The Clean Dishes Challenge: Battle of the Dishwasher Detergents

Is your dishwasher not getting your dishes as clean as it used to? If it isn't, you might be surprised to learn that your dishwasher may be fine -- the actual problem could be with your detergent. Back in 2010, many states enacted a ban on phosphates in detergent, both laundry and dishwasher, under the guise that the new formulations were better for the environment (more on that at the end.) But, as phosphate-free formulas began to hit the shelves in 2011, many consumers were less than thrilled with the results:

As a couponer who stockpiles a good quantity of dishwasher detergent at any given time, our household wasn't hit with the phosphate-free formulations until recently, when my last box of phosphate-based Finish detergent ran out. (Actually, I should back up a little -- we didn't realize we had used the last box until running a few loads with the "new stuff.") All of a sudden, our dishes simply were not getting clean. We have a very nice Bosch FD8104 stainless steel tub dishwasher that runs four or five times a week, and it's always performed well. But when we started pulling out dishes that seemed just as dirty as the way they were when they went in...


... well, we figured out pretty quickly that there was a problem. I compared the new box of Finish to the old one that was still under the sink and immediately realized what the problem was. (The old box is on the left, and the new, phosphate-free box is on the right.)

What to do? As some of my blog readers mused over the past month about this new problem we were experiencing (apparently our stockpiles all ran out of the "good stuff" around the same time!) I started looking for answers. I had a few packages of phosphate-free Cascade and Cascade Complete geltabs that I'd picked up with coupons last year too, so I retired the underperforming Finish and gave both kinds of new Cascades a try. With both, I had disappointing results. Glasses were still cloudy, and dishes still had food stuck to them after the wash cycle.

Next, I wanted to rule out the slim possibility that something was wrong with my good friend, Bosch. I needed some phosphate-based dishwasher detergent to run a few loads with and compare the results. And I did have a couple of loads' worth of the "good stuff" left. We had vacationed in Disney the previous year, and if you ever stay in one of the Disney villas that has a kitchen, you'll find that it's stocked with this:

Institutional Finish dishwasher detergent. When we checked out, there were a couple of packets left in our room, and I had brought them home along with the cute Mickey Mouse soaps that the kids like. This Finish contains 7.1% Sodium TriPolyPhosphate. I ran two loads using one packet for each load. And, when each load finished, I opened the dishwasher and was rewarded with a bleachy-clean scent and delightfully sparkling dishes.

It was safe to say that the detergent was a problem, and that Bosch just needed better detergent to do his job again. It's worth noting that commercial-grade dish detergents (laundry too) are still allowed to contain phosphates, because it's important for restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and other commercial usages to get their dishes and laundry as clean as possible.

As I knew the Institutional Finish worked well, I started looking online for sources to purchase it from. One hotel-supplies website carries it, but it's a whopping $102.99 for 200 loads, or about .50 per load. The couponer in me shuddered!

I knew from reading other articles online that some people were having luck with adding TSP (TriSodium Phosphate) to regular dishwasher detergent to get things cleaner. I bought some TSP and experimented with adding anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon to the dishwasher, along with phosphate-free Finish.(If you try this too, make sure you're getting real TSP -- there are actually phosphate free versions of TSP now too!)

I supplemented with TSP for about a week. While my dishes seemed cleaner, they were also covered with white powdery spots:

One of my readers suggested using STPP (Sodium TriPolyPhosphate) instead of TSP to get rid of these powdery spots, but I kind of felt like I was done playing chemist at this point. I just wanted something that worked consistently. There had to be a better solution, and I started looking for less-expensive commercial-grade dishwasher detergents to try.

In January, I received a flyer in the Valpak for Bubble Bandit, a new phosphate-based commercial-grade-for-home-use dishwasher detergent. The Bubble Bandit flyer stated the obvious: "$5 says it's not your dishwasher. Take a look at your detergent. Your phosphate-free dishwasher detergent doesn't work!" It boasted an 8.7% phosphate content, the same as what my Finish Gelpacs used to contain. I ordered some to try.

Another reader suggested Professional Line Cascade, which is a foodservice-grade version of Cascade that contains those all-important phosphates. Yet another suggested Finish Glass Magic, which is a phosphate additive that you can supplement your phosphate-free Finish dishwasher detergent with. I placed an order for Professional Line Cascade. Surprisingly, Finish Glass Magic is available at some supermarkets. At my reader's suggestion, I made a rare trip to Woodman's to pick it up.

And for one month, I rotated these three products, tried them all out, and took notes on what I liked, didn't like, and would ultimately continue using. At the beginning of this process, I had actually amassed quite a large pile of "didn't get clean the first time" dishes to try these detergents out with, but as the month went on, I was using them for my regular dishwasher loads too. Here are the results of my semi-scientific Clean Dishes Challenge:


The contestants:

Finish Glass Magic
Product type: powder
Phosphate concentration: 21%
Active ingredient: Sodium TriPolyPhosphate (STPP)
Contains: 16 ounces
Number of loads in package: 10
Price: $5.49
Price per load: .54
Purchased at: Woodman's

With a whopping 21% phosphate, I expected good things from Finish Glass Magic. But, it's also the only product in the challenge that requires you to use it with dishwasher detergent too! It's not detergent, just a detergent additive.


Dirty...


Clean.

Does it work? For the most part, yes. The dishes were definitely coming out cleaner, though in comparison to the other two products tested, I actually was disappointed in some of the loads I ran. Plastics were definitely much cleaner than before, as was the silverware. But some of my glassware was still cloudy when it came out -- surprising for a product called Glass Magic, especially considering the high phosphate count. It's got a very strong bleach scent too, if you're sensitive to that sort of thing. (I didn't mind the scent at all.)

Conclusion: At over .50 per load, I think this is just too expensive for daily use. (If I wanted to spend that, I'd simply get the Institutional Finish, which worked much better than the combination of Finish Glass Magic and non-phosphate Finish did.) I also think the other detergents I tried performed better than this. And I think it's a little ridiculous that Finish can "ban" phosphates from their regular detergent, but still sell you a box full of them to supplement their phosphate-free detergent with.


