Do "green" dishwasher detergents really work?

July 29, 2009 2:37:27 PM PDT
When it comes to cleaning your dishes, there are more phosphate-free dishwashing detergents being sold these days. They are a greener choice because phosphates encourage algae growth in fresh water. But, Consumer Reports Magazine's latest tests show many can't deliver a mean clean. Consumer Reports Magazine really challenged dishwasher detergents way beyond what they face in your kitchen. A blend of peanut butter, pudding, macaroni and cheese, and 14 other sticky, starchy foods was smeared onto plates and pots. Then, the goo was baked on. Eight of the plates were loaded into each dishwasher, the exact same way each time, along with two pots.

They were then washed using the recommended amount of detergent.

In this test, Consumer Reports Magazine evaluated 18 dishwasher detergents, including ones from Cascade, Palmolive, and Electrasol. Then, testers inspected the results.

"Five of the seven detergents that lacked phosphates didn't do well at all in our cleaning tests," Tod Marks, senior project editor for Consumer Reports Magazine, said. "In fact, they left large amounts food and goop all over the plates."

But, other detergents were tough enough to make even the heavily soiled test dishes sparkle.

The clear winner was Cascade Complete All-in-1 ActionPacs. It did an excellent job cleaning. But, it does contain phosphates.

"The pros of phosphates in dishwashers is that they can boost the cleaning power of the detergent, but the flip side is that they're bad for fresh water," Marks explained.

But, two phosphate-free detergents did well in Consumer Reports Magazine's tests: Method Smarty dish tablets and Simplicity 2-in-1 packets.

While neither did a great job on pots, both did quite a good job getting plates and glasses sparkling clean.

In addition to the detergent, Consumer Reports Magazine says how you load your dishwasher makes a big difference in how clean your dishes get. Experts say the dirtier side of the dish should be pointed toward the center, and you should load the large items at the sides and back so they don't block water and detergent from other dishes.

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