Have you noticed in the past year or so that your dishwasher does not seem
to clean dishes as well as it did in the past? Have you seen an increase
in mineral deposits or a whitish film on glassware? Some folks have even
had issues with their dishwasher machine spray ports clogging or failing.
The reason might be due to a recent change in the formula for dishwasher
Starting last July 1, 16 states required manufacturers of dishwashing
detergents to significantly reduce the amount of phosphate in their
formulas. Although the phosphate ban applies only to 16 states California
is not one of those 16, most companies are reformulating their entire
detergent product lines to comply with the new laws. Much of Europe has
already banned phosphate in dishwashing detergents and Canada is not far
Phosphate Benefits and Issues
Phosphate has been a main ingredient in dishwashing detergents to help get
dishes clean and reduce spotting. With calcium-rich or "hard" water
prevalent in Santa Cruz County, phosphate was extra helpful because it
helps soften the water. Phosphates help hold the minerals, such as
calcium, in the water solution and do not allow them to be deposited on
However, this cheap but effective ingredient for a long time has been
known to have an environmental cost. Phosphate basically acts as a
nutrient for plant growth. When phosphate-rich septic or treated sewage
water enters a fresh water body, the plant growth can be significant and
the plants use up too much of the dissolved oxygen in the water -- leaving
an insufficient amount for fish and other aquatic life. This process is
known as "eutrophication." Have you ever driven by a lake or lagoon and
noticed that it is all green? That is eutrophication in action.
So what is a person to do if they are experiencing spotting, film residue
or reduced dishwasher performance? The first step is to find the detergent
that works best for you. In general, the packets and tablets have been
shown to perform better than the powder or liquid detergents.
An article from the Good Housekeeping website states the following brands
have customer approval: Seventh Generation Concentrated Packets, Method
Smarty Dish, and Sun & Earth Automatic Dishwasher Detergent. If you
can't find these at your favorite store, all three are available online.
The Appliance Service Center Inc. in Santa Cruz says Cascade Complete All
in 1 works very well. They also promote a product called Dishwasher Magic
which claims EPA approval that can be used a few times a year to help
periodically remove hard water build-up that accumulates over time in your
dishwasher. This should also improve washing performance.
Another solution is to install a water softener to reduce the hardness of
the water. This facilitates the action of the detergent. However, the
traditional water softener is tough on the environment.
There are several "green" water softeners on the market, but an evaluation
of which systems are effective has yet to be conducted. EPA WaterSense is
in the process of developing a certification process for "greener" water
softeners, but it will probably take at least a year before a list of
certified "green" water softeners is available.
Arlos Anderson, owner of Blue Lotus Water Technology, says he knows of one
"green" water softener called the nuvo H2O that is available now, works
well, and is cost-effective. Anderson has installed many of these systems
and says they precipitate out calcium as a very small particle. According
to Anderson, the systems are easy to install and require no drain or
electricity. Cartridges must be replaced annually. The nuvo H2O system
uses a citrus formulation no salt to prevent and remove existing hard
water build up.
Anderson said that with the passage of Assembly Bill 1366 -- legislation
that effectively bans salt using water softeners in portions of California
-- alternatives must be found.
Ron Duncan writes a monthly column for the Sentinel. He is a manager for
the Soquel Creek Water District, which offers free visits to homes and
businesses and suggests ways to save water.