Bubble Bandit
Phosphate concentration: 8.7%
Product type: powder
Active ingredient: Sodium TriPolyPhosphate (STPP)
Contains: 60 ounces
Number of loads in package: 37.5
Price: $9.60
Price per load: .26
Purchased at: BubbleBandit.com

I was looking forward to trying the Bubble Bandit, simply because I liked their advertisement and that it is a new product. The bag notes that Bubble Bandit is a commercial-grade dishwasher detergent for home use. And, the first load I ran with it made me sigh with happiness when I opened my dishwasher up:

Oh, to have all of my loads of dishes look like this!

I was curious to see how some of the things that didn't get clean with phosphate-free Finish fared under a phosphate-based detergent, like this pizza cutter:

Ridiculously, I felt like a kid at Christmastime when I opened my dishwasher and saw everything that was previously dirty was now clean. (Isn't that what a dishwasher is supposed to do though?!)

The scent of Bubble Bandit is hard to describe - it has a clean kind of smell, but it's not evocative of any specific aroma. The detergent itself is also a very fine powder in comparison to the other two.

The only negative thing I can say about this product is that it didn't seem to work well with my Bosch's detergent dispenser at all. The Bosch has a sliding detergent door that locks over the detergent cup, then gradually opens during the wash. After the first load, I opened the dishwasher, looked at the dispenser, and saw this:

Most of the detergent was still stuck in the dispenser - a white, sticky glop. I used a knife to pry it out:

I don't know if it's because the detergent is such a fine powder that it's sticking together when the water is sprayed into the dispenser before it releases the detergent, or what. But the strange thing is that even though more than half the detergent was still stuck in the dispenser each time a load ended, the entire load of dishes was clean and sparkling. (It made me think that I might be able to use a lot less detergent and still get the dishes clean.) After three loads, the detergent was still sticking in the cup after every load (I was cleaning the stuck detergent out completely between each load.) After that, I opted not to use the detergent dispenser at all for subsequent loads. The product came with a scoop to measure with, and I simply scooped out the right amount and dumped it into the bottom of the washer before closing the door. I also played with reducing the detergent by about half the volume of the cup, and my dishes still came very clean. So, a bag of this may go further than the measuring-cup would lead you to believe.

Conclusion: Aside from the issue with the detergent dispenser, I was happy with the cleaning results of Bubble Bandit. There were times I opened the dishwasher to add something once it began running, and even if the dishwasher had been running for less than ten minutes, almost everything appeared to be clean already. What's not to like about that? Unlike the others, it does not have a strong bleach scent. If you're sensitive to smells, this would be the best phosphate-based choice.


Professional Line Cascade
Phosphate concentration: 7%
Product type: powder
Active ingredient: Tripolypentasodium Phosphate
Contains: 85 ounces
Number of loads in package: 53
Price: $9.17
Price per load: .17
Purchased at: ReStockIt Office Supply (You must buy a case of 6 boxes)
(Note: If you're local to Illinois, Schweppe restaurant supply in Lombard also sells single boxes for $10.79. Other readers have written to say that GFS stores also carry this Cascade for around $7!)

I was very happy with the performance of the Professional Line Cascade. Despite having the lowest phosphate concentration of the detergents tested, this Cascade got everything clean that I threw at it, including Corning Ware. If you cook with Corning Ware, as I do, you may know that while its thermal properties are second to none, a lot of foods stick to it. This is what some of my Corning Ware dishes looked like after washing them with the phosphate-free Finish:

They were sort of clean. But I was still hand-washing them afterward to get rid of food residue. And, worse -- the back sides of the dishes weren't getting clean at all. In some cases, they were coming out even dirtier:

Now, as the top dish had cooked over on the stove, I might have had to scrub that one anyway... but the bottom dish had nothing on the bottom of it when it went into the dishwasher. It was dirtier when it came out, after being washed by the non-phosphate detergent! Yuck. But here's how they looked with the professional version of Cascade:

Beautiful! (I laughed after I took the bottom photo. Look closely at the pan on the lower left. The kitchen light is giving off a heart-shaped reflection in the glass, as if to say "Don't you love your clean Corning Ware?" Yes, I do!)

I had very consistent results with the Professional Cascade. It worked fine in the detergent dispenser of my Bosch, though again, if you're a smells person, it's got a strong bleach smell when you open the dishwasher. (Again, I don't mind and actually like it... to me, that smell means "CLEAN!") I honestly couldn't come up with anything negative to say about this. It cleans like it's supposed to. 'Nuff said!

Conclusion: Of the three, this is the best value of the bunch. It's only slightly more expensive than the Bubble Bandit, but it has an extra 25 ounces of detergent in the box. And it reminds me of the Cascade I used to buy. (Well... it pretty much IS the Cascade I used to buy.)

_____________________________

Other things you should know:

All photos are unretouched and unenhanced. If you wish to zoom in and inspect my dirty dishes, or admire my clean ones, you can. The number of loads of detergent in each package was calculated by pouring each package out and measuring the specified load size with the appropriately-sized measuring cup. (Then, I poured it all back in with a funnel!) No rinse agents were used with any of these detergents, though I was previously alternating usage of Jet Dry and Safeway's house brand Bright Green citric acid dishwasher rinse (similar to Lemi-Shine) with my nonperforming phosphate detergents. Now I haven't needed rinse agents at all.



What about the environment?

If you've followed this issue at all, you may know that phosphates were removed from detergents due to the perceived threat of algae bloom in fresh water when grey water containing detergent runoff emptied into lakes and ponds. While algae bloom is a problem for fresh water, the usual culprit is runoff from commercial fertilizers, which contain high amounts of the kinds of phosphates that can cause algae bloom.

A Minnesota study determined that the amount of phosphates generated from home use that were actually reaching bodies of fresh water was about 1.9%. And, in 2011, the University of Washington released a study that determined that phosphorous runoff from detergents, even when discharged directly into the Spokane River, never worked as an algae fertilizer: "Effluents making their way into the river contained phosphorus in complex molecular forms which are not bioavailable. Algae lack the enzymes necessary to break down this phosphorus, meaning it is essentially harmless."

