It's a sad moment when you unload your dishwasher only to find bits of grime still stuck to plates or less-than-sparkling glasses.
If you're seeing shoddy results from your dishwasher and you're confident you don't just have a poorly performing dishwasher – and that you're not making any other of these dishwashing mistakes – perhaps your detergent is to blame.
The amount of money you spend on dishwasher detergent over the life of your dishwasher is equal to the cost of the actual dishwasher, so it's worth your while making sure you're choosing a detergent that's up to the task.
But with an overwhelming number of products available on the supermarket shelves, all promising to deliver cups and plates so clean you can, well, eat off them, how do you know which one offers the best value for money?
And just as importantly, which type of dishwasher detergent should you buy?
"There's a big difference between the effectiveness of different dishwashing detergents," says Matthew Steen, head of reviews and testing at CHOICE.
"And whether you're using a tablet, gel or powder can really show up in the wash."
Dishwasher pods contain liquid ingredients in a dissolvable pouch.
Are dishwasher tabs better than powder?
Tablets and powders make up the bulk of dishwasher detergents sold in Australia.
The 'classic style' of dishwasher tablets contain just the detergent, compacted into a tablet shape.
The newer-style tablets are sometimes called 'tabs', 'pods' or 'all-in-ones' and also contain liquid ingredients such as rinse aid in a dissolvable pouch. They're often recognisable by their brightly coloured components.
So which is best?
"While dishwasher tablets and pods tend to be more expensive, they outperform powder in our dishwasher detergent tests," says Matthew.
"The top four recommended products in our dishwasher detergent review, with scores of 75% and above, are all either tablets or pods. And our bottom three performers are all powders."
Dishwasher pods and some tablets are designed to deliver the perfectly formulated amount for each dishwasher load
There's a simple reason why there's such big difference in performance.
Dishwasher pods and some tablets are an 'all-in-one' product that usually contain ingredients such as dishwasher salt, rinsing agent and detergent in one easy dose. They're more concentrated than powder or gel detergents alone, and are designed to deliver the perfectly formulated amount for each dishwasher load.
Dishwashing powder, on the other hand, is generally less effective as it's just the detergent with no salt or rinsing agent.
What about dishwasher gels?
Dishwasher liquids or gels are useful for some drawer-type dishwashers that can't use tablets, and are convenient as you can dose as little or as much as you like in your detergent dispenser.
And although they can be cheaper than some tablets, they're generally not as effective as tablets or pods.
Although they can be cheaper than some tablets, gels are generally not as effective as tablets or pods
They can also contain a higher quantity of surfactants than tablets or powder – surfactants are compounds commonly found in detergents that can be detrimental to the environment.
We tested four gel products in our latest review, one from Finish and three products from Somat, and the results were underwhelming. Scores ranged from 60% for the Finish All in 1 Max Fast Dissolving Gel Lemon Sparkle down to 48% for the Somat Excellence Duo Power Gel Lemon and Lime.
Price doesn't always equal performance
If you've been looking for ways to save on your grocery bills, you may have zeroed in on your expensive dishwasher tabs.
Considering our top-performing dishwasher detergent – Finish Powerball Quantum Ultimate Pro Tabs Baking Soda – cost a whopping $36 per packet (or $1.13 per wash), it seems like a good place to cut some costs.
The good news is our testing often finds that price doesn't always equal performance, and you don't have to switch to a poor-performing but cheaper powder to save money. There are plenty of cheaper dishwasher tablets that get great results in our testing.
One of the cheapest tablets in our test, Aldi's Logix Platinum, outperformed products costing more than twice as much
Our experts tested 34 products and rated their cleaning performance on food stains such as egg yolk, baked-on cheese, rice starch, red wine and bolognaise sauce.
One of the cheapest tablets in our test, Aldi's Logix Platinum, outperformed products costing more than twice as much – even beating out Finish's premium Powerball Quantum Ultimate Pro products, which cost from 32 cents to $1.13 per wash.
"Out of the three Aldi products we tested, their best rating detergent was actually one of the cheapest in our review, at just $7 per pack of 40, or 18 cents a wash. This goes to show you can still get a high-performing tablet for less," says Matthew.
How to save money on dishwasher tablets
(...and get the best results from your dishwasher)
1. Buy in bulk and look for specials
Buy dishwasher tablets in larger bulk-sized packets, stock up when on special and scrutinise unit prices to ensure you are getting the cheapest price possible – always look at the price per item to compare. Keep in mind, however, that the shelf life of dishwasher tablets is around one to two years, so don't stockpile tablets as their effectiveness may deteriorate over time.
2. Regularly check our test results
Check CHOICE dishwasher detergent reviews to find out which cheaper products perform well in our extensive laboratory testing. But remember, product formulations can change over time, so make sure you're armed with our latest results.
3. Be economical
Run full loads to use fewer tablets, or try cutting your dishwasher tablets in half – this could affect the washing performance, but there won't be any harm done!
4. Bypass the dispenser
Detergent dispensers are designed for powders. If you're using tablets, just toss it straight into the bottom of your dishwasher tub – this maximises the time the tablet has to dissolve and do its thing. This tip is particularly worth trying if you find your tablets aren't dissolving properly or if you're using a faster cycle.
5. Pack like a pro
To get the best results from your dishwasher tablets and save you having to run another load when your plates aren't cleaned properly, make sure you stack your dishwasher correctly – and don't pre-rinse your dishes. Follow our expert tips on how to load your dishwasher properly.
6. Use rinse aid
If your all-in-one product doesn't already contain rinse aid, add it separately. Rinse aid reduces the viscosity of water, which means water won't bead on your glassware and it'll come out squeaky clean and dry. When buying rinse aid, the same money-saving rules apply – look at unit pricing, buy larger bottles, switch to home-brand alternatives or stock up when products are on special.
7. Keep a clean machine
Regularly clean your dishwasher filter to ensure it performs at its best, and check out all our tips on how to clean your dishwasher.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.