Wash your dishes sans phosphates


Enough with the phosphates! I’m switching dishwasher detergents. Why the shift? I think the final nudge came when I heard that Spokane (Washington) residents were traveling to Idaho to buy phosphate-laden dishwasher detergents. I thought, that’s silly. Why would someone drive to another state to buy dishwasher detergent?

Sparkling clean dishes – that’s why. Some Spokane residents found that the eco-detergents left chunks of food and grease on their dishes. Really? We have wireless Internet access at our fingertips, but we can’t engineer a great eco-friendly dishwasher detergent?

For Spokane residents, the culprit is their hard water. Phosphates in dishwasher detergents soften the effects of hard water, while removing spots and film from your dishes. The solution? Install a water softener, rinse your dishes a bit more, or go back in time and wash your dishes by hand. Sorry, driving to Idaho is not a solution. At least not for long.

In 2010, Washington and several other states will ban dishwasher detergents with more than 0.5% phosphorus. It’s likely that more states will follow until there’s a nationwide ban – similar to what we have today for laundry detergents.

So why are phosphate detergents being banned? Phosphates from our detergents end up in our lakes and streams, where they promote algae growth, which consumes oxygen and ultimately kills fish and plants.

OK, I’m ready to switch! I bought Palmolive’s Eco+ dishwasher gel and put it to the test. Expecting to see dirty greasy dishes, I was pleasantly surprised to find my dishes were still clean. There was dried food bits on some silverware, but that could happen even with the phosphates; my dishwasher is 10 years old and I’m a pre-wash minimalist.

Palmolive’s Eco+ dishwasher gel wasn’t expensive; it was $3.70 for the 75 ounce jug. It isn’t perfect though – I’d rather not buy products in plastic jugs and after closer examination I discovered that Eco+ contains chlorine bleach. Next time I plan to try Ecover dishwashing powder in a box. I’ve heard great things about Ecover.

What phosphate-free detergents are out there? Trader Joes, Seventh Generation, Ecover, Method, Diamond Brite, or you can try making your own. There are a few recipes out there on the ‘Net.

A phosphate ban is on the horizon. So why not make the change today? Go phosphate-free!

Have you already made the switch? What products have you tried and what works for you? Please post a Comment.


  1. That Palmolive Eco detergent was horrible, possibly the horribilist I’ve ever used. Everything came out of the washer greasy and nasty and the detergent itself was chunky and didn’t pour out of the bottle correctly. I try and save the planet like everyone else, but definitely NOT with this product.
    Total waste of money. Don’t buy it. You’ll be sorry.

    • Hmmm. Odd. I’ve been using Palmolive Eco and haven’t noticed a problem pouring it out. It’s been working well for me, but I’m going to try Ecover next. Surely, a better greener dishwasher detergent is in the works! If we can put a man on the moon – we should be able to create a green dishwasher detergent. Thanks for your comment!

      • I have personally found that since the removal of dastardly phosphates nothing works for me no matter the brand, dry or liquid, gel or not. The problem is water quality/ hardness of water. Here in Southern Indiana we have very hard water and finding an effective dishwasher detergent is a huge problem. I have even experimented with homemade to no avail. I am now saving up the money to install a water softener and wondering just how good for the environment will that be??? My only other option is hand-washing which as a single mom I do not have spare time to add to the clock….

      • I’ve been using Trader Joe’s phosphate-free dishwasher detergent powder very successfully, however, I don’t have hard water. Hopefully, the products will keep improving… seems like we have the technology!

  2. Talk about being on the same page!
    Yesterday we ran out of dishwashing detergent and I asked my husband to please buy something eco-friendly next time, with no phosphates (he does all the staples buying- tp, laundry and dishwasher detergent, etc). He said he already had some and today he brought it in.
    It’s Palmolive Eco phosphate free! We’ve never used that, and he said he had already bought a batch of that brand the last time he was doing the shopping.
    I’ll let you know how it works for us.

  3. I live in Spokane and haven’t found a detergent that actually cleans my dishes. Instead, I often run the dishwasher twice. Were is the eco savings in that? Installing a water softener is not a cheap, easy solution. When I lived in Bothell, I used phosphate free detergents. With our hard water they just don’t work. I’ve yet to talk to someone here that likes the phosphate free detergents. I consider myself an eco-friendly person but I don’t like phosphate free dishwasher detergents!

    • Yeah, I hear that hard water makes a difference. I’m in Seattle and my water is medium-ish (I think) – so phosphate-free works OK. I hope something better is in the works though, since hard water is reality for many people.

  4. eCover is really great–and the only eco-friendly one I’ve found that works as well as non-friendly washers. I use their dishwasher tablets because I like the convenience… but when I run out this time I’m switching back to the powder. I feel a little guilty that the tablets are individually wrapped inside the box. Eek!

  5. How do phosphates make dishwashing go better? To put it differently, why were they added in the first place?

    FYI, I wash my dishes by hand (long story) and haven’t noticed any difference between phosphate & no phosphate dish soap.

  6. Hi William,

    I found this little blurb that explains why dishwasher detergents include phosphates:

    Phosphates like to bind to other things, such as food particles, and keep them suspended in the water. So tomato sauce cleaned off that dirty plate won’t get stuck on your forks.


  7. The Consumer Reports article states that the phosphate ban will begin in 2010 in fourteen states (it doesn’t list them; obviously Washington is one of them.) The article doesn’t state whether they tried the Method Smarty Dish detergent in a hard water area, which is an extremely important issue since it is in hard water areas that phosphates are generally most necessary.

    I can state unequivocally that when the Safeway store brand detergent switched to a low-phosphate formula, it rendered our dishwasher worthless here in Las Vegas. I am extremely skeptical that any other low-phosphate detergent will do any better, although I will seek out the Method Smarty Dish stuff (which I’ve never seen in any store) and see what happens.

    The most likely outcome is that Congress and state legislatures will be deluged with complaints from furious constituents in hard-water areas, and that the anti-phosphate laws will be repealed or never passed in the first place.

  8. I live in Eastern Washington and this month I ran out of my stash of phosphate-enhanced dishwasher detergent. You can think it is absurd that people here drove to Idaho to get clean dishes, but you’ve obviously haven’t lived with hard, hard water. I’ve tried all the “improved” dishwasher detergents and they stink (I tried eco-friendly a few years ago and gave up…they didn’t work then. I had hopes that they had, in fact, improved…hopes have been dashed.) Food gets left on the dishes, the glassware is gray with minerals and the silverware is both gray and unclean. Not much of an improvement. I guess my dishwasher will be getting retired, so I’ll be wasting water by washing everything by hand.

    P.S. Found you because I’m still desperately doing searches looking for a dishwasher detergent that actually works in hard water.

  9. Consumer Report says the best cleaning power comes in the form of powder, the pod pacs, and lastly by far, gel form. but the best gel form was: In 2018 Consumer Reports tested seven gel detergents and found only one winner
    — Palmolive eco+. dishwasher detergent As a “Best Buy,” Palmolive eco+ scored a 69 out of 100 and only costs 7 cents per load. I use 7th generation powder most of the time but palmolive eco once a week because it cleans well enough to get the musky smell out of my dishwasher.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s