Dishwasher Best Buys: Detergent, Salt, Rinse Aid and Dishwasher Cleaner

When figuring out what cleaning supplies to get for your dishwasher, there are many products to consider. You may not need just one detergent product, but also a cleaner, some salt and a rinse aid too. Maybe more besides this as well.

There’s also the real threat that hard water poses for homeowners with their appliances. So, when discussing dishwasher detergents, cleaners and other products that make sense to have in your cupboards, covering how hard water impacts appliances and wash cycles is necessary too.

So, in this article, we cover a few of the more common questions surrounding the consequences of hard water along with dishwasher products and how they’re different from each other. We also breakdown the popular types of detergents such as Vegan, plant-based and other categories that are becoming more popular than a few years ago.

So, let’s dive right in…

How Does Hard Water Affect Dishwashers?

UK Water Hardness
UK Water Hardness

Hard water contains too many minerals and it depends on your area and main water supplier whether you have hard or soft water provided to your home. You can find out how hard your area’s water is here.

Hard Water Filtration Systems

It’s possible to get a hard water system to filter out the mineral deposits to turn hard water into soft water. This is a complicated system that’s expensive to install and maintain. This is why most people that live in an area that receives hard water piped through to their home must deal with it in other ways.

The main culprits with hard water are magnesium and calcium in the water. Water softeners aid to remove these elements from the water before releasing the filtered H2O to the taps in the home.

The result of hard water in a dishwasher when there’s no filtration system in place is an off-white residue (it has a milky appearance) can get left on glasses or dishes after the dishwashing cycle has completed.

Does Hard Water Damage Dishwashers?

Hard water is rough on all the areas of the dishwasher that come in contact with it.From the inlet and outlet water pipes to the valves, the internal washing mechanism and everywhere else. All these parts can build up a residue or film over their internals that can clog them up over enough wash cycles.

Indeed, hard water untreated commonly reduces the useful life of a dishwasher by up to 30 per cent.

Should More Dishwasher Detergent Be Used for Hard Water Conditions?

It is sometimes beneficial to use more dishwasher detergent to cut through the grease and food particles on plates and more. When the tablet compartment is not large enough to handle ether a larger tablet or one and a half tablets, then the only alternative is to wash the dishes twice in a row. However, this isn’t very eco-friendly as it uses more water and extra detergent that way.

Is It Necessary to Clean the Dishwasher More Often in Hard Water Areas?

It is natural that in a hard water supply area, all types of appliances in the home will suffer to a degree because of it. They will develop a white film and extra deposits that are hard to shift once there. Look for a scaly calcium deposit inside the dishwasher. If you find something like that, you use a variety of methods to clean the dishwasher and strip the deposit away.

My personal go-to is Wilko’s own brand Dishwasher Cleaner when I’m shopping in town, but if you want a quick online purchase or a more reputable brand then you can also use this Finish Dishwasher Cleaner from Amazon.

Alternatively you could also try adding a cup full of vinegar to an empty wash cycle. Vinegar is a strong disinfectant and a handy cleaning tool, but I prefer a specific dishwasher cleaning product myself.

Why is Rinse Aid Used in Dishwashers?

Rinse Aid is used inside dishwashers to deal with a mild case of hard water. It contains some acid that works at the wash cycle stage to stop mineral deposits from forming on the plates, bowls and other items being washed.

For serious hard water cases where deposits are a regular issue, then it may be necessary to switch to an acidic rinse agent added at the last rinse cycle to stop any mineral deposits from forming.

Why is Salt Used in Dishwashers?

Some dishwashers have containers for salt. It might surprise you, but salt is used most often to help cut through grease on plates, bowls and cutlery especially.However, the amount and type of salt needs to be carefully controlled as using too much can leave white deposits of its own. Salt can be used during washing cycles but not during rinse cycles as this increases the likelihood of salt-based deposits forming.

Distinctive Detergent and Cleaning Types for Dishwashers

Dishwasher products are now available to satisfy different markets. The market is therefore quite segmented.

What follows is a brief breakdown of different detergent segments worth of mention:

Vegan Dishwasher Detergent

The idea of Vegan dishwasher detergent is bound to be new to many people.

The question could be asked, “What makes a dishwasher detergent Vegan as compared to other detergents?”

The central answer to this question is that a Vegan product has not been tested on animals. Also, there are no animal-based ingredients within the product itself.

Also, some Vegans will draw attention to originally Vegan producers that get bought out by conglomerates that don’t stick to this mandate with their broader product range. Vegans then sometimes avoid previously acceptable cleaning products for this reason.

Products may be marked as Vegan but also have labels stating they are “cruelty-free” which is also one to look out for.

Bio- or Plant-based Dishwasher Detergent

Some cleaning products are increasingly being marketed as bio or plant based. The marketing varies from brand to brand in this regard.

The distinctions and differences are often unique to each product; most times, the label or packaging must be reviewed closely to clarify the information.

Kosher Goods

Some detergents for dishwashers are also labelled as “kosher” or “kosher for Passover” which is to help the Jewish community appreciate which products are acceptable for them.

This is a growing segment of the market.

Septic System, Grey Water and Sulphate-Free

Depending on the product, some detergents or cleaners are used in septic tank systems. This is used in properties that don’t have accessible plumbing through to a city’s plumbing infrastructure. In such cases, the septic tank must be periodically emptied into a container truck and transported away once near capacity.

Some detergents or cleaners are marked as being compatible with greywater or septic systems. This partially refers to there being nothing potentially damaging to any protective coating on the interior of the tank or greywater container, or the plastic container itself.

Of course, greywater systems are used on RVs, caravans and other recreational vehicles where a WC/toilet is fitted. These are periodically emptied when full. The dishwasher detergent or cleaner mustn’t damage their containers for the grey water as they’re expected to last years.

Biodegradable Dishwasher Detergent

Cleaners and detergents are usually biodegradable now. This means, they breakdown well on their own and so won’t become a blight on the eco-system.


Hypoallergenic is useful for people that are sensitive to certain allergies and need detergent or cleaning products that won’t cause their allergies to flare up. When a cleaner or detergent is hypoallergenic it will be clearly labelled.

Homemade Dishwasher Tablets

When you’re not happy with the dishwasher tablets on the market, you have the option to produce your own.

Homemade dishwasher detergent

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To do so, you’ll need to decide on a mix of ingredients and their various percentages towards the tablet composition that will eventually be added to a tray (a little bit like with mini cake making).

Depending on what your emphasis is on ingredients to include or exclude with your homemade dishwasher tablet, your selection of ingredients may be Vegan, biodegradable, etc. If you’re someone who finds that they have a bad reaction to plates or cutlery put in the dishwasher and cleaned using commercially sold dishwasher tablets, then making their your holds some attraction.

One example of an ingredient list might be as follows (apologies for the US Imperial recipe!):

  • 2 cups of borax
  • 2 cups of baking soda
  • Half a cup of vinegar
  • Half a cup of Epsom Salts
  • A measure of Essential Oils (Lemon might be preferred, but it’s up a personal taste)

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