Why Your Detergents Don’t Work

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Every couple of weeks we get a service call or two from customers whose dishwashers or washing machines aren’t cleaning the way they used to. In some cases the dishwasher is at fault because the drain may be partially clogged and your rinse cycle is throwing dirty water around or maybe a washer arm is broken and not spinning. However, there are times when a new product is functioning the way it’s supposed to, but the soap isn’t.

By early 2010 seventeen states had banned detergents with trisodium phosphates (TSP) claiming they pollute our water systems, create algae blooms and starve fish of oxygen. In response to the bans, the detergent makers removed phosphates from all their products because it was cheaper than leaving phosphates in certain lines for the non-regulated states.

We’re not going to delve into the chemical properties of TSP, just understand that TSP, a natural element, helps the rinse cycle by lowering the surface tension of water so it can bind to dirt, grease, oil, stains and even leftover detergent during the rinse cycle.

“You know, this isn’t really a huge environmental win”, says Susan Baba with Proctor & Gamble, the maker of Cascade. P&G’s reasoning is simple, people are sometimes forced to wash dishes by hand before using their dishwasher or they run their washer twice to accomplish what they used to do in one wash. Both methods waste water and energy.

In 2009, Clive Davies, an engineer with the Environmental Protection Agency, was asked during an interview with The New York Times if we should “avoid detergents altogether”. His response was “Homemade alternatives and elbow grease will really do the job.”

In most instances, new washers and dishwashers are working exactly as the manufacturer has specified. Your detergent, on the other hand, is not.

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