So, even in a situation where phosphorous-based detergent runoff is emptying directly into fresh water, the phosphorous doesn't cause algae bloom. But now that science has proven otherwise, will the ban be lifted? Not likely. "Detergent phosphates are bad for the environment" has become a common belief among environmentalists and many consumers alike... even without any factual evidence. On the contrary, studies exist showing that this kind of phosphorus is not an issue.

Phosphates in and of themselves aren't "harmful" at all either. They exist naturally in the environment, and if you've eaten a box of Cheerios lately, you've been eating them too (check out the ingredients in the photo at the right.) As one of my readers wrote here on the blog, "If TSP is so harmful to the environment, why is the government allowing our families to consume it when they allow General Mills to add it to their cereals? ... Yeah, its dangerous to be in the water, but its okay if we consume it... Talk about mixed signals!"

Reader Frank Schroeder wrote to the New York Times, "What evidence supports the notion that 'phosphate-free' detergents are better for the environment, better for the people using them? As a chemist, I can hardly think of a replacement that is less innocuous (and less of a concern for human health) than phosphate." Indeed.

With the removal of phosphates from detergents, the cleaning power of phosphates has to be replaced with something. Typically, petroleum-based additives are used in conjunction with enzymes. In Europe, The Centre Europeen d’Etudes sur les Polyphosphates and the European Chemical Industry Council has studied this, raising an interesting issue -- the phosphate replacements may be more harmful to the environment. These organizations state, "Most such chemicals have poor environmental biodegradability and can significantly increase the organic compounds in the sewage. The additional chemicals also pose a toxic risk to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems" (link) Food for thought.

Situations in which dishes must be absolutely clean and sanitary demand detergents that work. It's the reason the professional grade detergents used by hotels, restaurants, and hospitals still contain phosphates.

The Weekly Standard article, "Another Triumph For The Greens," has a great deal of additional information about this topic if you're interested in learning more.


Additional reading:

Another Triumph For The Greens: To go with toilets that don’t flush and light bulbs that don’t light, we now have dishwashers that don’t wash - Weekly Standard

Dishes Still Dirty? Blame Phosphate-Free Detergent - NPR.com

Cleaner for the environment, not for the dishes - The New York Times

Bubble Bandits Defy Dishwashing Soap Ban - NPR.com

Your Dishes Are Dirty Because Of The Greens - Red State

How Phosphates Help Detergents Wash - The Centre Europeen d’Etudes sur les Polyphosphates

Consumer Reports reviews phosphate-free dishwasher detergents - ConsumerReports.com

Cascade.com on phosphate-free formulations- Cascade.com

Non-phosphate product reviews on Cascade - Cascade.com


Disclaimer: I have not been compensated for this post, nor have any of the companies involved provided products for the purposes of review or inclusion in this article. I purchased all three products tested for the purpose of sharing my results with my readers... as well as finding a good dishwasher detergent that I can rely on.


have STPP - Afraid to open the bag!

First of all, am loving this post and all the useful comments. : )

Because of it, I ordered some STPP off of Amazon, but when I read the Material Safety Data Sheet that came with it, I'm afraid to even open the bag! For those who have tried supplementing with this, how did you work with it? How much did you add per cycle?!

STPP Additive

Hi, I thought you would have had some answers by now- As far as safety, well it never hurts to be cautious but It's a great cleaner so you should give it a whirl. I refrained from buying a bag of frozen scallops a few weeks ago after seeing on the label they are frozen in a bath of this stuff. You have to ask why?? Obviously I will thaw and rinse my scallops before cooking, but how do you know you can remove it all? And what about an inexperienced cook who doesn't even read the bag and just tosses them in a dish?

What research/reading I have done would suggest adding a teaspoon to the main compartment along with your detergent of choice, so maybe a half tsp. to the smaller one. It will likely take some experimentation but believe me, it is well worth it. As discussed here previously, I think the best results will be to add this to a "complete" powder that also contains a bleaching agent of some sort. So far I have not found mixing my own complete formula to be financially practical (for the average homeowner), due to the fact that you have to purchase huge bulk amounts of the individual ingredients to get your cost per use down.
Give it a try and let us know how it works.
Happy Dishwashing!

Well...

It's Gone Guys. It's Gone :(

I saw this message, on the Restockit Link.

We’re sorry to report that P&G has stopped production of Cascade Dishwasher Detergent (34953PG). Our supply has run-out, but we have lots of other great dishwasher detergents to choose from on our site.

Is there any known, "Legit" suppliers still left?

What a bummer. :(

Well, we knew this day was coming. :(

I am not aware of any other retailers that guaranteed that what you were ordering was "the good stuff."

More on making your own

I had to come back and correct my spelling- STPP-sorry about the mistake.
Coupons2000- where were you a few months back when I had all these questions? I hereby anoint you the unofficial blog detergent chemist.
Regarding the addition of the citric acid, I will try some mixes without it as you have suggested. Maybe I have to resort to an empty load run every month with citric acid only to keep the scale down? Concerning the enzymes, from my experience it would require some type of programmable dishwasher so that the enzymes were mixed and circulated and then the machine stops for a long period of time to allow them to work- at least that's the way the enzyme drain cleaners operate.
I have not had good experiences with the modern Gels or liquids as you suggest, in fact, these products are what drove me back to the powders. I don't know why.
The question I would most like answered is about using regular TSP, which is cheaper than STPP. From experience, I know the regular TSP is a little harder to deal with- maybe solubility differences? It seems difficult to rinse when you get too much. I am wondering how many people are successfully using TSP instead of STPP? I have experimented some, but I am concerned about the proportion and whether we end up eating a lot of it stuck to the dishes?
Having said all that, I have tested both of the mixes I listed previously and both have worked well, at least better that the newer boxed formulas without any TSP products. Admittedly, my testing is not nearly as scientific and thorough as the Coupon Maven.... So with a little more help I am hoping to fine-tune things and mostly lower my costs. Thanks for the feedback and suggestions.

You know..

The reason, I brought up the Gels, is there practically the same formula, missing the one ingredient they need to work. While there performance, will be quite bad, without the phosphate, add the proper amount, and you've got a really good detergent. Gel alone, would be horrible performance wise. All it is, at the current state, is Water Downed, Gel-ed Bleach, with the silverware protection agents, it doesn't have a water softener.

