the not-so-secret War of the Dishwasher Detergents. Have you noticed that the advertising war has been heating up lately? It's partly because in July 2010, many states passed regulations which banned the use of phosphates in dishwasher detergent.
Phosphates run off into streams and wetlands where they cause algae blooms that destroy the environment. Unfortunately, they are also very useful in removing grease from dishes. Once phosphates were banned, dishwashing detergent had to really step up its game. Thus the mad proliferation of bizarre concoctions like "Cascade Complete Packs," and other high-packaging premium forms of dishwasher detergent blocks and gels and look at those super zoom graphics, wow!
It also had the side effect of heating up the fire between Cascade (long the #1 leader in this arena) and Finish. Finish has been the #2 dishwasher detergent for ages, even though it frequently outranks Cascade in terms of cleaning power. Now, with people suddenly casting doubt on the Cascade they have used for decades, Finish is positioned to sweep in and clean up.
Of course, you can also save a lot of money by making your own dishwashing detergent. This recipe simply calls for equal parts borax and baking soda. Aside from costing a fraction of the name brand cleansers (and who really knows what chemicals are in products like Cascade Complete anyway) this version is great for hard water stains! Borax has long been used to combat hard water problems with laundry and other cleaning projects. And I'm pretty sure the only active ingredients in dishwasher detergent are borax and baking soda, anyway!
I have to admit that I pay very little attention to dishwasher detergent commercials, because I do not have a dishwasher. After much experimentation and weighing the various pros and cons, I have finally settled on Dawn original (blue) for hand-washing dishes. It's not the most environmentally sound choice, but it's the one that works the best. I'm all in favor of saving the planet, right up until I find a permanent ring of dish grease around my kitchen sink. (That really happened, by the way.)
This is why I don't recommend using Castile soap (i.e. Dr. Bronner's) for washing dishes. It only works up to a point. After a week or two, it's Grease City, trust me on this. However, I haven't yet had a chance to try Sal Suds, which is apparently good for "dishes." Not sure if that means automatic dishwashers as well - but I would definitely give it a try for hand-washing dishes!