I know this will rub many Pagans and Wiccans the wrong way, but I was dismayed to learn about why it seems that today’s automatic dishwasher detergents don’t really clean dishes. Not that long ago, you could put dishes in the dishwasher and have reasonable expectations that your dishes would come out, well, clean enough to eat off of.
The reason is because the dishwasher detergent makers all quietly changed their formulae to remove phosphorus because of a government ban in 17 states. Many environmentalists rejoice at this, but even though I worship the earth and the nature gods, I’m not the kind of Wiccan who thinks that all American should be forced to live with unsanitary, dirty dishes. We are part of this earth and need to respect it and all creatures, but we need to respect ourselves and live according to our will.
Phosphorus is an important element in automatic dishwasher detergent. It significantly helps bind the dirt and grime to the soap and keeps it from re-sticking back on the dishes. It also keeps the dirt from sticking to the various parts of the dishwasher. In a nutshell, it is what makes it so you don’t have to scrape your dishes clean before putting them in the dishwasher.
Don’t get me wrong, if you wish to use non-phosphate automatic dishwasher detergent, that should be your choice. But the government should not be requiring that you do it. If there is a market for both choices (and I think there is), the manufacturers should be allowed to make both options and let the customers decide for themselves which they prefer.
Instead, millions of Americans in areas that don’t have phosphate contamination problems are forced to use inferior detergent and are resorting to other methods of cleaning that may cause more environmental harm. For example, many are handwashing their dishes which uses many, many times more water than the 6-8 gallons a modern dishwasher will use for a whole load. Others are running the dishwasher twice to get them clean, which doubles all of the energy and water used. So it’s a trade-off between some phosphate use vs. significantly increased water and energy use. Energy production is not without its harmful pollutants, and in some of America’s largest cities, water is quite scarce.
So, other than complaining to the governments that banned phosphates in dishwasher detergent that they are overstepping their bounds on micromanaging Americans’ lives and taking away choices that people should be able to make themselves, according to their will, what can you do about this?
You can make your own detergent very simply, cheaper, and it will actually get your dishes clean. Simply mix equal parts of borax (20 Mule Team brand works great) and baking soda and use it in your automatic dishwasher as you would regular detergent. If you have a problem with spots, simply put white vinegar in place of rinsing agent. It is an all-natural way to get your dishes cleaner, and it is cheaper than the commercial detergents that don’t work anymore.
I suggest cleaning your dishwasher first, though, to get rid of any gunk and build-up from your old detergent. You can do this with baking soda and white vinegar.
Then, after your dishwasher is clean you can use your all-natural homemade dishwasher detergent. Here is a demo of how you can make it.