If you’ve had experience with different kinds of dishwashers, you know that some clean better than others. Newer isn’t necessarily better. Stainless steel finishes, electronic controls, and ultra-quiet modes don’t have much to do with getting plates and silverware to come out spotless.
What matters is whether the dishwasher sprays enough water in the right places at high enough pressure to dislodge all the food particles from a fully loaded rack. The best dishwashing detergents won’t compensate for a poorly designed or underpowered dishwashing machine. (Though later in this story you’ll learn how you can supercharge your dishwasher powder/gel.)
Thanks to new proposed regulations from the Department of Energy bureaucrats, dishwasher manufacturers could soon be forced to make dishwashers that can’t wash dishes as well as the models you used decades ago.
Government Dishes Out Petty New Dishwasher Restrictions
According to the political insider rag The Hill, “The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers is accusing the Department of Energy (DOE) of a politically motivated drive to increase dishwasher efficiency standards, which are so bad that they would cause consumers to re-wash dishes, erasing any efficiency gains. Rob McAver, the group’s head lobbyist, said regulators are going too far and the new rules will allow only 3.1 gallons [of water] to be used to wash each load of dishes. … They then ran standard tests with food stuck to dishes. ‘They found some stuff that was pretty disgusting,’ McAver said.”
Dishwashers that don’t wash; toilets that don’t flush; showerheads that don’t give your hair a good rinse…all in the name of “efficiency.” At least with regard to low-flow showerheads, it is possible to “hack” them and remove the government-mandated water-flow restrictor. It would be virtually impossible, however, to modify a low-flow dishwasher without completely reengineering it.
Therefore, if you have a dishwasher you know is going to need to be replaced in the near future, you might want to replace it now. At some point, when only 3.1-gallon dishwashers are available, you might have to go back to hand washing your dishes in order to get them clean.
For now, you can still obtain dishwashers that produce clean dishes. Opt for a heavy duty model from a reliable brand. As with any appliance, the cheapest dishwashers will tend to be the least reliable and produce the worst results. But the priciest dishwashers with the fanciest looks and features aren’t necessarily the best. High-end models that are less popular may have more things that can go wrong down the road. Sometimes a mid-level model from a top brand is your best bet. Check Consumer Reports for their latest ratings.
The Renegade Way to Get Your Dishes Really Clean (And You Don’t Have to Risk Prison to Do It)
Over time, a dishwasher’s effectiveness will decline. Cracks and crevices inside your dishwasher can be breeding grounds for odorous gunk. Also mineral deposits from tap water, residue from detergent, and undissolved food debris can all hinder your dishwasher’s performance over time. All that buildup can restrict water flow. Worse, some of it can get re-deposited on your dishes during wash/rinse cycles.
Running an empty wash cycle with two cups of vinegar can help clean your dishwasher. But if you want to get it really clean and back to peak performance, you’ll first need to physically scrub it out. You’ll be removing the buildup that today’s phosphate-free detergents leave behind.
The makers of Cascade and other dishwasher detergents removed phosphates from their products starting in mid 2010 after several states banned the additive. Environmentalists claim phosphates threaten fragile ecosystems in lakes, rivers, and streams. But household dishwashers accounted for less than 2% of phosphate pollution. They had no noticeable effect on the environment.
Nevertheless, phosphates disappeared from dishwasher soaps. And the result was dirtier dishes. Phosphate acts like a rinsing agent, preventing food particles and detergent residue from reattaching to dishes. There’s really no substitute for it.
In the June 2014 Independent Living, an article (“The Renegade Way to Get Your Clothes Really Clean”) suggested adding tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) to your laundry to make your phosphate-free laundry detergent work like it should. You can do likewise for your dishes. Add no more than a tablespoon of TSP to your main dispenser along with the conventional automatic dish detergent you normally use.
You should notice a difference – cleaner dishes and no more film left behind on glasses or the walls of your dishwasher. Your dishwasher itself will remain cleaner when you use TSP, because the phosphate breaks up residues left by detergents and prevents them from clinging to surfaces.
“Bandit” Dishwasher Detergent Defies Phosphate Ban
Alternatively, you can still find dishwasher detergents (not on your grocery store’s shelf) that contain phosphate. For example, some commercial-grade detergents used by restaurants and hotels still contain the “banned” substance.
Actually, there’s no formal federal ban on phosphates in consumer dishwashing soaps. But a patchwork of state and local bans, pressure from environmentalists, and the threat of a federal crackdown have worked to create an effective nationwide ban. The major brands and chain stores are all enforcing it.
You can get around it by buying your dishwasher detergent directly from a renegade brand. One is called Bubble Bandit (727-242-2145; www.bubblebandit.com). Bubble Bandit dishwasher detergent proudly includes phosphates!
According to the company, “Phosphates help remove any hardness ions present in the water (such as calcium, magnesium, or iron), which allows other components in the cleaning process to work more effectively. And, phosphates help remove dirt particles from the surface being cleaned, through the suspension of fine particles for efficient removal in the rinse.”
Reacquaint your dishwasher with phosphates and discover what sparkling clean dishes really look like.