Woman Loading Plates Into Dishwasher

Have you noticed that your brand new dishwasher doesn’t really get your dishes clean? That your glasses still have fingerprints, that your pots are steadily turning gray, and dishes have bits and specks on them? Have you found that the only way you can get the dishes reasonably clean is to wash them before putting them in the dishwasher, or to run the machine two or three times? Well, don’t call a repair person just yet!

What has Changed? The Detergent.

Some years ago, detergent makers took a key ingredient, Phosphate, out of dishwasher detergent.  Phosphates are truly what made dishwashing detergent work. They remove grease, crud, and even prevent dirt from re-attaching to your dishes. So why would they remove it? In 2010 seventeen states* banned phosphate use in household products. Detergent makers decided it was just too expensive to make one type of detergent for some states and another for the rest, so they stopped using phosphates in all of them.

Why the ban? Some studies have shown that when phosphates enter lakes and streams they cause excessive growth of algae, which in turn kill off plant life and fish. Not everyone agreed with the causality, but all the big detergent companies, such as Proctor and Gamble, immediately, and without telling the public, removed phosphates. Consumer advocates and environmentalists suggest that over time non-phosphate cleaners will improve over time. This has been true for laundry detergent, but not noticeably so with dishwashers.

If your dishwasher is taking 3-4 hours to complete a load, it may be a higher-end dishwasher with dirt sensors. These long wash cycle’s are not only a waste of water but a waste of your time. “Where do I go from here?” you may be thinking. You have a perfectly functional dishwasher and dishes that aren’t clean. Lucky for you, even with the removal of phosphates in detergent, there are alternatives to long dishwasher cycle’s and washing your dishes multiple times. 

What to do Instead of Running your Dishwasher Twice 

There are alternatives to washing and rewashing. Don’t throw that machine out just yet! Consumer Reports has determined that a product called Finish Quantum far outperforms all other non-phosphate dishwasher detergents.  Finish Quantum was closely followed by CR Best Buy and Finish Powerball Tabs, which scored excellent for dishes and pots, and bested some detergents that cost more. 

Another option, if you don’t live in one of the states where it is banned*, is to add phosphates in yourself.  Tri-Sodium Phosphate, or TSP, can be bought at many local stores and online.  According to an article in Mommy Perfect, the correct mixture for TSP to detergent is:

  • Dishwasher: ¼ teaspoon, along with normal dish detergent
  • Front-load washing machine: 1 tablespoon to ¼ cup, along with normal laundry soap
  • Top-load washing machine: ¼ cup to ½ cup, along with normal laundry soap

Remember: It’s not Always the Machine’s Fault

As an appliance technician for many years, I have seen a lot of changes. Usually, these are with the machines themselves, but in the case of dishwashers and washing machines, the change has come in the detergents now for sale. Check back with Neli often for more helpful articles like this one, and remember, if your appliance does let you down, Neli can help you Repair Easy!

*The banned states are MA, OH, MI, WI, MN, NH, MA, MD, DC, VT, PA, NY, IN, IL, VA, UT, WA, and OR.

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