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CleaningMatters logo sm November/December 2010

Changes in Automatic Dishwasher Detergents

An Update on Reduced Phosphate Products

Consumers may have noticed a change in their dishwasher detergents. Recently, members of the American Cleaning Institute®, a trade group whose membership includes manufacturers for a vast majority of the nation’s detergent market, voluntarily agreed to reduce the amount of phosphorous in dishwasher detergents.

The voluntary action is the result of a team effort by the detergent industry and lawmakers across the country. This supplements the legislative ban on phosphorous in at least seventeen U.S. states (including Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin) and similar restrictions in Canada.

Although phosphate was removed from the major brands of laundry detergent by 1993, it took longer for manufacturers to develop dishwasher detergent products with only trace amounts of phosphate. Because of the different role phosphorous plays in cleaning in the low water, no suds dishwasher conditions, removing phosphate from dishwasher detergent presented manufacturers with a difficult challenge in reformulation. After 20 years of innovations, new products are now available.

What did phosphate do?
When used in automatic dishwashing detergents, phosphate helped to remove food and grease, reduce spotting and filming, control water hardness and suspend the bits of food so they were not redistributed on your dishes.

What impact does phosphate have on the environment?
Phosphate supports the growth of plants, including algae. When too much phosphate is present, excessive amounts of algae can develop. This may lead to undesirable water quality impacts, including reductions in aquatic life, and poor taste and odors in drinking water.

So, is reduced phosphate dishwashing detergent better for the environment?
Scientific studies demonstrate that a noticeable improvement in water quality would be affected only through decreases across all phosphorus-contributing sources, including fertilizer (residential and agricultural), construction run-off and poorly-treated municipal sewage. Although phosphate from automatic dishwashing represents a minimal contribution in the environment, members of ACI are doing their part.

If consumers have questions about their dishwasher detergents, ACI recommends that they contact the manufacturer. Most product labels contain a phone number or website for consumer questions.

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FAQs: Phosphate and Dishwasher Detergent
Clean Living at Home: Dishwashing
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