If anyone reading this believes that phosphate-free dishwasher detergents will deliver results as good as those containing phosphates, please raise your hand because my name Juma Kidawa. I am a Nigerian princess desiring only to share with you my rightful inheritance of $5 million American dollars, which only I can do through your kind offices if you will be so good as to share with me your bank account number by return e-mail.
It appears I’ve been an unwitting participant in Washington’s phased roll out of the ban on phosphate-containing dishwasher detergents. The ban, which was signed into law in 2006 and is already in effect in Spokane County, is set to take effect state-wide in July, 2010. This left me thinking that the “good stuff” was still available on store shelves in my area. That may be true, but it’s not all that’s available and my last purchase is a case in point.
Residents of Spokane County have taken to crossing over the state line and buying their dishwasher detergent in Idaho. While some have tried to characterize this as smuggling, that’s not really the case; while the law makes it illegal to sell dishwasher detergents containing phosphates, it does not outlaw possessing them or using them.
Proponents of the ban contend that Spokane residents are getting less than optimal results from the phosphate-free detergents because of their hard water. I would disagree. The phosphate-free Cascade that I’ve been using is not only giving me consistently poor results – this detergent fails to clean even the residue of mayonnaise off of a table knife (even on the extra hot cycle) – but dishes are also left with a faintly sticky residue that makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be rinsing them off before using them. And hard water is certainly not the culprit. From the City of Everett’s website:
Everett’s Drinking Water Filtration Plant uses advanced filtration processes to remove possible contaminants and takes steps to reduce the corrosiveness of the naturally soft water. Chlorine is added to make sure the water is free of harmful organisms. Fluoride is also added for dental health purposes (emphasis mine).
Since this purchase was a mistake, you would be correct in thinking that I haven’t tried any other phosphate-free products and it may well be that there are others that will work as well as those containing phosphates; I sincerely hope so. Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation claims their products work as well as high-phosphate detergents, without any special effort. The experience of Spokane County residents may indicate otherwise.
As noted in the article, there are measures that can be taken to improve the performance of phosphate-free products, among them installing water softeners or choosing a product that contains salt; both assume that hard water is the reason for poor performance. These are apparently not the same people who believe that salting icy streets will harm the Puget Sound ecosystem. (Note: that article also provides a good illustration of why government agencies may not be the right choice for guiding environmental policy.)
Please don’t assume that I’m not interested in protecting the environment; I certainly am and that’s reflected in my daily life. Protecting the environment while protecting our standard of living involves a series of trade-offs. People understand this. Trading phosphates and squeaky clean dishes for fewer algae blooms in our lakes and rivers may well be a trade that’s worth making, but please don’t insult our intelligence by asking us to ignore the evidence of our own eyes.
(Note: Jeffrey Hollender was incorrectly identified in the article as being the CEO of Seventh Heaven. He is actually the CEO of Seventh Generation.)
Update: I finally ran out of my non-phosphate detergent and my dishwasher once again produces actual clean dishes with no sticky residue. If anyone has information on a non-phosphate detergent that really works, I’d love to hear from you.