As for the Citric Acid, in all honestly, I really think after you have everything down, it'll be about useless. Phosphate is one of the strongest water softeners in the world, and in almost any case, should be enough to control lime scale.

Enzymes on the other hand. You'd need like 1/30th of an Aspirin, amount, for them to be really effective, they'd simply dissolve with the detergent, and, start working. Some point, in the dishwasher, when the internal temperature reaches 130ish.. they'll start to wind down, and if Oxygen Bleach is there, it should start to activate.

And regarding, Phosphates. For this use, STTP, is always gonna be better. And I'll tell you why. TSP, is good, and it is a water softener, but, when added to hard water, it forms a dust cloud, or precipitation, because, it can't hold all the hard water minerals in suspension. It does Soften Water, but it can't hold & trap it, causing "Calcium Carbonate" or white residue to redistribute on dishes.

STPP, All By Itself. Grabs onto Calcium & Magnesium minerals, like a magnet, and traps it, so you don't get white film. And it grabs onto grease, and other food deposits, as well. So your plate with pork chop grease, doesn't cause your nice glassware to get all greasy.

I'd really like it, if you'd try the Gel with your really hard water, and report back. :)

I can also find you MSDS Sheets, would should be helpful, with your research.

Next trials

So then next time around, I am going to try a powder with STPP without any citric acid and then also a house brand liquid or gel with maybe a teaspoon of STPP added per load.

Past experience has been that the powders are cheaper per use, so that is probably where I will focus. Since I can't buy enough "bulk" washing soda, the most practical approach is just look for bargains on quality dishwasher detergent- at least for now.
If I stick to powder, I am wondering about the bleach component... I have seen several different chemicals listed as such- which would be best and safest? We have a white plastic cutting board that is a good test subject- When you use the Cascade Professional, this board comes out noticeably brighter (starting to sound like a commercial), whereas my recent test mixes leave it clean, but sometimes will have some discolorations; mostly from red things like tomato, paprika, etc.

Even if the Cascade Pro or others with Phosphate continue to be available, the costs are getting outrageous, so I feel like it is time to come up with a really good substitute. Without the phosphates, the dishwasher is not much help because we end up spending extra minutes on "inspection" as well as hand washing the ones that didn't get clean. thanks

I know where one could find..

Cheap Washing Soda. A lot of Pool Chemical Places, sell it as a "PH+" thingie. If you find the boxes, it'll list Sodium Carbonate as the only ingredient. Look Online and Comparison shop around. It might be a great option :)

Another Suggestion, would be to borrow, or use someone elses Sams Club Membership. You can get HUGE boxes, of Cascade Dishwasher Detergent, loaded with the Washing Soda. on the cheap. I think a 200oz box is like $7 or so.

And as for the Bleaching, Whitening Effect. Sodium Per-Carbonate, or the active ingredient, in Oxi-Clean, is effective, if it has a long enough cycle time. If you've ever bought the the "Action Pacs" it's the 2nd Ingredient, and works well on Coffee Mugs, and such.

Although, if you want the most effective, and cheapest ingredient. I'd look for pure "sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate" or "sodium dichloro-s-triazinetrione" available, in pool shock compounds. This is what Dishwasher Detergent Manufacturers, used, in dishwashing formulas, because, the stuff has a long shelf life (without preservatives or stabilizers) and it's germicidal, and cheap. It's a common chemical, that's very concentrated (you'd probably only need about a tablespoon for a whole 75oz box), and breaks down into a safe, yet, effective version of Sodium Hypochlorite, or Chlorine Bleach.

^The only problem, with this ingredient is, it can't be mixed with anything containing enzymes. It'll kill them off. That Ingredient, I think is also the one used by the Cascade Professional. I'll have to check the box later.

I've been really looking into the thought, of making homemade "professional strength" detergent, for a little while now. I know quite a bit, between emails to P&G, and online research of ingredients. I think it's quite doable. :)

was at Dollar Tree today...

and forgot AGAIN to look for the detergent! I agree about the newer gels because that is why I bought the TSP to begin with! I had a double pack of Sams Club brand gels that were HORRID and cloudy/spotty. I never tried the STPP.

I did find phosphated Value brand at Kroger on clearance, so I'm thinking its similar to the DT ones.

My dishes are fairly good these days but one can always use more tips! Thanks.

Go with STPP

I have tried TSP but it leaves a white powder on everything for me. STPP is supposed to precipitate less.

where do you buy it?

STPP? what does this stand for anyway? I was wondering if you could add some to the lawn weed killers. My husband wants to add some TSP (the kind I bought at Lowes) to the crabgrass preventer because now all the formulas are PHOSPHATE FREE. It used to be the Miracle Grow was 10-10-10, meaning 10 parts Phosphates. Now they have to leave it out because of the fear of runoff into water supplies I assume.

Which would you add back to the lawn stuff, if anyone knows?

For Fertilizer..

TSP, or Trisodium Phosphate. You can find it in the paint department, at lowes.

Years and Years ago, (when Tide actually did contain Phosphates), I used to take the wash water (when there was no other additives, like bleach) and use it to water the lawn. Would you believe me, when I said we had one of the greenest lawns on the block ;)

It also makes Flowers bloom well. :)

Just make SURE...

... that if you're buying TSP at the hardware store, make sure it is REAL TSP.

Some brands, including Red Devil, trademarked "TSP" as a brand name, and it contains no Trisodium Phosphate! You are better off with an off-brand where you've checked the label to make sure it's the real deal..! Seriously.

6.5% Phosphates

is what my box says that we either bought at Lowes or Menards to use in the home-brew dishwashing detergent. I was reading the box and this stuff is supposed to be used as a cleaning agent for walls and the like as to prep for painting. It warns not to get on skin (or paws) or to ingest (like poison) so after reading this, I may suggest my husband only tests this on the front lawn in an area the cat does not go on. He is going to mix some in with the weed-n-feed this time to try it out.

