The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Saving The Bay, One Dirty Dish At A Time

My life, lately, has seemed like a bad commercial; one of those where some clueless consumer is using a product that doesn’t really work all that well, and as a result ends up doing twice as much work. That is, until some ultra savvy consumer shows the clueless one the error of his/her ways. Just as the 30-second drama comes to the end, the dawn breaks, the sun shine down on our clueless consumer — who’s no longer clueless, and whose world is a brighter happier place. It might even switch from color to black and white.

But we seem to be stuck in first half of the scenario above, without any sign of a miraculous solution on the way.

It’s been going on for months now. We load and run this dishwasher. (This job often falls to me, since I’m usually the last one to go to bed and can start it before I turn in.) We open it and start unloading it, only to find that some of our dishes are … well … not clean. Anything that was on them when they went into the dishwasher is when we take them out. There may be a bit less of it, but by then it’s also baked on.

The result is that we either end up rising them, and scrubbing off any stubborn remains of the day’s meals, before they go into the dishwasher. The alternative is that we end up washing them after come out of the dishwasher. One night, I actually filled the sink with hot, soapy water and washed them as I took them out of of the dishwasher. Either way, the dishes now take twice as long.

At first we thought it was the dishwasher. But then we notice the dish detergent tray had a build-up of blueish-white soapy stuff on it, which also found its way on to the dishes. Then the hubby said something about the detergent not containing phosphorus. One Google search later, I had my answer.

We’re saving the Chesapeake Bay, one dirty dish at a time. Three years ago, Maryland banned high phosphorus dish detergents, in a move to protect the Chesapeake Bay from one of its top three pollutants. Stores had three years to comply, and ours is among the many that have done so, instead of the few stores still selling banned dish detergent.

Under Maryland’s law, stores had until July first to make their shelves phosphate free and get rid of any automatic dish detergent that had more than trace amounts of phosphorus. But more than six weeks after the ban went into effect, we still found it.

We shopped 10 stores in the Baltimore area and found loads of banned detergent at four of them, including Mars, Dollar General, Superfresh, and Family Dollar locations. Our discovery surprised State Senator Brian Frosh, a primary sponsor of the phosphate legislation. But he says cracking down on the ban isn’t easy. He explains, “We really can’t afford to become the dishwasher detergent police.”

…[Dennis] Griesing [with the American Cleaning Institute] also responded to our findings, telling us, “It’s an anomaly. I don’t understand it. It may be oversight. I just can’t explain it.” But the ACI is quick to explain and talk about one thing: the effectiveness of these new environmentally friendly products made by its members. We asked if the phosphate free products can be as effective. Griesing’s answer was a solid, “Yes. We believe they can.”

But not everybody’s a believer. As Jenny [Sterman] told us, her dishes seem a little dingier since she switched to the phosphate free product. But it’s a trade-off she says she’s willing to make to protect the Bay. Atwater says, “I generally think it’s a small price to pay to have dishes that don’t sparkle as long as you’re helping the environment.”

I get it. I really do. But it’s not just “dishes that don’t sparkle.” It’s dishes that have to be nearly washed before the go into the dishwasher or thoroughly washed when they come out. Either way, it’s another 20 to 30 minutes out of a day that’s already packed.

Most days I feel like I’m running out of time, and lately it seems like I have even less of it. Now, at least I know why. I’m all for saving the Bay. But can someone please tell me if there’s a phosphate-free or low-phosphate detergent out there that works just as well as the stuff we can’t buy in Maryland anymore. (Or the stuff we’re not supposed to be able to buy in Maryland anymore.) Can someone point me to a product that doesn’t require more time standing over the sink, and that doesn’t make this practically-daily chore in a family of four twice as long?

I’m desperate for a happy end to my commercial.


  1. I hear you on the dingy dishes. Try a detergent that was originally made to be greener (palmolive eco and seventh generation, mrs meyers products) since those formulas didn’t just take the phosphates out to comply with the law, they were created to clean well w/out them to begin with. Make sure your dishwasher heats the water very hot since that helps cut the grease. I have also found that depending on the style and process of the dishwasher some do better with liquid and some do better with powdered. If you used powdered, switch to liquid.

  2. Are you sure your dishwasher isn’t part of the problem? My dishes were coming out less and less clean. I had assumed it was because I was putting the dishes in dirty, or I bought cheap soap, so I started pre-washing, changing soaps, etc and it didn’t help. I quick google search and I found some troubleshooting information. I googled my model number, got for repair info, and a screwdriver. In about 10 minutes and I had the spray arms apart and found the sources of the problem (clogged screen and some little bits of stuff stuck in holes in the spray arms) I fixed the problems and put it back together and things are coming out clean again!

  3. That’s a possibility. We had a problem with water leaking out of it for a while, and it turned out that one of the spray arms was blocked from turning. But having read the article, the period during which we started having this problem lines up with when stores had to start complying with the law.