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Now that phosphates are no longer in my dishwasher detergent, my dishes come out looking cloudy and grubby. Do I need to wash dishes by hand? - Carol Foerch
Because phosphates stimulate algal blooms in lakes and streams, 16 states have limited phosphates in dishwasher detergents to 0.5 percent. Now many brands, which once contained as high as 8 percent, have had to reformulate. You’re not alone in observing that phosphate-free detergents can leave a disappointing residue; Consumer Reports studied them four years ago, and reached the same conclusion.
Washing by hand might help the cloudiness, especially for glassware and silver. As a general rule, however, if you scrape dishes instead of pre-rinsing, and wash only full loads, using a dishwasher is more eco-friendly than hand washing, since they generally use less water and energy.
Here are some other tips to try:
- Make sure glasses are upside-down so suds can drain.
- Don’t nest dishes, which can trap detergent between them.
- Switch to a low-alkali, gel enzyme detergent. Enzymes are living organisms that feed on grease and dirt, breaking them up so they wash away more readily. In its most recent tests of reduced-phosphate dishwasher soaps, Consumer Reports noted that enzymes may have improved the products’ performance. Enzymes can also help in the case of soft water, which is highly alkali and can etch surfaces to produce that grubby look, says Martin Wolf, a chemist and director of technology at Seventh Generation.
- If cloudiness sticks around after you’ve tried an enzyme gel, try adjusting your well water to medium, rather than low, hardness. Set the value at 100 parts per million (ppm) on your water softener control.
- If you can’t easily get to the softener controls, open the bypass valve slightly. This allows untreated water to mix with softened water. It’s like adjusting the temperature of your bath water.
- No bypass valve? Ask your plumber to install a bypass system just for your diswasher, so that your softened well water doesn’t flow directly into that appliance.
But hopefully you won’t have to play the pipes and valves. While enzyme detergents cost more than conventional detergents, they’ll likely save your money you’d spend on plumbers and valves. So give one a try, and let me know if it helps!
Mindy Pennybacker regularly answers readers' green-living questions. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.