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As States Ban Dishwasher Detergents with Phosphates, American Cleaning Institute Calls for Voluntary Removal

8/13/2010 12:00:00 AM

Tags: American Cleaning Institute, dishwasher detergent, phosphates

Last month, the American Cleaning Institute, a manufacturer’s trade group that represents most detergent companies, enacted a voluntary reduction in dishwasher detergent phosphate levels. Following the lead of 16 states—Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin—the trade group called for its manufacturers to lower limits for phosphate levels from 9 percent to 0.5 percent.

Phosphates were originally added to soften water so dishwasher detergents could work better. Without the phosphates, minerals in the water supply combine with the formula’s surfactant cleaning agents to create a greasy soap scum that clogs dishwashers and doesn’t clean dishes as well. Unfortunately, once phosphates are washed down the drain, they make their way into local water supplies where they wreak havoc on ecosystems. Algae feast on excess phosphates, creating an algae bloom. Eventually the algae deplete their food source and die, at which point bacteria move in to feast on the algae remains. As they do so, they consume all the water’s oxygen, leaving dead zones and killing off fish and other marine wildlife.

The thing is, we don’t need phosphates. Seventh Generation has been passing out its phosphate-free dishwasher detergent for years to prove that point. Let’s hope soon they’ll have more company.

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