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.



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:

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!)
Also available at: Amazon

November 2014 UPDATE: Cascade Professional was discontinued about a year and a half after I wrote this article. It has reappeared under the name Cascade Fryer Boil Out, presumably because there are no phosphate bans on deep-fryer cleaning products. The ingredients are identical -- you can verify by comparing the boxes side by side at this link. (I did!)

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.)

November 2014 UPDATE: Cascade Professional was discontinued about a year and a half after I wrote this article. It has reappeared under the name Cascade Fryer Boil Out, presumably because there are no phosphate bans on deep-fryer cleaning products. The ingredients are identical -- you can verify by comparing the boxes side by side at this link.


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 -

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

Bubble Bandits Defy Dishwashing Soap Ban -

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 - on phosphate-free formulations-

Non-phosphate product reviews on Cascade -

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.


Dear Jill,
You are the ONLY person who's posted a true solution to the ongoing problem of the stinky dishwasher! I thought I was going crazy constantly having to clean disgusting slimy gunk out of my supposedly top-of-the-line KitchenAid, purchased when we rebuilt our house after a fire. I couldn't believe that we were supposed to clean the filter once (or more) a month (and it DOESN'T come clean by "rinsing it off" like the manual claims), and that I had to wipe grossness out of the door crevice very wash, not to mention the things I found myself that I had to clean: like pouring boiling water through the air vent to stop the repulsive buildup from blocking it. The Finish tablets did better than the loose powders or gels, and Lemi-Shine helped some, but never enough. Now that you've told me about the phosphate debate, I've purchased the Cascade "Boil Out" and after only two loads I am back to the good ole days when dishwashers used to produce clean dishes without creating "jellyfish" in their crevices. I LOVE YOU!!! Thank you so much for telling consumers the truth!


You're welcome! It's the best. I cannot recommend it enough -- the proof, as you said, is in the dishes. I have been using it for three years now and haven't looked back.

I have used vinegar and

I have used vinegar and baking soda with phosphate free and have clean

Bulk professional detergent

Bulk professional detergent is the only way to go. Not only does it have the phosphates you crave, it also comes out at only a third the price per load from any other options.

WWJ and others?

Thanks for your wonderful article! It certainly answers many questions regarding why the SS dishwasher was not a whistle-clean as it once was or the dishes for that matter. I've read the full thread. Has anyone tried the products from worldwidejanitor vs. the Cascade Fryer vs Bubble Bandit or perhaps even is just using a small amount Food/ACA/Tech grade STPP in measured amounts as a booster to say the Finish Packs or even as Bubble Bandit shows your laundry detergents? Thanks.

Finish Institutional?

I also came across the "Finish Institutional" powder on searching around, which was also discussed in the thread. I have not used this product or this company - just posting for your info. BUT when I look at the MSDS, I do not see the STPP I was expecting - but I also do not have the full label or any better shots.



It's good!

The Finish Institutional is very good too, or at least, it was when I tried it a few years ago & originally wrote this article. At that time though, I wasn't able to find it online at a lower cost than the Cascade. I've only seen the Institutional Finish sold in individual foil packets prior to your link!

Your link is good - it's about $11.80 per box if it is the same formula as it used to be. :)

Bubble Bandit vs. Cascade

I am still using the Cascade Professional (vs. the fryer version, as I have quite a bit of Cascade Pro left) and I do like it better than Bubble Bandit. The BB worked in my machine too, but it kept clumping up, where the Cascade Pro does not. It's what I plan to keep using.

Cascade Professional on Amazon

One of my readers emailed to let me know the original Cascade Professional with Phosphates is now on Amazon:

But oh... the price!

What about laundry detergent?

I cleaned out my dishwasher yesterday because it's been cleaning terribly for a while...leaving white detergent flakes on everything. And just recently not draining completely. So ick! I found all this white sludgy slimy mushy gunk in it. As I've discovered, it's from the lack of phosphates. I'm wondering if anyone has info on what the lack of phosphates is doing to the laundry washing machine?

Bubble Bandit has a new Laundry Booster with phosphate!

Bandito Products, LLC which manufactures and sells the increasingly popular Bubble Bandit Dishwasher Detergent with 8.7% phosphate (see Jill's Bubble Bandit test against Cascade Professional Line in 2012) has introduced a booster that added to your regular detergent helps brighten whites and colors.

