Since dishwasher detergents have "gone green," a lot of households have the dishwasher blues. In 2010, auto detergent makers were required to remove phosphates from their products because of their toll on the environment.
But those new formulations don't seem to clean as well, and they often leave a cloudy film on the dishes.
In the past, detergent manufacturers used phosphates to separate calcium and other minerals on dishes, which helped consumers fight hard water build-up and enjoy sparkling dishes.
But when too much phosphate ends up in aquatic environments, it spurs the growth of algae blooms that rob oxygen from fish and plants. The regulation banning phosphates from dishwashing detergents lessens the amount of phosphates that end up in the waterways like streams, rivers and lakes throughout the U.S.
When the new detergents came out, I blamed my old dishwasher for not doing its job. Our household water softener had also gone out, and hard water contributed to the problem as well.
I've tried quite a few remedies with mixed success:
I added vinegar to the rinse cycle. This helped, but the acid was hard on the metal parts in my old dishwasher. I ended up with some rusty spots, and that accelerated the need for a new washer.
I bought the new dishwasher thinking my troubles were over. Wrong. The new "water-efficient" dishwashers don't seem to spray the water as forcefully on the dishes. I probably use more water rinsing off the dishes before loading than the new washer actually saves. And by the way, the experts say that washing the dishes by hand is not necessarily better for the environment, experts say, because people tend to let the tap run even when they are not rinsing.
I tried using a couple of different rinse aids, but they didn't eliminate the cloudy film. I stopped using the heat cycle, because it just baked the film on the dishes.
I used several different types of more expensive detergents, including gels, "powerballs" and other all-in-one tablets. One brand that boasts "complete" in its title actually made the film worse.
I tried a powdered product called Lemi Shine on the advice of a neighbor.
And it worked!
She called her plumber because her new dishwasher was cleaning so poorly. He told her there was nothing wrong with the installation, and suggested she try Lemi Shine.
I added a spoonful of this to my regular detergent. It really does get rid of the milky residue. The dishes seemed cleaner, and the glasses were sparkling. The manufacturer information says that this product is made of "100 percent natural fruit acids and oils," and no phosphates or fillers.
But, at $4 for a 12-ounce jar, the costs add up.
I tried saving some money by making homemade dishwashing detergent, following a recipe I found online at thefruygalfind.com:
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
1 76-ounce box Borax (found in the supermarket detergent aisle)
1 55-ounce box box Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (also found in the detergent aisle)
24 packages of unsweetened lemonade drink mix, or citric acid (I used the lemonade mix, because I couldn't find citric acid. Warning: the lemonade mix can stain your dispenser cup)
3 cups Epsom salt
Stir the mixture thoroughly. To prevent clumping, leave the mixture out on the counter for a couple of days, stirring occasionally.
I've used the homemade detergent off-and-on for about a month.
I wish I could say that it does a better job than my generic dishwashing soap plus a tablespoon of Lemi Shine. But, unfortunately, it doesn't, even when I add a half-cup of vinegar to the rinse water.
Perhaps it works better if you live in an area where the water isn't as hard, or if you have a water softener in your home.
I'll keep hinting to my husband about installing a new water softener, and that may solve some of the problem (as well as make it easier to clean the toilets, tubs and sinks!).
Until then, I'm forking out the money on Lemi Shine. It works equally well with generic or higher-priced detergents, I'm saving costs by using the less expensive brands.
I've heard that the manufacturers are still coming out with new formulations, so maybe I'll eventually find a different detergent that works better.
If you've found something that works, I'd love to hear about it!
Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.