Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

More on the Dishwasher Detergent Issue

In response to Funny’s recent rant about phosphate-free detergents, reader Linda responded with this observation:

 So, I did some more searching online and I found this site that went over several options. With a little more searching, I found that I could buy the commercial (phosphate-full) Cascade at a chain called Gordon Food Service that had some outlets in my area. Since the BF had an appointment not far from one today, I asked him to pick up a box. We had a pretty full dishwasher, so he gave it a test run today while I was at work. Success!! 🙂

So I went over to Jill’s blog and found a truly awesome discussion, complete with details of experiments with various products and photos. Interestingly, she reports that recent science indicates that phosphates are not the environmental menace we’ve been made to believe they are:

A Minnesota study determined that the amount of phosphates generated from home use that were actually reaching bodies of fresh water was about 1.9%. And, in 2011, the University of Washington released a study that determined that phosphorous runoff from detergents, even when discharged directly into the Spokane River, never worked as an algae fertilizer: “Effluents making their way into the river contained phosphorus in complex molecular forms which are not bioavailable. Algae lack the enzymes necessary to break down this phosphorus, meaning it is essentially harmless.”*

*But see comments below and update for the full story on this statement.

Basically what’s happening here is we’re all being made to do without something that works for questionable reasons.

Not quite all of us: it’s OK to inconvenience the hoi polloi and put families’ health at risk by making them eat off dirty dishes, but it’s not OK to inconvenience corporate America: real detergent is still freely available to those who use it in vast quantities: restaurants, hotels, and institutions.

Jill also includes a long list of links to articles proving her point on this matter.

For  me, the TSP used in small quantities (not more than 1/4 teaspoon) is working, although it certainly is a nuisance to have to scrub its stain off the inside of the dishwasher door. And most of a lifetime supply of Finish Powerless Powerball detergent tabs resides on my storage shelves. So I’ll probably finish off the Finish and then buy some of the Professional Line Cascade, since Jill’s tests seem to indicate it works very well.

…hey! Waitaiminit!…

Just checked and discovered the Costco box of Finish hasn’t been opened yet!

w00t! Back it goes!

I’m taking that back to the store TODAY and ordering up some actual detergent for restaurants. The city has several restaurant supply houses, one of which is on my way to a Costco — if they carry commercial dishwasher detergent, I’ll stop there to pick it up. Otherwise: order it online!

Update: Given that Jill takes the quote from the University of Washington study out of context, thereby making it seem to draw a different conclusion than what the report actually presents, let’s take a look at a few lines from the Avatar of Scientific Accuracy, the beloved Wikipedia:

It is unclear what causes HABs [harmful algae blooms]; their occurrence in some locations appears to be entirely natural,[16] while in others they appear to be a result of human activities.[17] Furthermore, there are many different species of algae that can form HABs, each with different environmental requirements for optimal growth. The frequency and severity of HABs in some parts of the world have been linked to increased nutrient loading from human activities. In other areas, HABs are a predictable seasonal occurrence resulting from coastal upwelling, a natural result of the movement of certain ocean currents.[18] The growth of marine phytoplankton (both non-toxic and toxic) is generally limited by the availability of nitrates and phosphates, which can be abundant in coastal upwelling zones as well as in agricultural run-off. The type of nitrates and phosphates available in the system are also a factor, since phytoplankton can grow at different rates depending on the relative abundance of these substances (e.g. ammonia, urea, nitrate ion). A variety of other nutrient sources can also play an important role in affecting algal bloom formation, including iron, silica or carbon. Coastal water pollution produced by humans and systematic increase in sea water temperature have also been suggested as possible contributing factors in HABs.[19] Other factors such as iron-rich dust influx from large desert areas such as the Sahara are thought to play a role in causing HABs.[20] Some algal blooms on the Pacific coast have also been linked to natural occurrences of large-scale climatic oscillations such as El Niño events. While HABs in the Gulf of Mexico have been occurring since the time of early explorers such as Cabeza de Vaca,[21] it is unclear what initiates these blooms and how large a role anthropogenic and natural factors play in their development. It is also unclear whether the apparent increase in frequency and severity of HABs in various parts of the world is in fact a real increase or is due to increased observation effort and advances in species identification technology.

Sources for this paragraph are as follows:

Sellner, K.G.; Doucette G.J., and Kirkpatrick G.J. (2003). “Harmful Algal blooms: causes, impacts and detection”. Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology 30 (7): 383–406. doi:10.1007/s10295-003-0074-9. PMID 12898390

Van Dolah, F.M. (2000). “Marine Algal Toxins: Origins, Health Effects, and Their Increased Occurrence”. Environmental Health Perspectives (Brogan &#38) 108 (suppl.1): 133–141. doi:10.2307/3454638. JSTOR 3454638. PMC 1637787. PMID 10698729.