These posts go on and on about ways to add TSP or make your own dishwasher detergent when Bubble Bandit still has 8.7% phosphate and is readily available on our website or Amazon and eBay.

If you are unsure whether to try it, check out these Amazon reviews.

We offer $3, $5, & $10 Off Promo Codes during checkout only on our website.

I don't know

It's an excellent question, and I don't know the answer. I would think food waste leaves a different type/kind of residue than dirty laundry does, but it's still a good point. What's building up in our washers?

For me, I do use a phosphate laundry detergent (Mexican Ariel) once a week for my whites, so maybe it helps clear things out too.

Dishwasher detergents

We have really hard water, and over the last 35 years have bought a new dishwasher every 3-5 years. They have all been mechanical problems, probably aggravated by mineral deposits in the pump. The last one (the current one) started washing dishes poorly, leaving crusty white stuff on all the dishes, glass and plastic alike. I nearly bought a new dishwasher again, but this time, the problem was unusual and really severe. I Googled the problem and decided it was a detergent (good old Cascade) AND a water issue. Long story short, I discovered Finish Glass Magic. A teaspoon in each dispenser cup along with the Cascade fixed the problem. Then I started having trouble finding the Glass Magic. Enter Cascade Professional. So now, three years later, I'm no longer able to get Cascade Pro. I bought Bubble Magic, thinking that would do as well. Not so. It leaves white film all over the plastic and gritty white powder all over the glassware. I ordered 2 lb trisodium polyphosphate on Amazon, since the MSDS for Glass Magic states that that product is 60-100% TSPP. Cross your fingers...

You may not have given Bubble Bandit time to clean your machine.

You probably have not tried using it long enough. Many customers find that their dishes get worse when first starting to use Bubble Bandit because their machines have accumulated calcium and crud built up from the poor job the new "phosphate free" detergents have done in the last 3 years. You state that you have been using Cascade Professional Grade with good results. Bubble Bandit actually has more phosphates and less fillers and is probably cleaning out buildup that Cascade failed to touch.

When you use Bubble Bandit it will begin working not only on your dishes, but your dishwasher. Your dishwasher will have, over time, developed significant accumulations of hard water deposits and other sediments inside the drum and jets. Running the dishwasher with Bubble Bandit will loosen this accumulation so it can be rinsed out of the machine. Depending on the amount of accumulation, this process can take quite a few cycles and may actually make your dishes appear cloudier before the debris has been fully cleared. We have advised customers who experience this to run the machine empty with Bubble Bandit a few times. If you are in a hard water area, you may need to clean out your machine's jet arms.

STPP how much to add?

oneirwin - how did adding STPP work out and how much are you adding?

Anyone using the walmart gel and stpp? If so, how much stpp are you putting in per cycle?

Any other news on the phosphate front we should know about like cheapest place to find it, how about locally?........

Also is anyone using just TSP instead and if so, how much? Any problems like flakes still there when done? How much TSP are you adding?

Let us know

Please do post back & let us know how it's going. I still have some Cascade Professional left, but when it's gone...

Has anyone tried this?

Still available

Says mainly for soaking, but wondering if it will work in a dishwasher?

Experimenting with your families health? Try vinegar.

Just an FYI. A little vinegar in the dishwasher will do the same job as these toxic additives and is cheaper then all of them. Also non toxic. Sparkling dishes and dishwasher are the result. No white residue and fully dissolved dishwasher powders.

And you know that bleachy smell that doesn't bother you, that's chemicals left on your families dishes. You know the ones they eat on. I'm sorry you think that 1.9% is not enough to be concerned about but it is. All the corporations getting a pass on this should not be getting a pass on this either. Do I miss the old formulations? Sure, but I'm not experimenting on my family with very dangerous chemicals to both their health (do you know what you are doing to their livers.) and the environment they will be left with. It all adds up over time.

Hopefully you will not block a different point if view.

"Dangerous chemicals?"

Phosphates are naturally occurring in many foods, including fish.

Trisodium Phosphate is also an ingredient in Cheerios and many other foods.

I don't ban/block opposing viewpoints. However, there's been a great deal of research in Europe that states the phosphate-free varieties of detergents cause much more harm to the environment than the phosphate-based solutions do.

If you're worried about "very dangerous chemicals" in detergents, it's not the phosphate-based detergents you need to be wary of -- the toxicity of the phosphate-free varieties is significantly higher.

