I’m going to give you the TL;DR version here – ditch the packs, pods, and liquid detergents and get the cheapest cat-litter-looking detergent in a box for your dishwasher from any manufacturer you want.
When your dishwasher is running it goes through two cycles essentially – a pre-wash/rinse and then the main load run. During the second part the detergent door flips open, hopefully dropping the contents. Sometimes not at the beginning because the detergent cup was slightly wet when you put the detergent pack in, but that’s another story.
But mostly because during the first rinse there’s no soap or detergent. That’s what the little cup on the right is for. Your dishwasher is just pressure washing at this point. Even pressure washers have detergent reservoirs.
But what about…
Nope, it works. I bought the cheapest generic detergent powder I could find (Walmart’s Great Value brand, $3.87 for 75 ounces,) and tested it for you. Every load now is clean (unless we burn the crap out of some cheese.)
We tried some generic liquid detergent we picked up at Aldi and it worked *slightly* better than the Cascade and Costco packs/pucks, but the bottom half of the bottle something was afoot (large flakes in the liquid) and overall the significantly less expensive powder performed better. I can’t really speak of quality beyond it was not.
But, but but…
Look, I’m with you – I want to believe that the packs with the little ball, or the 3 types of detergent work better, but every single test I did with them the cheapest stuff blew them away. I was only able to obtain similar pack results when I used two packs, placing one in the dishwasher main because it didn’t fit in the little pre-wash cup.
What am I supposed to do with these old detergent packs?
Use them. They’re great. They do work, but there’s only space for one in the detergent cup and using two is overkill. Put your detergent pack in the main spot, grab your ratchet dishwasher powder and put it in the tiny cup, no waste. When you’re done with the packs/pods, you’re done.
This is a less than $4 experiment for you. Use less powder than you think you need. If it doesn’t work well add a little more.
Experimenting is going to cost me
Yes, if I have steered you wrong and you have to re-wash a load of dishes this will cost you about 17 cents in electric and under 3 cents of water.
Should you want to go down the rabbit hole and see what’s up and why detergent packs are bleh in dishwashers (but fine in washing machines) check out this video
Overall, since switching to the absolute cheapest I could find I’ve determined that 1) it works, 2) my $300 dishwasher from 2004 is much better than I expected, 3) if I’m not mistaken the detergent cost is less than half , 4) I never have an issue where somehow the pack glues itself in and doesn’t drop.