Our cat actually eats grass out in the back yard when we let her out, so I will be careful to only let her around the non phosphate enhanced lawn. Thanks for the input!

STPP

Sodium TriPolyPhosphate. You can get it at www.chemistrystore.com.

Making up your own formula: Preliminary Trials

Hi Jill and other fans of washing dishes!
To update you on some of my experiments with making my own Hi-Octane dishwasher powder: First, some basic background. If you have researched this at all you will find all kinds of "homebrew" recipes using a wide (sometimes bizarre) list of ingredients. I am not commenting on the effectiveness of any of these. My intention is to duplicate the performance of Cascade Professional at a cost comparable to what we might all be paying to ship it in by the case. For now, my ingredients list is: 1. Cheapest, best quality non-phosphate dishwashing powder I can find, 2. STTP (Sodium TriPolyPhosphate- version of TSP commonly used), 3. Citric Acid. Both the STTP and the Citric Acid can be purchased in bulk for around 2 bucks per pound, while the detergent powder best price I have found is currently around 80 cents/lb.. Washing Soda and Borax can also be purchased in bulk, but I am not finding either at less than 80 cents, so for now I am sticking with the commercially available dishwasher powder(mostly made of washing soda).
Trial #1: 1 part Citric Acid, 1 part STTP, 2 parts dishwashing powder. (By Volume) The results with this were fine.
Trial #2: 1 part Citric Acid, 1 part STTP, 3 parts dishwashing powder. I am currently testing this,
and so far I have not noticed a performance difference.
Obviously, the key is finding the least amount of the expensive ingredients that will boost the performance. I would prefer to have a single blend like this rather than keeping all of the separate ingredients available and having to add each one every time you run a load. My guess is that if you have soft water that this formula might be too potent. We have well water with a fairly high hardness, so the citric acid is also a descaler as well as a dish cleaner. We also typically use Lemi-Shine as a rinse agent. Since the newer dish detergent formulas use enzymes instead of TSP, there is the possibility that we could hit upon a formula that is even more effective that the old types, but I believe there is a limit to how small and concentrated this can be made and still be effective: as with many of the "homey" natural concoctions, there is a difference between getting the crud off the dishes and really making them sparkle.

MacAttack

Do some research on "Citric Acid" it ruins the alikainty of Dishwasher Detergent. When the alkalinity is lowered, the cleaning performance on dried stains, tough food will be very weak.

Honestly, I think a mix of Equal Parts, Sodium Carbonate (Washing Soda) & Sodium Tripolyphosphate, along with a teaspoon or so, of dry chlorine (look for it in pool shock, would work. I'd also throw in some filler (Kosher Salt) as almost every detergent consists of 50 or more of it.

Also - Enzymes couldn't be mixed with a Chlorine Formula, like I mention.. but, one could find them in Meat Tenderizer. Enzymes we're always in Cascade, since the late 90's when they phased it out slowly from the powder line, (cost of dry chlorine had gone up quite a bit).. but, it was always there. Just not a whole lot of them, to do really much. Although, with the newer dishwashers, not much is needed to begin with.

I'd leave the citric acid, out completely. It really is useless, for this. The phosphates alone, should be enough for sequestering, and suspending hard water minerals.

Real Detergents also contain, water spot agents (basically, stabilized, rubbing alcohol) or sheeting action agents, to help prevent spotting, but a rinse aid, or, a chlorine formula would eliminate the need for such.

Basically you want a Builder (Water Softener/Degreasing Agent) STPP Mix, Filler (Table Salt), and then, cleaning agents, (Chlorine would be readily available, and effective) and than, a alkalinity builder plus silverware/china protection agent (Sodium Metasilicate). An additional rinse aid, would be a good idea, but, I think the above formula, would be great for almost all cases.

On another note..

I'd love for you to pick up, some Great Value Dishwasher Gel (Wal-Mart, or Up & Up Gel from Target, with a bottle that lists chlorine bleach on the ingredients list on the back. Try 1/2 a tablespoon, 3/4 a tablespoon (of STPP), and fill the rest of the detergent cup with the detergent, and the pre-wash cup, and let it run.

Gel Detergents, never we're really altered after the phosphate bans. All the ingredients, are about the same, as they were and I'd think they'd be perfect for mixing with STPP, Plus, since there Chlorine Laden, they'd produce very much similar results to the Commercial Cascade. Also, the Chlorine acts as a rinse aid, too.. so :)

Only reason, I suggest store brands (just the gels), is they've always had just a little more, umph, than the name brands, when I'd read consumers unions reports.

Quick Question about your advice

So, what you are saying is to use the Great Value DW Gel The next sentence is confusing to me, but I think you mean:

1/2 to 3/4 tbsp of STPP (not critical, just trying to get it clear)
fill the compartment with the Gel.

Before I found Cascade Professional, I made my own DW formula powdered Cascade (NO phosphates) and STPP.

Worked pretty good, but nothing like Cascade Professional.

I think now, it might be that I needed to add the chlorine. The Cascade Professional sure does stink if you open the door mid-cycle. It stinks of 'sanitizer'.

What say you to, say Oxi-clean??

Have you worked out a formula you like?

I'm not a chemist, although I play one in my kitchen every day! Cooking is nothing more than a chemistry experiment!

(I am a chemist autodidact, in that I understand acids, bases and a few of the organic compounds, FAIRLY well, I can even recite several steps in the citric acid cycle, but still, sounds like you are advanced of me in this!!)

Bait and Switch, Final Chapter

I want to be fair and inform readers here that I did in fact receive a full credit from AVM on the purchase of the misidentified product. They were not very forthcoming in explaining how this happened, and in a way, that sums up the entire experience. I would have expected some kind of communication before shipment to inform the buyer that the product ordered was no longer available, but a substitute was.

What put me over the line as far as suspicion, however, was that the original invoice I received prior to shipment (for the good stuff), was altered at the time of shipment to reflect the change to the non-phosphate product. If it was a complete mistake, I wouldn't expect this to be changed, so I am forced to conclude that whoever changed it knew what they were doing and either thought it didn't matter or just didn't care. (Believe it or not folks, some people aren't obsessed with dish soap). I will chalk this one up to experience and move on. I really don't think I want to order any more after this; I know it is still available, but the short supply and ever-increasing price means it is time to come up with a good "homebrew" or at the minimum, some kind of "booster" product, as I see others here are already doing. I have all of the ingredients and I will report back when I think I have a good mix to try.