The funny part is

According to my dishwasher manual (a bosch) non-phosphate detergents, are not recommended, as they don't rinse as well as phosphate detergents. So apparently, non-phosphate detergents actually tend to leave more (detergent) deposits on dishes, than phosphate laden detergents.

Also - That Bleachy scent, has been around since the late 60's. If you lived in the 70's, or 80's, your Kitchen would smell like the YMCA Pool when the dishwasher was on... and no one got sick, or had problems than.I think if it was a concern (which it's not) Bleach would have been eliminated or discovered a long time ago.

In Fact... I'd bet there's more Chlorine in your water supply, than Bleach residue on dishes. And you ingest much, much more Tap water than you'll ever ingest from "possible" left-overs on a plate.

But.. What-da I know. I'm just a person who unloads his dishwasher, with freshly cleaned dishes from phosphate detergent. ;)


I'm kinda curious.. does your Bosch actually hold a lot of stuff? Do you like the rack design on it.

I have a Bosch, myself, and as much, as I like the cleaning it does.. I don't feel like it holds anywhere near the amount of dishes, my old *american* whirlpool did.

I do like it

We've had our Bosch for close to ten years now, and I do like the rack - the top one is adjustable, so you can raise or lower it depending on the height of what's in the top or bottom rack.

As far as comparing it to other dishwashers -- can you believe this is the first one I've had? :) I grew up in a house without a dishwasher, and then I bought a house without a dishwasher. I lived in that house for ten years, and then we built this house and picked out the Bosch :)

The Gel + STPP

Combo, works great. It has a pretty strong Chlorine Scent, just like the Cascade Pro, and is really cheap. :)

Add a dash of pool shock and it really performs

Add a dash of pool shock to the Gel and STPP, and it really performs like Cascade pro.

Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus

First of all, to Jill; I went through the same gyrations as you for my clean dishes so I am totally with you on this. Thank you for your research and your post. Ok ladies, here's the good news!! I befriended the staff at a local Residence Inn, where they use those little Finish packets for use in the dishwashers in the rooms. I asked them to order me a case of the boxes - and they agreed!! I have been supplied with Institutional Finish for two and a half years. They must have Ecolab as their supplier to get it. I buy by the case and it's only $40 bucks which lasts me about a year. Go to your local residential style hotel, (they have kitchens) and ask for the head of housekeeping. Cry, beg, bribe if you have to but each hotel is usually a franchise and not part of a big conglomerate so they are very accessible. These ladies are people too and in my case, I was nice and they agreed to get it for me. Seeing spot free, film free glasses is my fix; I am a phosphate junkie. Good luck!!

Oh, that IS a fantastic idea! :)

I know those packets still exist (as I've blogged about, I first saw them in the Disney villas for the kitchens) and that is a fantastic, fantastic idea. I am going to have to remember this when my Cascade Pro stash runs out..!

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!


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.

Coupons2000 you know your stuff - it works pretty well

I went to Walmart and bought the Gel fomula and I already had some STPP that I bought off Ebay but always though it didn't do anything. NOW I know why. Coupons2000 says that STPP kills off the enzymes.And I looked at my dollar tree powder and enzymes are in there.
I was forced to clean Tea mugs with a 1/2 bleach/1/2 water and a tooth brush to get them clean - same with the coffee maker strainer that made the tea. Now with the Walmart gel -(WITH THE BLEACH IN IT) THE MUGS ARE COMING OUT CLEAN. I washed a fry pan last night that I cooked some eggs in and it still had to be hand washed after.
The other thing I always noticed with the pro Casade was the silverware got shiny and Lately I've been using the Dollar Tree power and the silverware was looking like a light brown.

The Gel/STPP has made them a bunch better - not quite as good as Pro Casade did - but close - very close. I do have some pool shock and my 1st load with the Gel I put in just a pinch - I wonder if that would help even more with the gel/STPP?

Anyone have a good line and results on the Institutional Finish that was talked about here as a Santa still around?

5/22 update - I've been using the Walmart Gel/ STPP and a dash of pool shock treatment the silverware is a ton cleaner and so is the stained Tea cups and Ice tea glasses too.

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

your white cutting board will come out whiter with Gel

I also put my white plastic cutting board in the washer with the Gel / STPP and it came out great. I think the bleach really helped that item.

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!


Sodium TriPolyPhosphate. You can get it at

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.


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"

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.