When it comes to dishwasher detergents, few leave dishware sparkling, according to Consumer Reports' latest tests. Finish Powerball Tabs and Cascade Complete All-In-1 ActionPacs earned the highest marks in Consumer Reports' ratings of nonphosphate gels, liquids, packs, pods, powders and tablets. Finish Quantum, top-rated in the last round of tests, slipped to third place because of its performance in Consumer Reports' new hard-water tests.
In tests, many dishwasher detergents left food stuck to plates or pots. Finish Powerball Tabs, the only CR Best Buy at 21 cents per load, and Cascade Complete All-In-1 ActionPacs, a Consumer Reports Recommended product that costs 29 cents per load, both cleaned dishes and pots well, and dishware washed in these detergents didn't have water spots, white film or discolored aluminum.
Detergents from Great Value (Wal-Mart), 8 cents per load, and Kirkland Signature (Costco), 7 cents per load, are cheaper and sold in a hefty size, but they didn't clean very well in the tests.
In its latest tests, Consumer Reports added hard-water performance to the ratings. It began this test last year in response to readers' comments about a white film or cloudy buildup on dishware. Laws in several states removed phosphates from dishwasher detergents a few years ago and phosphates can be used to address some cleaning challenges due to hard water.
Consumer Reports found several products that allowed glassware to be covered with a frosty-white film --- a residue of minerals -- to varying degrees in just 20 washes using very hard water. The Laundress and Method Smarty Dish earned the lowest marks for film and discoloring.
And while no type of detergent was best overall, liquids and gels tended to fall toward the bottom of Consumer Reports' Ratings. Whatever the detergent, consumers can get cleaner dishes by adding a rinse agent, making sure the water is hot (120 degrees), separating flatware and facing dirty dishes toward water jets.
Tougher new rules have slashed the energy and water dishwashers can use to get the government's Energy Star seal. But Consumer Reports' latest tests of 77 models showed that you don't have to live with dirty dishes or endure even longer cycles. Better yet, some of the biggest energy misers are also easy on your wallet.
Dishwashers built since January must use about 9 percent less electricity and 27 percent less water to meet the federal EPA's voluntary Energy Star standard. Consumer Reports' 14 top picks qualify for that coveted seal.
Bosch's Ascenta SHX3AR7(5)UC, $800, and Kenmore's 1328, $650, are among nine recommended models priced well under $1,000. With a cycle time of 95 minutes, the Bosch was fastest in Consumer Reports' tests after the noisier and less-capable Electrolux IQ EIDW5905(J). It's also almost twice as fast as the new GE Monogram ZBD9900R[ii], which took three hours. Cycle times even for energy-efficient models can be long. A unit needs time to recirculate the small amounts of water it uses to clean items while meeting federal standards for energy and water efficiency.
Consumer Reports' other findings include:
• Middling choices at high prices. Paying $1,600 for Dacor's Renaissance ED-WH24S lets you choose between two handle styles. Its washing is top-notch, but you'll find more features, better efficiency and quieter running for far less. Viking's Professional VDB450E[SS], $1,800, is also shy on features and only so-so at washing.
• Less cost, more noise. Two new $300 dishwashers from GE and Kenmore are among six budget-priced models that Consumer Reports found to be especially noisy. Most raucous of that bunch: the Hotpoint HDA3600R[WW], which also scored lowest among conventional machines.
• A new dud among drawers. Dishwasher drawers typically include upper and lower pullout compartments, letting you use only the upper one without needing to bend. But they're high in price and typically low in overall performance. Subpar washing put Fisher and Paykel's single-drawer 36-inch DD36SDFTX2 at the bottom of this group.