More than half of us have a dishwasher in our homes according to ABS statistics – and while the magic box that does the washing up is doing most of the hard work, what you put in it matters too.

Costly cleaning

The dishwashing detergent you choose will contribute a significant portion of the running costs over the life of your dishwasher. Buying larger packs will reduce the cost-per-wash. You can still buy in bulk even if you only run your dishwasher occasionally – most detergents have a recommended shelf life of two years.

The Big Question: tablet or powder?

There are two main types of dishwasher detergents – tablets and powders. There are also gels, which look more like a liquid detergent; however they're quite new to the market.

Take a tablet

Tablet forms of detergent are by far the most popular, making up over two-thirds of dishwasher detergent sales. They're convenient (especially with dissolvable wrappers), and they generally perform better than powders. But they're more expensive per wash than most powder – especially if you purchase them in a smaller packet.

Powdering along

Most packs state a recommended dosage regardless of the dishwasher, while some have recommended dosage based on the dishwasher you use, so the amount you're using per wash can vary. Generally the manufacturer's recommendations will specify a larger dose, which will in most cases give a better result. But bear in mind that the less you use, the more washes you'll get out of your pack.

What about cleaners, rinse aids and fresheners?

Cleaners

While you may think your dishwasher is clean – after all, it spends all its time cleaning! – grease and limescale tend to build up in hard-to-see parts like the filters, spray arms, pipes, water pump and drains. Using a dishwasher cleaner every now and then will help to keep all these important parts clean.

Rinse aid

Rinse aid works in the rinse cycle to thoroughly clear away detergent and food residues. It helps to avoid glazes on crockery being stripped away and glassware looking cloudier and scratched, which happens over time due to the high pH level in detergents – basically, keeping your glassware and crockery shiny.

Fresheners

When you load your dirty dishes into the dishwasher, a smell builds up inside between washes, to the point where you start getting a nasty whiff when you open and close the door. The freshener helps to combat that and spruce up the smell of the interior. (After you juice a lemon, try popping one of the squeezed-out halves in the cutlery basket before running the dishwasher – many people swear by this instead of buying freshening products.)

Playing it safe

Dishwashing detergent is alkaline and can be extremely dangerous if swallowed, causing a corrosive reaction in the mouth and throat. Tablets and gels sometimes look and smell like candy and can grab the attention of kids, so it's extremely important to keep them well out of reach of little hands. Don't rely on supposedly child-resistant caps or packaging.