It goes without saying that cleaning pods of all kinds have gone through a sort of — let's say — PR hiccup since kids started daring each other to eat the things to impress their friends on TikTok. "Tide pod challenge," aside, dishwasher pods are a modern way to switch up your dishwashing routine for a mess-free experience.
But just how much do these pods differ from powder and gel dishwashing detergent, and which one is really better? We talked to a scientist at Cascade to get the answers.
How Dishwashing Detergents Work
But first, let's discuss a few basics about dishwashing detergent. The American Cleaning Institute explains that dishwasher detergents are made of surfactants, builders, corrosion inhibitors, chlorine compounds and perfumes.
"Surfactants," explains Cascade senior scientist Morgan Eberhard, "remove grease at the molecular level by attaching part of themselves to water molecules and part of themselves to food soils, lifting the grease off your dishes."
The builders — or chelants — prevent spots and film on dishes, while corrosion inhibitors prevent materials like metals from, well, corrosion. Chlorine compounds aid in sanitizing dishes and removing things like coffee and tea stains. All of these are what make dishwasher detergent so different from your standard dish soap. If you've ever used dish soap in your dishwasher in a pinch, you know it produces way too many suds that overflow and make a huge mess. But those suds also "smother" the water required to clean the dishes inside.
How Are Pods Made, and How Do They Work?
Like a fortune cookie — and again, please don't eat the darn things — there's a lot more to dishwasher pods than meets the eye. Dishwasher pods obviously contain dishwasher detergent, so they still function in the same way to clean your dishes, but pods are presented in a format that makes automatic dishwashing more convenient and less messy.
Most of us have loaded a dishwasher before, right? You open the door, load it up, add detergent into the dispenser and press start. Dishwasher pods take a step out of the equation. No more measuring. The water-soluble film (made of polyvinyl alcohol) contains premeasured liquid detergent, and when dissolved, releases the powder and/or gel that cleans your dishes.
"These pods are created with premeasured doses that are more concentrated than powder or gel detergents alone, so you know you're getting the right amount of each ingredient in each dishwasher load," Eberhard explains. "Furthermore, by separating the powder from the liquid top, pods like Cascade ActionPacs have the best of what each ingredient has to offer."
When the dishwasher detergent dispenser opens, it releases the dishwasher pod into the water, and the film surrounding the pod dissolves, so all of the detergent inside can disperse into the water, Eberhard explains.
"So the same 1.5 to 2 gallons of water then circulates through the rotating spray arms in your machine for the remainder of the main wash cycle, which brings the chemistry to the food soils and grease to break them down," she says. "When all of the food soils are removed from your dishes, polymers keep them suspended in the water, so they rinse down the drain, rather than re-depositing back on your dishes."
Are Pods Better Than Powders?
It all depends on how you want to do your dishes. Some people don't even have a dishwasher, which obviously negates the pros of the dishwasher pod. Because dishwasher pods are premeasured with an amount scientifically formulated to clean your dishes, pods tend to clean better. But what if your dishwasher isn't full (or it's too full)? You might want to add another pod if your have too many dirty dishes, but you never want to overload your machine. And for those super light loads, you might notice leftover pod remnants. So it might be best to wait until you have full load before running the dishwasher.
Regardless, pods are mess-free and some, like Cascade ActionPacs, contain both powder and liquid detergent, which allows you to skip the prewash cycle. But, pods are typically more expensive than powders and gels, so if affordability is what matters most to you, they might not be your best bet.