Woman Loading Plates Into Dishwasher

Why Your New Dishwasher Doesn’t Clean Your Dishes

By Kevin Derry


Have you noticed that your brand new dishwasher doesn’t really get your dishes clean? That your glasses still have fingerprints and lip marks, 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 running the machine two or three times? Well don’t call a repair person just yet!

Some years ago, detergent makers took a key ingredient out of dishwasher detergent. That ingredient would be phosphate, and it was a wonder. 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 sugges that over time non-phosphate cleaners will improve. That has been true for laundry detergent, but not noticeably so with dishwashers.

What can you do? If you have a high end dishwasher with dirt sensors, you may find your dishwasher is taking 3-4 hours to complete a load. Washing them first seems like double the work, water, and time, why have the dishwasher to begin with?  As a dish dryer? Running the machine twice does not sound any better for the environment than green lakes and ponds.

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. You can read the Consumer Report article here.

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

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 you 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.