Dishwasher detergent formula change brings cloudy glasses


Nicole Misencik/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Dishwashers have made our lives easier, but some central Indiana homeowners are finding a pesky problem that's causing the dishes to look dirty. A missing ingredient in your detergent is to blame.

It's an aisle of endless promises: sparkling, shining, shimmering dishes. But one thing's missing from this corridor of clean.

Amber Weishaar has noticed the results in her dishwasher - a spotty residue that makes the dishwasher dirty and the glasses foggy.

"There's just gross white film on them," she said.

Amber hadn't changed soaps or anything she was doing, but something had changed in the cleaning process.

In July, Indiana was one of a dozen states to adopt a phosphate ban in dishwasher soaps. That's the main cleaning ingredient. Phosphates damage the environment by promoting algae growth.

Manufacturers knew the bans were coming and decided to reformulate their products for all 50 states. But getting rid of phosphates in dishwasher detergent leaves less-than-ideal results.

"The soap had changed and there wasn't anything on the packaging. There weren't any signs. It would have been nice to know. Instead of putting it off and thinking we were going to have to pay for the dishwasher to be cleaned or replaced," said Amber.

Christopher Sublett from Vogel Appliance says Indiana's hard water is causing part of the problem.

"The hard water reacts with the new soap. It makes the soap have a tough time washing the dishes and it also has a hard time dissolving completely and that's where you get the film on your dishes," said Sublett.

"Phosphate was a major workhorse ingredient. It helped remove stains and food and grease on your dishes and your glasses. It is not an easy process. You can't just take out a major ingredient and overnight come up with a product that's gonna do the same thing," said Brian Sansoni, American Cleaning Institute.

One of the largest manufacturers of detergents, Proctor and Gamble, has seen an abundance of complaints on its website:

"White residue." "Horribly disappointed." "Ruined dishes."

The white stuff sticking to your glasses is calcium carbonate, which may not look pretty but is harmless.

Proctor and Gamble says its research and development teams have been working for two years trying to come up with formulations that work as well as the old stuff with phosphates. It says spotting or filming can occur, particularly in harder water, with these new phosphate-free formulas.

The problem is a pain, but the fix can be simple. First, use a dishwasher cleaner every six months.

"That helps clean off all of the hard water deposits and soap buildup inside your dishwasher," said Sublett.

Then, find a good soap. Sublett says powders seem to work best if you don't have a water softener.

Use less soap, since hot water alone does a lot of the cleaning. Finally, a small amount of citric acid with the soap can help keep the film off. (you can find citric acid in the baking aisle of your supermarket with canning materials.)

The best way to get rid of the film is to put a cup of white vinegar on the top dishwasher rack and run it through a cleaning cycle.