Dishwashers can’t clean stupid

I’ve been struggling with my dishwasher for a while and it has been both educational and humbling.

A few years ago, we noticed that ours wasn’t doing as good of a job as before.  We cleaned filters, rinsed it out, but it just wasn’t clearing stuff off the plates as well as it used to.  It’s a good dishwasher (one of those Kenmore Elites designed (presumably) to get even the toughest caviar stains out of your wineglasses or somesuch nonsense) and it seemed to be working its little heart out, but it _just wasn’t doing as well_ as it used to.

We started rinsing more off our plates before putting them in.  While we never quite got to the point my dad has (where he does the dishes by hand then loads them into the dishwasher to be dish-baptized or something), but we scraped and soaked.

We tried different detergents.  Powders, liquids, gels, nada.  A few months ago, KayDee bought a big box of household cleaning materials from one of her friends with a home business and it had a big foil packet of these little dishwasher ‘pellets’, a meatball-sized chunk of soap wrapped in some sort of wonton-like dissolving wrapper.  We loaded one of those in and saw an improvement, and that was good!  It still wasn’t as effective as our dishwasher was in ‘The Good Old Days’, but it wasn’t bad.  Alright!

Eventually, the package ran out so one of us grabbed the next foil packet and started using it.  Dishes were still getting clean…ish, but the job didn’t seem…  quite as good.  In fact, as first one then two weeks passed, the situation grew increasingly dire inside our mystery pit of washing.  The dishwasher (with its little dirt detecting brain) would run longer and longer but dishes were starting to have some sort of kinda glaze on them that we’d have to rinse off.  ALSO, the inside of the dishwasher started to get a weird greasy coating.  It was not awesome.

Once again, I cleaned the filters thoroughly.  I drained the reservoirs, I got a brush and degreased and scrubbed the inside of the dishwasher because we’re not animals.  Well, technically we ARE animals, scientifically speaking, but specifically we’re not ‘Satisfied-To-Have-A-Dirty-Dishwasher Animals’.

No improvement.  Still got that weird glaze.  I read up on the problem and learned a lot!  In fact, I learned why our dishwasher had grown less effective a few years ago,  It turns out that Oregon is one of 17 states that outlawed sale of dishwasher soap containing trisodiumphosphate.  TSP is the stuff that makes dishwasher soap really WORK and the stuff we could buy in the store didn’t have it anymore.  It’s kinda like when Sudafed switched from Ephedrine (which could be used as a precursor for methaphetamine) to Pseudophedrine (which can be used as a precursor for methamphetamine) to protect, well, nobody I guess from methamphetamine.  In the case of TSP, phosphates were believed to cause toxic algae blooms in our rivers so it seemed sensible.  The fact that we’re having toxic algae blooms in our rivers three years after the ban went into effect is probably an interesting data point for someone, but I’m certainly not qualified to determine if it suggests anything important about the efficacy of that ban.

I also read a tip that white vinegar (added to the rinse cycle reservoir) could help in this post-phosphate world so I did, and there was indeed a modest improvement but it wasn’t _good enough_.

So….  a few days pass and we’ve assigned a loading/unloading cycle to the childrens.  Having planned and executed the whole ‘Having a child’ thing over a decade ago specifically so we could offload chores, the whole ‘kids’ thing was starting to finally pay off.  Now, any parent knows that while we want kids to do things around the house, the kid often wants to NOT do them for some reason.  Of those who don’t follow through on their basic obligations to the household, some will just say ‘No!’ and need to have various privileges put on the line until they do the job.  Some slightly brighter kids will agree to do a chore then not get around to doing it while maintaining plausible activity in some other acceptable fashion, and the really bright ones…  the ones that are most exhausting…  they’ll make sure that having them do a chore is harder for the parent than the parent just doing it themselves.

Have you ever frustratedly told a kid to just “go somewhere else” so you could jump in and properly do something you had assigned them?  “I don’t have time for this”, you might think to yourself while industriously scrubbing or shoveling or burning something.  “I might as well just do this myself next time”.

Stop!  This is a win for the child, and unless WE keep the upper hand at all times, they’ll grow up thinking they’re inheriting the world from us and not simply servants to our every aging whim!

So it was with this eternal struggle to Keep Youth Down in mind that, when one of my kids told me we were out of dishwasher soap while loading, I knew instantly what was going on.  “No, you still have to load it because we’re not out.  We have soap right next to the sink in that foil packet”, I confidently informed him.

“No, that’s laundry detergent.”

I rolled my eyes.  This little exercise in rebellion was getting out of control.  “No, it’s dishwasher soap.  You can’t just get out of a chore by making it difficult for us to assign, we’re onto you.  Use it!”

My kid read the back of the packet again.  Dubiously, he tried again.  “Are you sure?  It talks about clothing and I think it’s for the clothes washer.”

RIDICULOUS!  Now I could tell that my kid thought I was a moron, too.  This little tactic was about to backfire and I was going to deal with this little slowdown issue once and for all.  The mistake he’d made this time was to give me something I could immediately disprove and then use as a jumping point directly into a nice long lecture about the importance of doing your assigned chores, respecting your parents, and making sure they have the finest quality retirement homes to live in when old and decrepit.

“Bring it over here”, I confidently instructed, my hands reaching out to take it so I could point out the error in his ways.  He picks it up and brings it over.  I know this pouch, I think I even opened it when we ran out of the last batch of-

Hmm, that’s odd.  The little dishwasher picture on the back has a circle on the front of it.  For some reason, that woman in the photo is loading clothing into her dishwasher.  ‘SILLY LADY, that’s not how you use a dishwasher!’ I think to myself.  The packet promises that the (redacted) will be completely color-safe.  I can’t quite make out the word that’s redacted, every time I try my brain resets.  The phrase ‘No Streak’ is nowhere to be found, but the words ‘Folding’ and ‘Fabric’ are prominently….  displayed….


For the last two weeks, it seems, we have been using laundry detergent in our dishwasher.  When KayDee bought a box full of cleaning supplies, it came with a bunch of stuff including one package of dishwasher soap pellets and one packet of almost identically packaged and visually similar laundry soap pellets.


The weird glaze on our dishes?  Probably fabric softener.  The greasy film building up on the side of the dishwasher?  Who knows, but apparently when your dishwasher soap doesn’t contain any actual grease-cutting dishwashing power AT ALL, that’s the kind of thing that starts to build up.


So that evening, one of our sons…   won.  They won.  There’s no getting around it, he was right and we were wr-wr-wr-wr-wr….   He was right and we were wr-wr-wr-wr…  he was right and we were less right.

I’ve since gotten actual dishwasher detergent and miracles of miracles, the dishes no longer have that glaze.  I’ve scrubbed and rinsed the inside of the dishwasher again and the greasy wallcoat hasn’t started coming back yet, and while the dishes still aren’t getting quite as clean as they did before TSP, they’re certainly not as terrible as they were when we were trying to wash them with laundry soap.  GO FIGURE.

So…  moral of the story:  Dishwasher acting up?  Check the label on your soap to make sure you’re NOT AN IDIOT.  And hey, if you’ve got a box of TSP sitting around, maybe you can add a dash occasionally for those days when you think your poor dishwasher deserves to have a victory.  They work hard for us, it’s only fair.  Not like those lazy, scheming kids, that’s for sure.