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Consumer Reports finds low-phosphate dishwasher detergents that work

Tests find 4 Recommended products consumers can use under new laws

Consumer ReportsYonkers, NY — There are several low-phosphate dishwasher detergents that performed very well in Consumer Reports’ latest tests, which is good news for the traditionally low-scoring eco-friendly products.

Consumer Reports tested 24 low- or no-phosphate dish detergents and found four Recommended products. Although none equaled the excellent (but now discontinued) product that topped CR’s Ratings in August 2009, seven were Very Good.

Consumer Reports testers smeared dishware with a mix of 17 foods (pots got a mac-and-cheese blend) and then baked on the foods and cleaned the items in identical dishwashers to assess how each detergent performed.

Finish Quantum
Finish Quantum

Finish Quantum (30 cents per load) topped the Ratings, followed by CR Best Buy, Finish Powerball Tabs (22 cents per load), which scored Excellent for dishes and pots, and bested some detergents that cost more.

Cascade Complete All In 1 (28 cents per load) and Cascade with Dawn ActionPacs (23 cents per load) earned a score of Very Good in CR’s tests, but all Cascades, like all Finish products, aren’t equal. Other Cascade and Finish products were scattered throughout the Ratings.

What’s up with Phosphates?

On July 1st, 16 states limit phosphorus in dishwasher detergents to 0.5 percent. Previous products could contain up to 8.7 percent, which has driven major manufacturers to reformulate their products for the whole U.S.

Phosphorus in the form of phosphates help dishwasher detergents clean but also boost algae growth in freshwater, threatening other plants and fish. Soaps for washing dishes by hand are phosphate-free, and phosphates have been limited in laundry detergents since 1994

Past tests found that some low-phosphate products performed the worst overall, but the newest formulations are worth a try.

Here are the details on Consumer Reports other findings:

  • Bleach made little difference. Most of the top performers have no bleach, and it didn’t seem to act on baked-on soils. Bleach might help though with tea or similar stains.
  • Enzymes might help. Most of the tested detergents have enzymes, which can break up food for easier removal.
  • Types might not be a tipoff. Tablets and pacs tended to score high and gels low, but it’s too soon to say whether that trend will continue.
  • Quantumatic isn’t worth the price. At $10.00 (44 cents per load) for the dispenser and first cartridge, Finish Quantumatic dispenses 12 doses of detergent from a cartridge automatically. It performed well, but takes up space in the dishwasher and is less effective than other products that cost less.

Consumer Reports also tested Martha Stewart Clean liquid detergent which would have been lowest-rated of all, but the company said it has since changed its formula. More information on phosphate-free detergents can be found in the September issue of Consumer Reports, available on newsstands August 3rd and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.


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