Consumer News

Consumer Reports tests dishwasher detergent

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In consumer news, Consumer Reports tests of dishwasher detergents.

Most manufacturers have reformulated their products after laws limiting phosphates went into effect last year, and that may be affecting their cleaning power.

Pennsylvania is one of the states that recently banned products with phosphates because of the environmental impact.

Consumer Reports' preliminary testing shows that some phosphate-free detergents have an issue; they leave glassware coated with a white film when washed in very hard water.

Consumer Reports knows when you unload your dishwasher, you expect your dishes to come out sparkling clean.

"Some readers wrote to us, complaining about film and buildup on their dishware," said Jim Nanni from Consumer Reports.

So Consumer Reports started investigating. Testers took a set of clean glass dishware, and washed it using detergent and very hard water.

They ran the same set of dishes 20 times with the same detergent to simulate more than a month of dishwashing. Over time, a film built up with some detergents.

With Method Smarty Dish, which otherwise is a very good cleaner, the glassware turned milky white after 20 washes! The dishes washed in Whole Foods' 365 also developed a milky coating.

"This is a preliminary test," said Nanni. "We're going to continue to look into why some detergents left a film and others didn't."

Consumer Reports also ran dishwasher detergents through its standard food-cleaning tests, including a mix of chocolate pudding, peanut butter and more is applied to plates and baked on. Macaroni and cheese is mashed on pots and baked on too.

Testers checked to see how well the detergents cleaned up the mess.

"That's a one," said Awilda Cruz.

Cascade Complete All-in-1 ActionPacs was one of the best in Consumer Reports' cleaning tests, and in the new test with very hard water, it did not leave a white residue behind.

Consumer Reports says Kirkland Signature gel at Costco also did well in the new test.

Whole Foods responded to the test results, saying, "The 365 formula is designed to work in medium hard water. Our product development team is actively working on a solution to the issue."

Method also issued a statement saying, "We have designed phosphate-free Method Smarty Dish in an environmentally responsible way to be effective in the majority of consumers' homes. Our testing has been done to cover water hardness at extremes."

Whole Foods statement:
365 Everyday Value Dish Detergent:
The 365 detergent is phosphate free and does not perform as well as detergents with phosphate in hard water areas. Hard water has a tendency to leave white deposits on hard surfaces because of the higher proportion of calcium carbonate in the water. The 365 formula is designed to work in medium hard water. Aside from installing a water softener in the home, using a rinse aid or giving your dishes a rinse in white vinegar after washing should help reduce the white residue. Our product development team is actively working on a solution to the issue that will still meet our high household cleaning standards (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/eco-scale/) which  at minimum  do not allow the use of phosphates, chlorine, or synthetic colors.

Method Home statement:
We are curious about the level of water hardness that Consumer Reports used to conduct this test, which they describe as 'very hard water' but don't specify the level. We have designed phosphate-free Method Smarty Dish in an environmentally responsible way to be effective in the majority of consumers' homes. Our testing has been done to cover water hardness at extremes, including water hardness at 300 ppm. This covers at least 95 percent of consumer water hardness in the US.

Depending on the level of water hardness that Consumer Reports used for this test, the findings may apply to only a small percentage of the US population. At levels of 300 ppm and higher, most dishwasher detergents will show filmy glasses.

We understand the need to do a torture test, because many of the new eco-friendly detergents are failing. However, in two 2009 issues of Consumer Reports, Method Smarty Dish received 'very good' ratings and were recommended purchases. See attached for those articles.

Pennsylvania is one of the states that recently banned products with phosphates because of the environmental impact. Phosphates, although effective at cleaning dishes, promote algae growth in lakes and streams, starving the water of oxygen and killing fish.

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