“Environment-friendly” dishwasher detergents causing other problems
Long before we at Bekins ever sold an appliance, we were servicing them. The fact that we’ve been repairing and fixing dishwashers, ranges and clothes dryers since 1975 provides us a perspective over time.
In 2012, we noticed an overwhelming trend of service calls for dishwashers leaving a white, cloudy film on the dishes and glasses. In the past, we would dispatch a service technician to the under-performing dishwasher. However this residue issue has more to do with chemistry and government regulation than mechanics.
In July 2010 several states banned the use of phosphates as an ingredient in dishwasher detergent for environmental reasons. They are known to create excessive algae in waterways, and degrade the ecosystem for beneficial plant and animal life. In compliance with the new laws, detergent manufacturers quietly eliminated phosphates from all of their products.
Most of us were unaware about the new anti-phosphate regulations or dishwasher detergent formulations. But we certainly noticed that our dishes weren’t getting clean.
Our best advice in the past was to use powdered dishwashing detergents (Cascade) and very hot water from your water heater. We also recommended that you allow the water to run at the sink until it was hot (to insure the soap powder fully dissolved and activated), before running the dishwasher.
In the new formulations, enzymes have replaced phosphates as the agents to attack protein and fat deposits on soiled dishes. The new products also contain bleaches to oxidize stains from coffee, tea, and juices. The good news is that this two-punch approach works very well against food deposits and stains.
However, the enzymes and bleaching agents can’t work together at the same time because the bleach will kill the enzymes. Furthermore, as the charts show below, enzymes work best at cooler temperatures (122 degrees F.) and bleach at hotter temperatures (140 degrees F.).
So the manufacturers created time-released tablets that activate at different temperatures. There are several brands available now. For several years, I have been using Finish brand tablets, both at home and at the cooking school and it has eliminated the problem.
Newer dishwashers control their water temperatures to maximize the performance of these new detergent tabs. On my older dishwasher at home, I simply let the machine fill initially with warm water. It is important that the initial water temperature not exceed about 120 degrees F. as it will destroy the enzymes. Check your water heater temperature setting. Use the built-in water heater mode on your machine. It will heat the water for the bleach phase to produce the cleanest possible dishes.
Another thing about enzymes is that they need something to attack. So do not pre-wash your dishes. Simply scrape them of any large chunks of food and everything that will not dissolve in water. If you insist upon rinsing them, use only water. Dish soap, even the smallest amount, will damage your dishwasher.
So if you have cloudy dishes, it is probably not your dishwasher or operator error. It turns out those phosphates were a key cleaning ingredient, especially in homes with “hard” water like we have here in West Michigan.
To remove these hard water calcium deposits, you should also clean your dishwasher periodically. Many manufacturers recommend a product named “Glisten” made specifically for this purpose. Simply add a Glisten tab to the soap dispenser and run the hottest water wash cycle. Check your owner’s manual for any instructions specific to your model.
About every two months, I clean my dishwasher with a pint of white vinegar added at the beginning of the wash cycle. The acid dissolves the built up calcium and makes it run new again. If you are going to try this technique, it is important to add the vinegar after the pre-rinse cycle so it doesn’t get drained away before working. You can tell by starting the dishwasher with the soap dispenser door closed. After 10 minutes, open the dishwasher door and see that the soap dispenser lid has opened. A tripped dispenser lid means it is in the wash cycle and you can add the vinegar for maximum time exposure.
Key Points to Fix Cloudy Dishes
- Use Finish brand dish tabs.
- Use warm water at the beginning cycle (not hot).
- Scrape, do not pre-rinse/wash, dishes.
- Use the “Sani-Rinse cycle option for best results.
- Clean your dishwasher periodically with “Glisten” or white vinegar.
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