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Reformulated dishwasher detergents can lead to chalky dishes

Ana Sullivan of Clearwater Beach said she is embarrassed to have company over since she is no longer able to clean her glasses, dishes and silverware. “I did everything I could, changed dishwasher detergents four times and bought a new dishwasher,” she said.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Ana Sullivan of Clearwater Beach said she is embarrassed to have company over since she is no longer able to clean her glasses, dishes and silverware. “I did everything I could, changed dishwasher detergents four times and bought a new dishwasher,” she said.

Nancy Lincoln's drinking glasses came out of the dishwasher so white and chalky that the Palm Harbor woman threw them away and bought new ones.

Gloria Share, who lives in East Lake, said her glasses were so filmy she thought she needed a new dishwasher.

Darrell Hoag Jr. was having a similar dish problem at his home in northeast Clearwater. And if he didn't get to the bottom of it, his wife wouldn't let him live it down.

Hoag is the service manager for APSCO Appliance Centers.

"The last thing I wanted to hear is my dishwasher wasn't working and I've got to work on it," said Hoag, whose Largo-based company serves customers in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

Throughout the country, people — especially those with hard water — have reported similar complaints. The problem has been linked to newly reformulated detergents. To comply with new environmental regulations, manufacturers have recently removed all but trace amounts of phosphates, which keep minerals from clinging to dishes.

Pinellas County's director of utility operations, Bob Powell, said local water is traditionally hard, or high in minerals. From a housekeeping standpoint, it may be a nuisance, he said, but it's not a health concern.

For a number of people, their recent bout with chalky dishes is much more than a nuisance. Nell Macrini, 77, of Clearwater, said she had to scrub her silverware with a Brillo pad to get rid of the buildup.

Most of the recent phosphate regulations went into effect in July. But many detergent manufacturers rolled out their products months earlier, said Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, whose membership includes the majority of detergent makers.

Hernando and Pasco county officials said they were not aware of complaints about filmy dishes. But other local governments said complaints began to peak this summer.

Each month, Pinellas County utilities, which serves around 600,000 people, sees about four to six dishwasher-related complaints, Powell said. It had 20 in August, 16 in September and 54 in October. The county is working on an educational video about the issue.

Michelle Van Dyke, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough County's Water Resource Services division, said Hillsborough's water quality hotline had a noticeable increase in calls over the summer, but they've tapered off significantly in recent weeks.

Hoag and other Tampa Bay appliance and service centers said they were inundated with inquiries about chalky dishes. Calls to APSCO's service center more than doubled since phosphates were removed, Hoag said.

Stephen Daneman, store manager of Famous Tate Appliance and Bedding in Oldsmar, said he's been taking more customer phone complaints about dishwashers than any other product.

There are some fixes for the problem.

Hoag started noticing cloudy glasses and hazy spatulas about six months ago. He bought a new box of dishwasher detergent, thinking his old one had lost its effectiveness. That didn't work. So, he went back to the store and called one of his service technicians, Rick Watson, who suggested a product called Lemi Shine because that had worked for him and a number of his customers.

A few solutions are a bit unorthodox.

Some in the appliance business used to recommend using a scoop of Tang drink mix, Daneman said. (Hint: Don't try it if the inside of your dishwasher is plastic, unless you're really fond of orange.)

After the St. Petersburg Times reported about cloudy dishes near the Morningside Estates neighborhood, one woman called to say she had great results using denture cleaning tablets in her dishwasher.

Hoag suggests cleaning the dishwasher first with a citric acid product, if necessary. He also recommends using Lemi Shine, which contains fruit acids and fruit oils.

The product, which has been around about a decade, has generally been popular in hard water areas, said Marty Hammond, chief sales officer the manufacturer, Envirocon Technologies of Midland, Texas. Since bans on high-phosphate detergents went into effect, the privately held company is selling Lemi Shine in places it hadn't before, he said, and sales of have increased 50 percent.

Ana Sullivan, who lives on Clearwater Beach, is one of several local residents who bought new dishwashers only to realize they still had a problem.

"I did everything I could, changed dishwasher detergents four times and bought a new dishwasher," said Sullivan, 63.

Her silverware looks fine, she said, but her glasses "are not presentable for company."

Gloria Share thought she needed a new dishwasher, too. But the guy at APSCO in Clearwater said she didn't.

Instead, he handed her a sheet of paper with Hoag's suggestions. She tried them.

Now, she said, "All my glasses and dishes and everything are fine."

Warren Knapp, who lives in St. Petersburg, found another solution.

He went to Big Lots and bought a dozen boxes of the old Cascade. His friends in Seminole and Tierra Verde stocked up, too.

"We have enough that we'll survive a year and a half," he said."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com.

Helpful tips

Tips from local repair shops and water officials:

• If the inside of your dishwasher is scaly, try a citric acid bath to clean your empty dishwasher. Many appliance stores supply them.

• Add about a tablespoon of Lemi Shine, available at grocery and discount stores, to the main wash cup. Make sure to fill the rest of the cup and the prewash cup with dishwasher detergent.

• A cup or two of regular white vinegar at the beginning of the wash cycle may also be helpful.

And more …

Suggestion from Procter & Gamble Co., which makes Cascade:

"Consumers who are having ongoing issues with spotting or filming might consider switching to a unit dose product like Cascade Action Pacs … (which) contain a water softening agent that helps reduce filming and ensures that consumers use the right dose every time."

Reformulated dishwasher detergents can lead to chalky dishes 11/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 25, 2010 11:58pm]

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