We have had good luck with...

Finish Power Up Booster agent. I tried buying some Cascade from Sam's thinking it was the same as the professional one I get from GFS and it wasn't. It left this white film on the dishes no matter how little I used. I can't find the Finish Booster in stores so I ordered 4 bottles from Amazon. When we use that with the detergent, the dishes come out spotless.

Beware the old "Bait and Switch"

Hi,
Since quantities of the phosphate product are running low, I wanted to pass on my experience with a vendor (I assume you don't want me to use the name?). They were advertising the correct product, but delayed shipment to me, and when I asked about it I was reassured that all was well. I told them I would gladly wait, but that I did not want a substitution. So, you can guess the rest. The shipping cost is too prohibitive to return the substitute I was shipped, so I am going to use it to experiment on my own formula with phosphate added. I overpaid for a case of non-phosphate that I could have picked up locally as needed. Getting a bad deal is one thing but I really don't appreciate being dismissed this way.

Please tell the name!

Please DO share the name. I think we would all be interested in knowing who TO and NOT TO order from..! That's not good at all!

I would treat this the same as if you were shipped a completely different product -- which you were! Either they need to provide you with a shipping label to return it, or refund you and let you keep the item. If they won't do either, consider filing a chargeback with your credit card company. You paid for something completely different than what you ordered.

Beware the old "Bait and Switch"

Hi Maven,
As requested, the people who pulled this are: AVM Enterprises, www.goavm.com. The way it went down was I noticed a delay after purchase, then made contact with them. I was offered a refund at that point, but the indication was that more product would be available soon, so I expressed my concerns about substitution and just waited. There was no contact whatsoever to explain they were going to ship a substitute anyway, they just did it. Their site no longer lists the detergent I was looking for, so I think future customers are safe, but I still think this is a bit shady, and you are correct that it is wrong to let 'em get away with it. If it was more money I definitely would pursue this, but I would prefer not to ever deal with them again, and I think posting something like this is worth a lot more than what I got spanked for. I felt it was important to say something here, since you said this column is still one of your most popular.

Thanks

That's awful. I haven't ordered anything from them, but I just opened the site in my browser and saw this:

The orange arrow on the graphic was added by me. Any one of us who has used the Cascade Professional Line would recognize that box. They're still using professional, with-phosphate Cascade in a front-page graphic on their site!

I do appreciate your post. And I would still follow up. They sent you non-phosphate detergent you could have bought at Target or Walmart. You shouldn't have to be satisfied with that.

If you are still up to trying again, I've always ordered my professional Cascade from ReStockIt, linked above. I do know you get the right thing when you order from them. What a bummer! :(

Same box "P" FREE look carefully!

Hi my name is Joe I just signed on, I wanted to let you know that while Searching on Amazon for another case of the cascade shown in pic above (with phos) as I used up the last of my previous case, I found that it was either unavailable or not worth the price, ( I could have bought gold cheaper and paid someone to wash em for me by hand). BUT what I did see is that very same box of cascade however in small print at the top left of box, the dreaded words "phosphate Free" I cant blow up the pic above to see if that one says that or not but I almost bought a case from amazon luckily for me I noticed just before clicking "submit order" I saw those dreaded words. So ALL please make sure and double check that it does not say that somewhere on box so small that one has to squint and strain to see it, I bet the box in pic says it, it looks like the same (re-printed)to confuse and mislead consumers IMO box to me, but again I cannot confirm as I cannot blow up the pic without it blurring, maybe someone else has the expertise to do this?
regards Joe T

P.S I did buy a case of cascade complete "cheap" and a box of T.S.P.
to use with it, I have read that this is safe to use, box does not say this it does say ALL PURPOSE CLEANER, I assume it may not say for use in DW due to laws?
any thoughts on this? I have twin 6 yr old boys and do not want to unwittingly (NOT THE SAME ONE WHO SAID THAT ON TV LOL) harm them with something bad.
Thank you for any advice. Joe T

Just meant to look, I did see same box.

I just wanted ppl to be sure, if you go to Amazon as I did they have changed the box
as I described, box is identical but now says phosphate free it also says what you stated "pro line", graphics are the same, when they stop making it because it will be too expensive to sell in only a couple markets (if any at all not sure of laws) it is cheaper to change just the lettering than the whole graphics pkg. I was very disappointed to see it, while there may still be some left they are halting that formula, hence the new pkg. they wanted almost $ 155.00 for a case of 6 85 oz if I recall the price correctly, as I stated I could not see the box in the pic above I could not zoom in without blur, but I know what I saw on amazon and it is not good.
I tried the "new" stuff with T.S.P. and it worked fantastic a lot better than $ 155.00
bucks. I paid $38.00 dollars for a case 12-45oz and the T.S.P. so under $50.00 just letting ppl know. no offence intended.
:) Joe T

That box doesn't say "Phosphate Free"

It says "Professional Line." Look:

If you want to order phosphate Cascade and be sure you'll receive what you ordered, I'd order from ReStockIt, -not- that AVM site that a reader was posting above. I personally have never ordered from AVM and had never even heard of them until a reader posted about their bad experience ordering phosphate Cascade & receiving Phosphate-Free.

Amazon's $154 price for a case is insane. ReStockIt sells the same case for $74.95.

You can add TSP to your dishwasher, but make sure your TSP is real Tri-Sodium Phosphate. There is also (as crazy as it seems) phosphate-free TSP which is not food safe. Red Devil makes a phosphate-free TSP which is NOT SAFE to ingest! (Just look at their Amazon description at the link!) Again VERIFY that you are using TSP that's actually Tri-Sodium Phosphate. The abbreviation "TSP" is also a trademark and is being used as a brand name for cleaning products that contain no Tri-Sodium Phosphate.

