Some phosphate-free dish detergents work, Consumer Reports finds

YONKERS, N.Y. Consumer Reports this month named four low-phosphate dishwasher detergents as "recommended products" in its latest tests.

Consumer Reports tested 24 low- or no-phosphate dish detergents and found that Finish Quantum (30 cents per load) topped the ratings, followed by Finish powerball tabs (22 cents per load), which was named "CR best buy," and scored excellent for dishes and pots, besting some detergents that cost more. Additionally, Cascade Complete all-in-one (28 cents per load) and Cascade with Dawn ActionPacs (23 cents per load) earned a score of very good in CR's tests.

Past tests found that some low-phosphate products performed the worst overall, but the newest formulations are worth a try, CR said. Other insights in the latest Consumer Reports tests included:

  • 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 continu
  • Quantumatic isn't worth the price: At $10 (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 explained that many manufacturers have reformulated their dishwashing products as many U.S. states limited phosphorus in dishwasher detergents to 0.5%, when products previously could contain up to 8.7%. 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, CR said.

More information on phosphate-free detergents can be found in the September issue of Consumer Reports, available on newsstands Aug. 3 and online at

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