

Best powder is Cascade Complete Powder, then Seventh Generation powder.

Best gel is no. 16 Palmolive Eco.

Worst is Green Mission by whole foods.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 11:50AM
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Fireman, what dishwasher were those tests done in?

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 11:54AM
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Looks like KitchenAid branded Whirlpools.

Here is a link that might be useful: CR Test Lab

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 2:55PM
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fireman-175: "... is no. 1. ... Best powder is ... Best gel is ... Worst is ... "

Useful, perhaps, if your water supply has the identical pH and dissolved mineral content as the water supply at the Consumers Union test facility (and in some localities, the pH and dissolved mineral content varies by date).

All but worthless otherwise; but it sells magazines, I suppose.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 7:01PM
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