Dishwasher Liquid vs Dishwasher Detergent: the Differences

A full dishwasher
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What You'll Need
Dishwasher detergent
Dishwasher soap
What You'll Need
Dishwasher detergent
Dishwasher soap

Among household cleaning aids, dishwasher detergent (powder) and dishwasher liquid are among the most commonly-used ingredients. Choosing between these two can be a bit confusing since they play the same role and most people cannot differentiate between them in a clear manner. However, basic differences exist in terms of performance, eco-friendliness, and impact on the dishwashing machine itself.


Dishwasher liquids offer a better ability to mix with water. This ensures a widespread reach of the dishwasher liquid. This is even true for the gel-thick dishwasher solutions. However, dishwasher detergents are often retailed with packaged instructions insisting upon using warm water. This is because their immediate dissolvability in water is a bit impaired, particularly if the water being used is hard water. This also means that the same amount of dishwasher liquid is likely to yield greater cleaning ability/foaming than a dishwasher detergent.

Environmental Performance

Both the liquid and powder variety consist of chemical ingredients. Most contemporary brands of dishwasher detergents don’t put forth an impressive performance in terms of their eco-friendliness. Many of these powders contain a high amount of phosphate that is environmentally damaging. However, the use of phosphates has seen an increasing decline in recent years.

Dishwasher liquids are packed with stronger surfactants (chemicals). Though this raises the cleaning ability of the dishwasher liquids, it also makes them ecologically unfriendly. Powdered detergents are often retailed in basic packaging, sourced from recycled cardboard or paper. However, most liquid cleaning solutions are retailed in chemical-heavy plastic packaging. In an overall comparison, dishwasher detergents score a bit higher in terms of environmental performance.

Cleaning Applications

a scoop in detergent

Though the basic cleaning mechanism of a dishwasher liquid and detergent is the same, they are ideally suited for different cleaning demands. The dishwasher detergent is more applicable for removing lesser-demanding stains. This includes stains that don’t contain too much grime or stains of acidic foods with lower pH.

However, the dishwasher liquid is more applicable for removing the greasier, grimy stains. This is because the dishwasher liquid is more capable of enveloping the stain and neutralizing its pH, weakening its bond with the surface of the utensil.

Internal Deposition

Dishwasher liquids, particularly those sold in a semi-gel format, have the tendency to stick to certain parts of the dishwasher. This can also induce internal corrosion due to the chemical formulation of these solutions. Further, the deposits formed by a dishwasher detergent are easily noticed as they form small deposits that can be easily scraped off. However, the coating formed by the dishwasher liquids can be difficult to identify.

Health Hazard: Retention

water cleaning dishes inside dishwasher

Dishwasher liquids are more prone to be retained upon the utensils if the water pressure or rinsing pressure is not optimum during the cleaning cycle. However, the dishwasher powder is easily displaced with minimal rinsing pressure, making it a safer alternative. This is because traces of dishwasher liquid on a utensil are likely to be overlooked and consumed along with food.

Cost Considerations

Dishwasher detergents are largely the more economical choice. They also offer a higher shelf life that reduces refilling expenditures. Though liquid cleaners offer a slightly better cleaning ability, they are usually the expensive option. This is mainly due to its stronger chemical formulation and advanced packaging format.