Is Dishwasher Rinse Aid Really Necessary?

These formulas prevent water droplets from drying on your items, which means spot-free loads.

kitchen with open dishwasher full of dishes
Photo: Kate Sears

Open your dishwasher door, and what do you see? Most standard models come with two racks (upper and lower pull-out iterations), slats for flatware, and two curious miniature compartments: one for detergent (the solvents we use to rid dishes, glasses, forks, and knives of leftover food) and another for, well, what exactly?

While the larger compartment houses your detergent, which may be in powder, liquid, or cube form, the smaller one right next door is for rinse aid. Virtually always a liquid, this effective formula contains a surfactant that prevents water from forming into droplets. The resulting thinner layer of water evaporates more quickly, which means no marks on your glasses and less hand-drying after a load.

Citric acid, another popular ingredient in rinse aid formulations, also collects deposits often found in hard water, which otherwise linger around dishes and create cloudiness and spotting, explains Alona Wells, the senior category manager of dish care at Bosch.

Clearly, rinse aid has its benefits—but is it completely necessary to use during a wash cycle? In short, no; the formula doesn't impact the cleansing process, which means detergent is all your machine truly needs to get the job (which is to clean and sanitize dishes so they are free from leftover food scraps and debris) done. It's good to have on hand, however, ahead of an evening of entertaining, when you want wine glasses, silver, and dishware to really shine. The gist? While you don't have to use a rinse aid, there are certainly good reasons to do so now and again.

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