Dingy Dishes? Blame Reduced Phosphates

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    Dingy Dishes? Blame Reduced Phosphates

    The phone calls have started coming into Utah State University Extension county offices around the state with the question, “Why is there a film on my clean glasses?” or “Why don’t my dishes shine like they used to?”

    Chances are high that homeowners don’t need to buy a new dishwasher. According to Kathleen Riggs, USU Extension family and consumer sciences professor, Iron County, a change has been made to dishwasher detergents, in the name of saving the environment, that has caused concern around the country
    “Last summer, as a result of concern for the environment, several states banned phosphates from dishwasher detergents and dish-washing soaps,” she said. “In July 2010, a significant reduction in the amount of phosphates allowed in automatic dishwasher detergents went into effect in Washington state. Similar regulations were implemented in 16 other states, including Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington.”
    Previously, phosphates could constitute up to 8.7 percent of dishwasher detergent; now the new regulations limit them to 0.5 percent.
    Why the ban?  According to www.earthtalk@emagazine.com, the main problem with phosphates, which also come from agricultural and landscaping activities, is that they get into natural water bodies and act as fertilizer, accelerating plant and algae growth. When the plants and algae die, a feeding frenzy of bacteria consume all the oxygen dissolved in the water, creating an environment inhospitable to fish and other aquatic life. These oxygen-devoid “dead zones” can occur in freshwater or in the ocean. Two of the world’s largest dead zones are in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Mexico as a result of fertilizers running off of farmland. Besides phosphates’ negative effect on water bodies, their presence in the environment can also be harmful to wildlife and can trigger skin and eye irritation and allergies, among other ill effects, in humans.

    “The transition to phosphate-free detergents has not been smooth,” Riggs said. “We have depended on phosphates for years because they are so good at stripping away food and grease from dishes and helping suspend dirt particles so they don’t reattach to dishes during the wash cycle. Many people ask if there is hope for having clean dishes in the future.”
    Riggs suggested to think back to a few years ago when many people were concerned about the amount of phosphates being significantly lowered from laundry detergents. The general public was very discouraged, even angry, over the fact that their laundry was starting to look dingy. However, over time, scientists created new formulas that today make laundry look just as good as it used to. 
    “We expect the same to hold true for our dirty dishes,” Riggs said. “As scientific research is conducted to keep up with environmental concerns, science will definitely be actively pursuing solutions so we can once again depend on our dishwashers to produce spotlessly clean dishes.”
    In the meantime, homeowners don’t need to drive across state lines to stock up on their favorite detergents from states that haven’t yet adopted the phosphate-free regulations, Riggs said. There are other temporary solutions that can be considered.
    Dishes can be washed and dried by hand. Or for light soil, add one-half to 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the detergent holding area. Also add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar to the liquid spot removal compartment and run through the cycle. Riggs said another option for heavy jobs is to put 1 tablespoon of baking soda plus 1 tablespoon of borax into the reservoir. The dishwasher will do the mixing. Also add distilled white vinegar to the rinse dispenser. To use the dry mixture for future loads, mix up a container to keep on hand near the dishwasher and add 2 tablespoons of the mixture to each load.

    “We will adapt, and scientists will improve dishwashing detergents,” Riggs said. “Hopefully knowing there are options and that this current condition is temporary will help us get by for now.”


    By: Kathy Riggs - Jan. 27, 2011