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Posted by: Dennis Hinkamp on Jan 27, 2011

Dingy Dishes? Blame Reduced Phosphates

 

Contact: Kathy Riggs
  USU Extension family and consumer sciences professor
  Utah State University
  Phone: (435) 586-8132
  E-Mail: kathleen.riggs@usu.edu
   
  Julene Reese
  USU Extension writer
  Utah State University
  Phone: 435-797-0810
  E-Mail: julene.reese@usu.edu

 

Reduced Phosphates May be the Cause of Dingy Dishes

LOGAN, UT (January 26, 2011) – 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.”

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Comments

Sandra Drew said...

Does anyone have a good recipe for a homemade complete dishwasher detergent?
September 26, 2013 6:57:00 PM MDT

Jamie said...

Another interesting fact is that there have been certain commercial and institutional exemptions made on the ban; restaurants, schools, hospitals, etc, continue to use phosphate-laden detergent to clean their dishes. So, if the phosphate free products work as well as the manufacturers and other experts insist they do, why the need for special exemptions? (Obvious answer: the new products are a lousy inconvenience, and they know it.)
February 7, 2011 10:53:00 PM MST

JANE said...

with the out rageous prices for auto dish soap there should be absolutely no question as to "will it clean or not", "WILL IT LEAVE A RESIDUE OR NOT". THE SCIENCE OF ADDING AN OTHER "GREEN" CHEMICAL WILL COST LITTLE MORE, BUT WE AS A CONSUMER WILL PAY DEARLY. REMEMBER THE TOILET PAPER SHORTAGE OF 20 SOME ODD YRS AGO. NOW IT IS A MAJOR PURCHASE FOR A HOUSE HOLD. EVERY COMPANY THINKS THEIR PRODUCT IS NUMBER ONE, NOT JUST ANOTHER PRODUCT ON THE MARKET. EVEN A BUTTON WILL COST A $1. COME ON WE HAVE LOST TOUCH OF REALITY. A BUTTON MAY BE SPECIAL BUT THE COST IS JUST SILLY. IT'S LIKE CHARGING YOU PER GRAPE ON THE VINE OF GRAPES.
February 3, 2011 11:31:00 PM MST

Jamie said...

I hadn't even heard of the phosphate situation until very recently, after searching for answers online to figure out why for the past few months my dishes have been coming out caked with a chalky white film. I'm not talking about just the regular hard water spots, either- the plastic glasses my children drink from are coming out of the wash with big streaks of detergent plastered all over them that I can both see and feel. So here I am, first thinking there is something wrong with my new dishwasher, then wondering how it could be merely (and suddenly) attributed to the hard water, and then, just as I am about to call a plumber, I discover it to be a "save the planet" decision that consumers were barely informed of. I am not necessarily against trying to develop more environment-friendly products, but seriously, where is the concern for the possible health effects on people in this situation? (I doubt that eating/drinking from soap-coated dishes is particularly good for us.)
February 3, 2011 1:46:00 AM MST

Sheri Fawson said...

Why wasn't this talked about in the news? We've had a filmy dish problem since last summer and because of our hard water problems we just attributed it to that. Who knew?
February 2, 2011 4:47:00 PM MST

Kristie said...

Tang drink mix with detergent in the cup that closes works great too.
February 2, 2011 2:07:00 PM MST

Christina D said...

I love lemishine. I've tried vinegar, baking soda, all the solutions and only lemishine works for me. Just a tiny bit in the dishwasher and voila! Much cleaner dishes. Unfortunately, since phosphates been banned they have been ratcheting up the price it's now a dollar more at walmart. :(
February 2, 2011 12:29:00 PM MST

Josh C said...

You can buy Trisodium Phosphate at Lowes or Home Depot. I've been adding 1-2 TBSP in my wash with the little gel tabs and everything is back to normal.
February 2, 2011 12:21:00 PM MST

Laura Samuelson said...

"dishes can be washed and dried by hand"? That's one of your tips? Where can I buy some phosphate and I'll add it to my dishwasher myself. In the meantime, I'm mixing my detergent with Lemi-shine and I'm getting improved results.
February 2, 2011 10:41:00 AM MST

Bev Connolly said...

I had the same cleaning issues with my dishwasher. I tried the vinegar with and without salt added to soften the water with limited success. I used a dishwasher cleaner and then the cascade Complete sachets which resulted in some improvement. Finally I began using the dark green bottle of Cascade Complete gel and now things are back to normal. Costco also sells a Cascade dark green bottle but don't believe it says Complete on it and it works perfectly.
February 2, 2011 9:53:00 AM MST

Brent Nielsen said...

After buying a new dishwasher and installing it I found out that wasn't the problem. However, I thought you should know that if you use vinegar with the vinyl covered metal racks that the vinegar eats the racks and causes them to rust through. Also, found out the hard way.
February 2, 2011 9:37:00 AM MST

Justin Godfrey said...

This is something that I have that works great. It will clean off the dishes and make everything look brand new. It is a Citrus solution. www.citracharge.com
February 2, 2011 9:35:00 AM MST

Janeen Anson said...

I have found a product called "Lemi Shine" that really does the trick. I add a small amount with detergent in the cup that closes. I haven't had any issues since switching. I heard about this from our county extension agent in Evanston, WY.
February 2, 2011 8:53:00 AM MST

Joe said...

This is going to sound like a commercial, BUT there really is a product that actually DOES what it says....Lemi Shine. I bought it at Smith's grocery... Above the dishwasher soap (look for a green lid). Our glasses were so bad we couldn't even see through them! We had even bought a new dishwasher previously, with no results. ONE load using Lemi Shine, and cleaner than ever. This stuff is amazing. A teaspoonful of Lemi Shine, plus a little of your regular dishwasher soap, and NO more problems. Try it!
February 2, 2011 8:41:00 AM MST

Nancy said...

I made the mistake of putting one of my cookie sheets in the dishwasher. The sheet came out tarnished and black. Needless to say I hand wash them now. I will have to try the new remedies to get my dishes cleaner.
February 2, 2011 8:37:00 AM MST

Andy Bavelas said...

1/2 cup of vinager.
February 2, 2011 8:33:00 AM MST

Craig Crandall said...

We can handle the dirty dish problem, but what about clothes that aren't getting as clean as they once used to be? What can I add to my clothes washer to get dirty jeans clean? It seems that my Levi's aren't getting as clean as they used to be...
February 2, 2011 7:57:00 AM MST

Julie Anderson said...

I have a question about the borax/baking soda. Is this to be added in addition to the dish detergent, or in place of? Thanks, as this would be very helpful to know.
February 2, 2011 1:00:00 AM MST

Kathey Boswell said...

Glass Magic by Finish is the best. It comes in a small box and just takes a little in the main wash cup. Some stores don't carry it. I can find it at Fresh Market and Smiths. It cost 5 dollars for a small box,however it's worth every penny to have sparkling glasses and dishes.
February 1, 2011 10:59:00 PM MST
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