Update on the old "bait and switch"

Ok, you guys shamed me into it... I emailed the merchant (actually fairly politely) and explained and the response was more or less apologetic; rehearsed but apologetic. They sent a return label so I am in the process of getting a refund. The next step is the hurdle of arguing out of the re-stocking fee I am sure. I have a few details of this transaction I would like to share, but I want to get this behind me before blowing the whistle.

Sounds good

Do keep us posted.

You MAY consider filing a complaint w/BBB...

if you want to take it that far. It usually gets their attention and it may get you the outcome (or at least a refund) for your trouble. Just a thought...

Cascade

Unfortunately, due to environmental laws passed in the state of NY, and expected legislature to follow in other states requiring levels of Phosphates to be limited to 0.5% in Commercial/Institutional Cleaning Products, Procter & Gamble has stopped production of all Phosphate containing automatic dishwashing formulas, including Institutional Cascade, as of 8/31/2013.

Jill, I think the end is close to near for the "black market" dishwasher detergent. :(

Such a bummer

I do wonder what kind of backlash there might be from the commercial users when they find that the new products don't work as well. :(

I ordered three cases of the phosphate Cascade from Restockit last week. Yes, it was stupidly expensive, but I figure that I'm good for a few years now..! After that, I will likely start expermenting with adding STPP (from the Chemistry Store) to regular detergent. And I will seriously miss the Professional Cascade - it's a great product that WORKS.

It is amazing to me how all of this legislation is passed, yet no one pays attention to the studies that have been done proving that post-detergent phosphate runoff doesn't contribute to algae bloom. The "phosphates are bad" line has been sold and believed by so many.

But it's okay to eat them in your Cheerios and many, many other foods. Just don't wash things with them.

We should look into Mexican dishwasher detergents & see if they contain phosphate, a la the Ariel laundry detergent I love.

I've learned through research...

That very little homes in Mexico have Dishwashers, and when they immigrate over here, very few will even touch them. It would seem like the population there just prefer to wash dishes in the sink by Hand, and don't trust Dishwashers whatsoever.

That being said, because of this, "stereotype" (you could call it) if you wonder into Hispanic or Latin Grocery stores, one can find NOS Phosphate Detergents, that have been sitting there for a while. Although, you'll also find Fresh, Crisp bags of Ariel as well ;) They love there Detergent.

Anyhow, due to the fact that there is so little of a market-share for P&G, they don't even bother to produce a Cascade formula for the South America market. Any Cascade you find in Mexico, is imported from the American factory's, and will be Phosphate Free. There's a slight chance you could find old boxes of Cascade (from 2010) still on shelves there, but who knows, I mean it's been almost Four Years, I'm sure most of the stock is gone by now.

However, P&G isn't the only producer of Dishwasher Detergent. Reckitt Benckiser who produces "Finish" (formally Electrasol) does produce Dishwasher Detergent for there Mexico Division. I think they only produce a Dishwasher Powder, and one type of Tablets. (No Gels) And the formulas both contains Phosphates.

Store Brand Wise, Walmart has a Great Value Dishwasher Detergent in there Mexican stores, and it's "proudly" "Phosphate Free"... I'd assume it's the same formula for there american stores. The Kicker is, it comes in a Bag, yes a, Bag. Your expected to have a container to refill it.

And as for our Friends up North, Canada banned Phosphates (in Dishwasher Detergents) around the same time as we did here in America, so they have the same formulas of Cascade & Finish as we have :(

Jill, do you wanna make a trip to Mexico for a Detergent Stockpile? ;)

Funny, you saying that about

Funny, you saying that about Mexican people not using dishwashers much- I have a Mexican friend and she uses her dishwasher just as another cabinet to keep dishes in, and washes dishes by hand. :)

If you wanna see something really amazing...

Dissolve Two Tablespoons of Ariel, in Hot Water, in your sink, and take your hand, and swish it around as it starts dissolving...

You get really Good Suds, and... The stuff literally blows Palmolive or Dawn away. It cuts Grease Extremely well, and if you let something sit for a few minutes, it really helps to remove dried on stuff.

The only down side, is, it really makes the water slippery, like really slippery. I think it works probably a bit too well. Just have to be careful when handling Glasses. It does rinse really well, which I consider another advantage.

Might be too much

I use two tablespoons in my laundry washing machine, so you might want to adjust it a little less for a sink. The slipperiness you feel is the phosphate, which is a base. Bases feel slippery when dissolved in water. :)

Your probably right..

I just wanted to see how well it'd work. I recall Tide Boxes, years & years ago, that said, use Tide for dishes. I think it really does a better job, than the actual dish-washing liquids, actually designed for hand washing.

On a unrelated note, P&G is shrinking the size of there 32-26 load bottles by a whole 10oz. It doesn't seem like a lot, but, with the "Ultra" concentration, that's 6-8 (depends on the variety) loads gone.

I think there also shrinking the size of Dawn too...

I just bought 2 cases of

I just bought 2 cases of Cascade Pro with phosphate from Restock it and added a few more things to get free shipping. I also found that Ebates gives 5% back, so even better.

Thank you!

I have been debating whether to try the Bright and Fresh or simply order a bunch more Cascade Professional while I can still get it. Thank you for the Ebates tip! I am going to order from Restockit too. It is cheaper than the Bubble Bandit, and it worked better in my dishwasher as it didn't clump in the dispenser the way Bubble Bandit did.

I saw that Restockit has a 5% off ecoupon but when I tried to use it, it excluded "Sheds, Deck Boxes, Garages, Gates, Kennels and Cascade 34953PG." (LOL. Think that is a popular product of theirs?!) You could use the 5% off other stuff though if you're adding fillers to get to the $150 free shipping threshold.

Demise of Cascade Pro

Well, I discovered the same thing- availability of this product is diminishing, and prices on remaining stock are going way up. I am trying out one of the suggested places-I will update when I confirm that I have received the correct product.

Wondering... Does this mean that the commercial/professional versions are subject to the same laws, it has just taken some time to go into effect? Or maybe pressure from environmental groups? Either way, this is the reason I was wanting to experiment with my own mixtures.

