Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why Did My Dishwasher Suddenly Stop Cleaning Dishes?

I thought I was going crazy. It seemed like overnight the dishwasher stopped getting things clean and shiny. Then it would start working again, then it stopped again.
I tried changing brands of detergent. I tried increasing the temperature of the hot water. Nothing seemed to make a difference. It was to the point where you practically had to wash the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. We were about to bite the bullet and spend hundreds of dollars on a new dishwasher when I ran across the following article: NPR on Dirty Dishes.
Seems they took a very important ingredient out of dishwasher detergent: phosphates. They help strip the grunge from your dishes AND keep it from reattaching to them further on in the cycle. I'm familiar with phosphates. I use TSP (trisodium phosphate) when I'm prepping walls for fresh paint or doing a deep clean on floors, cabinets, pretty much anything that can be cleaned with a strong detergent. Now that I knew what to search for, I found plenty of blog posts about America's new dirty little secret: Dirty Dishes.
So I hobbled down to my local A*C*E Hardware and bought a small tub of TSP to "test" the theory posed in the NPR article. I rinsed my dishes the "old way" (as opposed to my "new way" of practically washing them BEFORE I put them in the dish washer, then running the Rinse/hold Cycle, THEN running the Pots and pans Cycle with two overfilled detergent cups). I added 1/2 tablespoon of TSP to each detergent cup, then the "old normal" amount of dish washing detergent (Finish Advanced Gel) and ran it on the Normal Cycle.
When the washer was done and I opened the door, I could not believe my eyes. The silverware was so clean and sparkling I had to put on sunglasses. There was not a speck of food or film on any plate, bowl, or glass. I literally did a happy dance. I did not experience the white powdery residue that Jill complained of in her blog post.
There are still a couple of brands of dishwasher detergent that contain phosphates. Our government, in their infinite wisdom, recognized that it was really important for restaurants and hotels to have clean eating utensils so COMMERCIAL products still contain phosphates. I found several sites on the Internet that sell Cascade Professional Line detergent (there are other brands, but I'm familiar with Cascade). It's sold in cases only (6 boxes to a case). The boxes are 85 oz. each so they last a long time making them quite worth their average cost of $10.00 per box.
I was fortunate to have a commercial cleaning supply company in my town that ordered me a case and once the word got out amongst my friends, I had no trouble selling boxes to them.
I have noticed as time goes by, that the filmy crap that had built up on my glasses and plates is being washed away by the Cascade Pro detergent so I fully expect them all to look like new by the end of the year. So nice not to have to buy new glasses because the old ones got cloudy AND not to have spent $800.00 on a new dishwasher when all I needed was the right detergent.
Now, about your laundry. Do you have multiple stain removing products in your laundry room? Think hard; did your mother have all that crap to do laundry when you were a kid? Do your clothes never seem as clean as your mom's laundry? It's not your imagination. They took the phosphates out of laundry soap in 1996. I've yet to find a commercial laundry detergent that I'm willing to try but I can still get that old-fashioned clean that mom got. I add 2 - 3 tablespoons of TSP to each load of laundry. I'm using less laundry soap and fabric softener since I started doing this. My whites are whiter, my colors are brighter, and I rarely have to pre-treat stains anymore. Bonus: my washer tub had a scum line of soap buildup towards the top of the tub---it's gone. The tub is shiny, squeaky clean, and no longer smells like mold or mildew (just like the tub on my dishwasher).
If you choose to do your own TSP test, be aware that there is something out there called a TSP substitute. IT IS NOT THE SAME THING AS TSP and contains no phosphates. Do not waste your money on it.
Do not bitch at me about polluting the environment.
  1. The reason for removing the phosphates was disproved after the fact.
  2. More phosphates enter the environment from agriculture than any other source.
  3. I am not connected to a public sewer system. My phosphates stay on my land.
Now go forth and enjoy that magic that is clean dishes and clothes.

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