Which dishwashing detergents do the best job?

LOS ANGELES When Consumer Reports last tested dishwasher powders, tablets, gelpacs and liquids, the detergents with phosphates typically cleaned dishes the best.

This time testers evaluated 24 low-phosphate detergents. One even claims it "powers away 24-hour stuck-on food."

To see whether they deliver, Consumer Reports subjects the cleaners to some tests a lot tougher than your daily dishes face. Testers apply an extra sticky mix made with 17 foods including peanut butter and Cheez Whiz. Then the dishes are microwaved to make the goo stick.

Pots are coated with macaroni and cheese. The same number of dishes is washed per load. Each detergent is tested not just once, but three times.

"The worst performer in our test left a lot of food. You wouldn't want to eat off this plate," said Consumer Reports' Bob Markovich.

But overall, the new generation of green cleaners did much better than in the past. Testers recommend four that are "very good" at cutting grease and removing food.

"But think twice about buying a dishwasher detergent by brand. While Cascade and Finish were among the best in our tests, they also had some of the lowest-rated cleaners," said Markovich.

In the end, Consumer Reports named Finish Powerball Tabs a "best buy." It did an excellent job cleaning dishes and pots at a great price.

Consumer Reports also tested Martha Stewart Clean liquid dishwasher detergent. It was the poorest performer in the group, but the company says a revised formulation will be on shelves this fall.

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