What is your Dishwasher made of?


The unsung hero

Loading and switching on the dishwasher is a habit so ingrained in our daily routines we barely stop to think about the clever little tablet popped therein that makes the magic happen. Yet, without this cleverly engineered powerhouse, dinner party dishes would emerge as dirty as they went in and the remains of last night’s Spaghetti Bolognaise would still be in evidence the next morning.

Small but mighty

We expect a lot from our dishwashing tablets. They must clean, of course, with the power to tackle a lot of different stains, from egg to tea, (or from bleachable stains to proteolitic stains) , and they must be effective and safe on a number of materials, from glass to plastic  (not to mention kind to the inner workings of your dishwasher). They must help to soften the water to clean the dishes and ensure you get sparkling dishes without filming and they must dissolve without leaving chalky residue or film that needs further rinsing. Last but by no means least, they must be safe for us to use - given they are in contact daily with the plates and cutlery we eat our food from. It’s a tall order by anyone’s standards!

Here comes the science

Dishwasher tablets are made up of builders (to clean and minimise the effect of water hardness), bleaches (to tackle bleachable stains), enzymes (to break down starch and protein-based foods) and surfactants to get sparkling glasses. There are also auxiliary ingredients, the extras such as disintegrants that are responsible for breaking down the tabs and ensuring all actives are dissolving fast into the wash. It’s a fine-tuned chemical composition – new Finish Quantum Max demonstrates this ably, and helps to deliver sparkling results. A potential spanner in the works, however, is the temperature most dishwashers perform at (typically between 55°C and 75°C). While hot temperatures work best for dissolving grease and fat, the enzymes responsible for removing starch and protein only work at much lower temperatures. Accordingly, they do their work early in the dishwashing cycle so that by the time things are hotting up and they’re rendered ineffective, they’ve finished up and are ready to bow out. Clever stuff, eh?

Tried and tested

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of scrubbing over-boiled milk from the bottom of a pan or tackling plates caked with welded-on egg yolk, you’ll be pleased to know the tablet that goes in your dishwasher has been rigorously tested and proven effective against all of the above, as well as other family favourites such as tea, coffee and pasta. In addition, in testing, all dishwasher items are repeatedly scrutinised for oily films, chalkiness and loss of shine or ‘brilliance’ following the rinse and drying cycle, and unless the tablet scores full marks on all of the above, it won’t be deemed completely fit for purpose.

So, now you know! The science behind the humble dishwashing tablet is chemistry at its best. It’s certainly something to think about as you reach for your sparkling clean mug and enjoy your morning cuppa!