Clearly, this is a very complex issue. Algal blooms, some of them toxic and some of them leading to eutrophication, have been happening since the memory of Person runneth  not to the contrary…and certainly since long before any upright ape figured out how to make soap. That doesn’t mean your dishwasher isn’t suffocating the nearest lake. But it does cast some doubt.

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Author: funny

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  1. I don’t know….is this just a question of appearance or of cleanness? Do we really need glasses to be sparkly?

    My family has a house on a lake that has been plagued by seaweed–rendering it almost unswimmable. I remember when the lake was different. Phosphates are a possible culprit.

    I don’t really care about my glasses being sparkly–perhaps this is something promoted by those who sell detergent??

    • IMHO, if your glasses are covered with grease — as mine have been until I tried TSP — they’re NOT CLEAN. Also, check out what Jill has to say about whether the idea that a small amount of TSP run through a residential dishwasher actually is the cause of algae overgrowth. There’s apparently some credible evidence that it is not.

      And even if it is: Why, if this stuff is destroying our ponds, lakes, and waterways, why should the heavy-duty users of dishwash detergent — restaurants, hotels, prisons, and care institutions that wash more dishes in a single day than you and I wash in an entire year — be exempt? It just doesn’t make sense.

      If you don’t care whether the vessels that you eat and drink from are clean, or if you don’t mind washing everything by hand, that’s fine. But give us a choice! Sell the nonphosphate detergents side-by-side with the detergent that works, just as grocery stores now do with “green” wash-it-by-hand dish detergent, laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaners, shampoos, and the like. Many people are willing to make that trade-off, as is easy to see by the growing popularity of “green” products. If the government wants to promote these products, then give manufacturers and retailers a tax break for setting a price below that of products that do work — then even more people will shift to them.

      But don’t take away an effective product from everyone based on a premise that appears to be false.

  2. Wait a minute!

    You’re telling there was an EXTREME overreaction to something?

    This is…I don’t even know what to believe anymore!

    • I really don’t know. But I think it’s worth doing some in-depth research if one has one’s doubts. Jill’s list includes sources with titles that lead one to suspect their objectivity; however, she also lists sources that are well known for accuracy. Most of them simply report that the newer detergents don’t get dishes clean, or complain about the fact.

      Here’s the URL for a report on the University of Washington study, which is a great deal more nuanced than Jill claims: Here’s another report, from a science site, on the same study:

      In brief, they find that not all phosphate released into waterways is usable by algae. But that also is qualified — go to these sites and take a look.

      It’s also important to remember that household products are far from the only contributor of phosphates. Organic products — leaves, twigs, and blossoms that fall into the water; fish, amphibians, and aquatic reptiles and their excreta; saliva, sweat, and excreta from mammals and birds; dead birds and other animals falling into the water — all contain and contribute phosphates. As an example: unless you drain a swimming pool and refill once every two or three years, you need to use a chemical called “Phos-Free” to precipitate out the phosphates that accumulate from ordinary use and from the daily contributions of plant life and passing birds and insects. If you don’t, algae will grow in your pool no matter how much chlorine you dump into it.

      However, it’s possible — as the U. of Washington study suggests — to process waste water to eliminate most of the types of phosphates that contribute to algal overgrowth. If I can process my swimming pool water for that purpose, why can’t municipalities?

  3. I am now wondering what I am missing since I have never noticed my dishes being any less clean. Is it because my dishwasher cycle is about 96 minutes? After exposing my dishes to over an hour and a half of hot water maybe I don’t need detergent at all?? Maybe I will try that…

    • You may have softer water than we do.

      Phosphates show the greatest cleaning improvement when you’re using hard water. Water supplies in the Southwest are notoriously hard.

      My dishwasher runs for 100 minutes, and the dishes are coming out dirty.

  4. IMHO this whole removal of TSP is a joke…and to blame the algae blooms on this product is sheer folly. The real culprit is the “effluent” (that stuff you flush down the toilet) leaching into the Chesapeake Bay and other shore area due to over building in resort area. One just has to take a boat ride up and down the tributaries to the Bay and you can see the discharge. BUT this would require an expensive and unpopular fix. So instead the authorities blame detergents…cheicken farmers abd agriculture over 300 miles a way from the Bay. Here in the “Free State” we now have a “rain-tax” supposedly to comply with federal mandates. BUT there is now way to get away from paying the tax even if one installs rain barrels…rain gardens…and alternative means to avoid such contaminations to escape. Just another money grab…IMHO. If they were serious about this they would offer incentives to cut down on the discharges not more taxes….Just my 2 cents….

    • Well, whether there’s good reason to take phosphates out of consumers’ hands or not, the heavy-handed way in which they’re doing it is not winning friends and influencing people.

