Fish smile but some consumers frown at new genre of phosphate-free detergents

Jan 26, 2011

introduced to combat the phosphate-fed algae blooms that foul the nation's lakes and rivers -- may be making the fish happy. But they're putting a frown on the faces of some consumers who say the new products leave dishes dirty. That's the topic of the cover story in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN Assistant Managing Editor Michael McCoy described how new laws in 16 states require manufacturers to eliminate phosphates from automatic dishwasher detergents sold in the United States. Once hailed as a wonder for making dishes squeaky clean, sodium tripolyphosphate later became a villain in the fight against water pollution.

It can wash down household drains, through sewage treatment facilities, and into lakes and streams. Just like the fertilizer applied to crops, it kick-starts growth of algae, which die, decay, and deplete oxygen from the water, causing kills and other problems. McCoy explains that the well-intentioned phosphate-removal laws, however, have caused an unintended problem for some consumers, leaving dishes and glassware with spots and unsightly films.

Detergent manufacturers are now turning to chemists and the chemical industry in a search for phosphate-free formulas that don't leave dishes dirty. Some manufacturers have already found promising alternatives, while others are testing new detergent ingredients, including polymers and enzymes, that can clean like phosphates without contributing to water pollution.

Explore further: Researchers experiment with new uses for nutritious peanut skins

More information: "Goodbye, Phosphates" pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/89/8904cover.html

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not rated yet Jan 28, 2011
Trying to wash dishes without friction is inherently difficult and inefficient. With far less soap (non-phospate) and less hot water you can get dishes perfectly clean if you add a little elbow grease. By the time you rinse and handle dishes to load them in washer you could almost have them washed by hand. I'm not saying dishwashers have no place whatsoever, but I suspect in many cases people could actually be more satified without them.