Restoring that clean dishes sparkle?

secret ingredientIf you have a dishwasher (and especially if you have hard water) you’ve probably noticed sometime in the last year that your dishes haven’t been getting as clean, and end up with a dull finish or white film. What you may not know is the reason why.

It turns out that in July laws went into effect in several states banning the sale of phosphate-containing dishwasher soaps. Phosphates are chemical compounds that among other things help soften water (which enhances sudsing) and suspends particles of solids to keep them from sticking. Because of the number of states simultaneously enforcing the ban, practically all manufacturers have been forced to modify their formulas to leave out phosphates, even in states where there is no ban.

So, what to do if you’ve recently found your dishwasher to be practically useless? For one thing, some reports indicate that phosphate-free formulas are improving, although still not as good as the old stuff. For us, we haven’t yet noticed an improvement, probably because our Arizona community has fairly hard water and we don’t have a water softener.

The solution we’ve discovered that actually works is to enhance our dishwasher soap with a small amount (typically a half a teaspoon or less per load) of TSP. TSP is a heavy-duty commercial cleaning product that turns out to have as it’s main ingredient trisodium phosphate (hence the name), which is not coincidentally the exact ingredient that used to be in your dishwasher soap. It’s sold at most hardware stores, so we’ve been picking up a pound of it for about $4 at Home Depot, which lasts for quite a while.

You shouldn’t need much of it at all–the original formulas only contained 5-8% phosphates, so don’t go overboard. It’s powerful stuff, so it can potentially discolor or worse if you use too much. That said, it’s been nice to finally be able to use our dishwasher again since we discovered this about a month ago.