You’re Not Imagining Things: Dishwasher Detergent Doesn’t Clean Like It Used To

published Jul 12, 2021
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When you take the time to run a load of dishes, it’s frustrating to find that they’re still dirty in the end. Whether yours still have bits of food residue or they’re covered in weird film, don’t freak out — it’s likely not your dishwasher’s fault. There’s a simple reason why your dishes aren’t getting as clean as you’d like: Dish soap just isn’t as effective as it used to be. 

Annoying as that is, it’s also for a good reason: to protect the environment. Back in 2010, many dish detergent manufacturers reworked their formulas to protect waterways from chemical compounds that could harm fish and create algae blooms. That’s great, but the problem is the new formulas are missing a crucial ingredient — phosphates — that once helped dishwashers achieve a sparkling clean. 

Phosphates help clean dishes a few ways. First, they soften hard water by preventing calcium and magnesium ions from binding with your dish detergent. Dish soaps that contain phosphates are better at preventing soap scum and, as a result, cleaning more efficiently. On the flip side, without phosphates, modern dishwashing detergent solutions are gentler and not as effective at cleaning. The solution you need to add to your dish-washing regimen? Rinse aid!

Also called rinse agents, rinse aids are a type of phosphate-free surfactant. Basically, a rinse aid helps water spread more fully over the dishes you’re washing and less likely to create droplets that leave water spots. If you have hard water, your dishes are particularly prone to a filmy white residue, and you could definitely benefit from rinse aid. Another plus: Many rinse aids contain ingredients known as anti-redeposition agents, which keep the food in the wash water from going back on dishes. Rinse aid also helps dishes dry faster, so you can skip the heat cycle and save energy. All these benefits add up to less frustration, more efficiency, and most importantly, cleaner dishes.

Now, the important part: What does this mean for you? The simplest answer is if you’re not happy with how your dishes are coming out (or you’re tired of re-washing stuff), it might be time to invest in some rinse aid. The good news is, your dishwasher probably has a special compartment for rinse aid, which it will release during the final rinse portion of the cycle. Simply add the liquid in as you would liquid detergent.

No rinse aid compartment? No worries! Grab all-in-one dishwasher pods that contain rinse aid along with detergent.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: You’re Not Imagining Things: Modern Dish Soap Actually Doesn’t Clean Like It Used To