How Detergent Works in Powders, Tablets and Liquids

‘How does detergent work?’ is one of the most frequently asked questions dishwasher buyers have. When choosing the best dishwasher detergent for your machine, it’s important to understand how dishwashing detergent works to clean dishes, remove stains and leave lasting freshness.

Composition of detergent

To understand ‘how does detergent work?’ it’s necessary to know what it consists of. Washing powder is made up of a number of chemicals and enzymes that work together to perform a range of cleaning tasks. While the exact balance varies between brands and products, a typical detergent includes:

  • Phosphates: As one of the main ingredients in dishwashing detergent, phosphates remove calcium deposits and assist in breaking up food stuck to dishes, pots and pans. If you live in a hard water area, phosphates also prevent its build-up, which can damage dishwasher components.
  • Enzymes: These biological catalysts work on the cellular level to break down food deposits and remove oil and grease by loosening proteins and peptides.
  • Bleaches: Detergent contains a small amount of chlorine-based bleach to further dissolve food deposits and provide additional cleaning.
  • Surfactants: Another small but essential element in washing powder, surfactants prevent water spotting, leaving dishes looking fresh and clean after drying.

Differences between soaps and detergents

How does detergent work differently from hand washing dishes? One of the main differences is the temperature at which detergent operates in dishwashers, which is significantly hotter than would be comfortable when hand washing dishes.

Detergents are also designed to be:

  • Energy and water efficient: Dishwashing powder and tablets require minimal water to clean full loads.
  • Safe: Detergents are formulated to protect dishwasher components from grease, limescale and calcium build-up, and may even incorporate cleaning agents so you won’t need to clean your dishwasher so often.
  • Multifunctional: While washing liquid only cleans, detergent can perform a range of functions, including scrubbing, degreasing and delivering a gleaming finish.

Choosing detergents

Another common question is: how does detergent work differently in powders, tablets or Gel? While all three options have their advantages, your choice of detergent will depend on the type of dishwasher you have and the type of dishes you’re cleaning.

  • Dishwashing tablets: Detergent is compacted for an efficient wash and combined with gels for additional functions.
  • Dishwashing powder: Concentrated dishwashing powder is the most affordable option to ensure your dishes are sufficiently cleaned.
  • Dishwasher gel: An alternative to powder that can be combined with a rinse aid so you won’t have to rinse dishes separately.