      😀 I take that back: it’s “influencing people,” all right: in exactly the opposite way the Greens desire.

      IMHO, if you give people a choice and explain the reasons carefully and repeatedly, most people will make the right decision. Some will not; but in this instance, if 70% or 80% do, then 70% or 80% less phosphates will be discharged into the wild.

  5. Pingback: TSP: Dishwasher Rises from the Dead! | Funny about Money

  6. Interesting reading – I poked around and that Cascade Professional with Phosphates product appears to be discontinued – the replacement product code is PGC59535 – and I can’t find anything to indicate if the new version has phosphates or not.

    Not sure if I need a caseful of detergent, but then again, it would probably last me a lifetime since I run the machine only 2 times a week!

  7. I took a photo of the ingredients list on the box of professional Cascade purchased at GFS. Here are the ingredients in order: sodium carbonate, tripolypentasodium phosphate, sodium sulfate, sodium silicate, sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate, water.

    Wow, that’s a lot of sodium! 😉

    I also visited the website of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and looked up phosphorus. There is a lot of information on the site about phosphorus, some of which is WAAYY above my head since I am not a chemical engineer. In a much more readable document called “Control of Phosphorus — Do Your Part” the MWRCD urges me to be OK with the removal of phosphorus from my dishwasher detergent (or as they refer to it ADWD) saying that Consumer Reports indicates that it is the enzymes in the ADWD that “demonstrated successful ADWD product performance. CR also included the cost per load of the various brands tested.” Not sure why the cost per load detail was included, except perhaps cost had something to do with achieving “successful performance.”

    Anyway, here’s the link to that lovely document from the MWRCD for anyone interested:

    At the end of that file, is this important information. Sorry about the formatting, it is a copy/paste and comments fields don’t allow for indentation.

    “There are numerous sources of phosphorus to Illinois streams. Municipal wastewater treatment plants are the principal point sources and agricultural runoff is the principal nonpoint source. In 2003, all of the wastewater treatment plants in Illinois discharged a combined total of approximately 5,000 tpy of phosphorus. One of the principal sources of
    phosphorus in agricultural runoff results from over application of fertilizers containing phosphorus. Information on over application in Illinois is not available, but a study performed in Wisconsin in 2000 determined that farmers apply 74 pounds of phosphorus per acre more
    than is recommended by the University of Wisconsin. Assuming that farming practices in Illinois are similar to those in Wisconsin, over application in Illinois would amount to 823,000 tpy for the 22,237,000 acres in row crop production in 2003.

    Most of the phosphorus discharged from wastewater treatment plants comes from human waste, resulting from food preparation for and food digestion by humans (approximately 60 percent). Other sources of phosphorus are from products used in the home (approximately 10
    percent) and commercial and industrial uses (approximately 30 percent). Some commercial and industrial uses of phosphorus cannot be limited because of the impact on sanitation or finished product quality. The contribution of phosphorus from products used in the home has
    declined from earlier years because of bans or limits on the amount of phosphorus used in most residential cleaning agents. However, one product used in home and commercial automatic dishwashers still contains a significant amount of phosphorus.

    A phosphorus compound is also one of the principal chemicals used by potable water suppliers to control dissolved lead in plumbing systems as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

    So, it is entirely accurate to say that the vast majority of phosphorus released by human activity is either a) agricultural runoff, or b) from human waste. I suppose we could all stop buying and consuming any food-like substances produced from industrial corn and soy operations, but we certainly can’t stop pooping.

    • Good information! Thanks for finding this and sharing it.

      Hm. Seems to me when you’re talking about the Great Lakes, you’re already addressing bodies of water that have been dangerously polluted…and those lakes are truly priceless resources for Canada and the United States. We can’t afford to allow them to turn into swamps.

      So, it seems to me it may make some sense to limit known or credibly suspected pollutants from household products. On the other hand, we don’t all live in a watershed that feeds the freaking Great Lakes. Thus, IMHO the rest of us should have the choice of useless detergent or one that works, just as we have the choice of buying flood insurance only if we live outside a flood plain.

      Boyoboy. Any time you want to scare yourself pantless, all you have to do is google up the ingredients in any household chemical. Or any cosmetic or any personal care product. It’s lots cheaper than buying a ticket to a horror movie…

  8. Actually, FAM, none of my wastewater goes into the Great Lakes. Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River and built “sanitary and shipping canals” to aid in this endeavor over a hundred years ago. It was done because our water intake system is located about a mile off-shore in Lake Michigan, and there were issues with sewer and industrial waste polluting our drinking water. We now send our filthy stormwater and treated sewage through the Illinois River system and into the Mississippi. There are a few exceptions (such as this spring when massive rainfall overloading the stormwater system, but otherwise we follow the time-honored American principle of passing our problems on to others to deal with. 😉