Skip To Content
How Dishwasher Detergents Remove Tough & Greasy Food Stains

How Dishwasher Detergents Remove Tough & Greasy Food Stains

Available in tablets, powders, and liquids, dishwasher detergents work together with water to dissolve, break down and remove food stains from the dishes, utensils, and cookware. 

Unfortunately, not all food stains are equal, and factors like heat, cooking time, and dish composition contribute to the formation of tough food stains on the dish load. 

These stains that originate from various sources, such as proteins, starches, oils, grease, and spices, can be challenging to eliminate, requiring specialized cleaning agents such as polycarboxylates, phosphonates, and enzymes.

To effectively tackle tough food stains, it is vital to comprehend their nature and the science behind how dishwasher detergents remove tough food stains. 

This understanding is key to selecting the right dishwasher detergents, such as Finish, the #1 recommended dishwasher detergent by leading dishwasher manufacturers, and refining stain removal techniques for optimal dishwashing experience.  .

The chemistry of dishwasher detergents

Below are the chemical components that make up most dishwasher detergents:

Water softening via salt

Dishwasher salt supplies sodium ions that bind to the calcium and magnesium ions in hard water. By doing so, salt helps to prevent the accumulation of limescale, ensuring the optimal performance of the dishwasher's ion exchange resin.

Detergents and cleaning 

Non-ionic surfactants remove oil, grease, and soil from the dishes. They react to form soluble compounds that can be washed away. In addition, they are also responsible for protecting the metal parts of the dishwasher from corrosion. 

Enzymes and rinse aid 

Enzymes (subtilisin, amylase), dishwasher detergents' most important chemical component, help remove tough food stains by breaking down starch and protein in the food remnants. In addition, rinse aid reduces the surface tension of water, letting it drain and dry quicker at the end of the wash cycle.  

Removing stubborn food stains with dishwasher detergents

Enzymes are protein catalysts that speed up chemical reactions, including the breakdown of starch and proteins in food stains on dishes. 

Once placed in the dishwasher, the detergent dissolves in water, activating the enzymes (Subtilisin and Amylase). They rapidly break down food residues by chopping them into smaller pieces, similar to how digestive enzymes in your stomach metabolize food. 

Eventually, these particles become soluble in water, aided by surfactants and other detergent components that remove dirt from dishes and carry it away with the flushed water.

Older dishwasher detergents utilized phosphates and similar chemicals to dissolve food residues. However, these chemicals also degrade during cleaning, meaning you need nearly as much detergent as food stains. 

In contrast to the older detergents, Finish Arabia dishwasher detergents, such as Finish Quantum Ultimate tablets., gel, and classic powder, contain enzymes (Subtilisin and Amylase) that break down immediately after getting dissolved in water, which means you don’t need them as much as the food stain and are less harmful to the environment.

An intriguing aspect of these enzymes is their ability to remain intact and unaffected during the cleaning process. They seamlessly transition to their next target after breaking down a specific food stain.

Related: Find out which products to use with Finish to remove hard water stains from your dishes and dishwasher and ultimately extend its life cycle.


Where do food particles go in the dishwasher?

During washing, food particles get crushed and go down the drain. Older dishwashers had food grinders, but newer ones have filters beneath the bottom rack, which prevents food from redepositing debris on clean dishes and clogging the drain.

Mastering the art of unclogging the dishwasher and maintaining a clean filter guarantees an optimal dishwashing experience.

Can dishwasher detergents remove baked-on food?

Yes, soaking baking sheets with dishwasher detergents is an easy and effective way to remove food residue without elbow grease. Discover the proper technique for washing baking sheets in the dishwasher and use Finish Quantum Ultimate for effective tough stain removal.

What types of tough food stains can dishwasher detergents handle?

Dishwasher detergents are formulated to handle various stubborn food stains effectively. With powerful cleaning agents and enzymes, they can remove tough residues such as baked-on grease, dried sauces, and stubborn food particles.