Detergent change makes for dingy dishes

If you're wondering why your dishes are coming out of the dishwasher cloudy and stained, you're not alone, says a retired botany professor.

Ban on phosphates means less effective dishwasher detergents

Dishes and flatware can come out of a dishwasher covered in a dingy film. ((CBC))

If you're wondering why your dishes are coming out of the dishwasher cloudy and stained, you're not alone.

"Instead of having a nice clear glass, it's cloudy looking — it’s milky — lipstick and other things were staying on the glass," said George La Roi, a retired ecologist in Edmonton. "Knives, forks and spoons got real dull and worn-out looking."    

A few months ago, La Roi began looking into why he has been washing his dishes twice to get them clean.

His conclusion: a change in ingredients in dishwasher detergent, something the producers have introduced with little publicity.

George La Roi found his dishes did not look as clean after phosphates were removed from dishwasher detergents. ((CBC))

Last July, detergent companies removed phosphates from their products in order to meet stricter environmental guidelines in Canada and 17 U.S. states.

But the detergent companies failed to prepare consumers for the outcome, La Roi said. 

Phosphates boost the cleaning ability of detergents by eliminating streaks and hard-water deposits, but they also act as fertilizer in lakes and rivers.

Too much phosphate causes an overgrowth of algae and other plants.

Removing phosphates was the right thing to do, said La Roi. But he worries any advantage to the environment will be offset by people wasting water and energy when running their dishwasher through multiple cycles or even buying a new dishwasher.

"I'm pretty sure a lot of other people were looking at their dishwasher thinking it was time to go."          

The detergent companies should have warned consumers not to expect their dishes to come out as clean, he believes.

La Roi said he has found that some detergents work better than others, though he hasn’t found any that work as well as the old products.

"I think a lot of people have to become accustomed to seeing glasses and flatware that are not as new looking as they were."