I wonder if you could use the Finish Glass product, combined with a low cost powder and achieve good results at a reasonable cost? Or simply add maybe a teaspoon of TSP powder to a budget powder and get good results? I don't want to turn the process of running the dishwasher into some kind of ritual, but there is no way that I am going to revert to using the non TSP products at this point. From the months of using the Cascade Professional, I can tell you that not only are the dishes a lot cleaner, the DISHWASHER itself is a lot cleaner too. Somewhere I have seen large cylindrical plastic containers that had separate compartments; I am picturing a tall triple container which keeps the 3 ingredients separate until you open the top and pour. One compartment with economy powder, one with citric acid powder, and one with TSP. I would like to say I could save money this way, but so far that has not been my experience.

If you mix your own...

STPP (Sodium TriPolyPhosphate) is cleaner-rinsing than traditional TSP and is what most detergents use. You can order it online from the Chemistry Store: http://www.chemistrystore.com/Chemicals_S-Z-Sodium_Tripolyphosphate.html

A 5lb. bucket is $13.40. I haven't experimented with adding this to regular, non-phosphate detergents yet.

As far as regulating commercial detergents, I believe it's voluntary on the part of P&G -- I haven't seen anything regulation-wise forcing commercial detergents to remove phosphates. It could be that they're just doing it to bow to the "phosphate-free" environmental movement.

I feel the same way as you - I don't want to go back to non-phosphate as I've had SUCH good results with the professional Cascade. The Finish Glass Magic is SO expensive ounce for ounce when compared to buying one of the other detergents, as you still have to use it with regular dishwasher detergent.

Professional Cascade, oh no!

I found this post a while ago and it saved my dishwasher. I've been buying the Professional Cascade pictured above at my local restaurant supply store. But to my horror it was no longer there last week. It was replaced with a new Professional Cascade that does not contain phosphates. I think the old formula is discontinued. :-( http://www.pgpro.com/brands/cascade/cascade-professional-powder/
I bought it anyway and it works ok, better than what you can buy at Walmart but not as good as the old Professional Cascade formula. I would love to hear your thoughts on this new product vs the others you have tried. I think I'm going to try Bubble Bandit next time. Thanks so much.

I am thinking about trying

I am thinking about trying this Bubble bandit. Do you guys still think its good? I noticed that the same size bag is now $15, instead of $10, but if you buy 2 for $30 it's free shipping. That just seems so pricy, so I'm not sure. Thanks!

I do like the Cascade a bit better

I have been calling around and finding the same things everyone else has - GFS is out, Schweppe is out, Sam's is out and nobody seems to be getting it back in!

I am debating whether to order another case from ReStockIt, who still has 135 cases of 6 in stock - or try that Bright And Fresh someone mentioned below.

I know the Cascade works very well though. And I don't like that the price of the Bubble Bandit shot up so much. The Cascade is about $11.67/box if you order the case. Each box is a little over 5lbs. for that price. The Bright and Fresh is $23 for 10lbs and it has good reviews too.

GFS no longer carries phosphate Cascade

I went to GFS a few weeks ago looking for the professional Cascade with phosphate. The shelf was empty. I asked an employee if there was more in the back. He looked and said no, try back later. I was out that way today so I stopped in. They had professional Cascade in stock, but it was now in blue box with the words "Phospate Free". I know others have mentioned finding it at Staples, so I looked online and it's out of stock. I'm wondering if they are discontinuing it.

Oh NO!

That's not good. I will check out some of the other places I and others have seen it (Schweppe, Sam's Club) & report back...

Please keep us posted...

I ALMOST made a special trip to GFS (40 min. each way) to get it the other day, but something came up. Thanks!!!

Addition Information on Detergent Caking/Failure to Dispense

Good advice on the tip of the arm being clogged. All of the stubborn clogs I have encountered are near the end of the arm, and not easily noticed because they tend to fall back into the arm when the water stops flowing. There always seems to be some chewed-up plastic....
On a related note, I wanted to mention my findings on the caking issue. First, filling the dispenser way in advance of running the machine always seems to lead to this. I am guessing that any moisture that is lingering in the cup causes the formula to begin reacting, and it becomes a solid mass quickly. The other problem I have noted, which may be worse on models with adjustable height upper racks, is that if you get the upper rack set to just the right height, and you have some irregularly shaped objects positioned in the front corner, it is possible for the objects to protrude enough to actually block the door from flipping open all the way. So again, just like the bottom rack, you need a consistent strategy on where to put what.

Detergent caking in dispenser- SOLVED

Great article, thanks. Been using Bubble Bandit for about a month with fantastic results. I have had detergent caking in my dispenser for a couple of years and bubble bandit was doing the same. About three months ago I went so far as to order a new dispenser, because the door seal on the dispenser lid was worn and I thought that might have been letting water in before the door opened to dispense the detergent causing the caking (and I couldn't find a replacement seal.) This weekend, I was thinking more about the problem while unloading the dishwasher, and I noticed the detergent dispenser would be roughly aligned, when the door was closed, with the "sprinkler arm" that is attached to the bottom of the top rack and sprays water up into the dishes on the top rack. I immediately realized that putting a small hole in each end of this sprinkler arm would squirt water into the dispenser cup and rinse the detergent out. Then I thought, I bet it has hole already, and I bet it is clogged. I inspected the rotary arm, and sure enough, in addition to the 4-5 upward pointing holes in each half, there was another smaller hole in each end pointing outward that lined up perfectly with the dispenser cup. It actually had a little plastic deflector that looked like it was made to deflect the stream directly into the dispenser. And I could see it was in fact clogged, (and so was the outermost upward facing hole on each side, in fact). I was able to take the arm out of the dishwasher with a small wrench, and although I could not open it up to clean it out, by running water through it, and using a toothpick, I was able to clean all the debris out eventually. I think the outer 2-3 inches of this arm were completely full of debris (!) and it took about 20 minutes to clean everything out with a toothpick and running water (there was some particularly stubborn hard plastic bits in there from something that must have disintegrated inside the dishwasher at some point.) But by rinsing from one end to the other, and then tapping, and then rinsing the other direction, I was able to eventually get everything out. VIOLA! I have run about 4 loads since then and the detergent dispenser is completely empty every time. We haven't had a single load without the caking in 3-4 years, much less four in a row. Problem Solved!