Monday, June 22, 2009

Spokane County, Washington bans high phosphate dish detergent

Way to go Spokane County, Washington! High phosphate dish washing detergent was banned from stores last July significantly reducing this fertilizing agent in the Spokane River. This directly benefits wildlife by minimizing algae growth therefore improving dissolved oxygen. More oxygen = happy fish.

The Spokane River Forum reports, "Last month, an average of 1,522 pounds of phosphorus entered the plant each day, which was down 14 percent from the average of 1,769 pounds per day over the three prior years, the collected data show. That compares with a 7 percent phosphorus decline in September".

That's the good news. Now the bad news is that residents of Spokane County are crossing the border into Idaho to smuggle in the high-phosphate brands like Electrosol and Cascade. reports that "Many people were shocked to find that products like Seventh Generation, Ecover and Trader Joe's left their dishes encrusted with food, smeared with grease and too gross to use without rewashing them by hand. The culprit was hard water, which is mineral-rich and resistant to soap."

I switched our family over to Trader Joe's, Seventh Generation or Ecover (depending on where I'm shopping) soap months ago and I agree that the earth-friendly products don't work quite as well. But what's the big deal? So what if the glasses have some spots on them? Every once in a while I have to rinse a dish out by hand, but I've experienced none of the grease-smeared grossness described above. I think all of this is a very very very small inconvenience for us humans to suffer in order to protect billions of gallons of pristine river water and millions of fish.

According to NPR there's legislation in the works to ban high phosphate dish detergent nationally in July of 2010. Fine with me.


  1. Excellent post!!! I have often wondered if there was some kind of non-phosphate additive that could be put in the dishwasher to account for the high mineral content of the water? I'm just not a chemist, so I don't know.

    Our city water in Seattle was "soft" water but out here at the new Ranch, so very much closer to the mountains, it's a lot harder. I have taken to wiping and pre-washing in light soapy water, rinsing then putting the dish into the dishwasher, so I don't have spots or crusty blotches on the flatware or plates. [eeeeee-wwww!] You can do a whole meal's worth of pre-wash & rinse in just a little bit of water, so I don't feel I'm wasting it. [Good way then to wash out the sink when finished. Everything sparkles!]

    Keep us posted on how this turns out. People are picky about their dishes and don't like being dictated to if the alternative can't stand up to their needs. I'm hoping a better product [w/o phosphates of course] will come along for hard water. Thanks again for your excellent post!!! :D

  2. Too bad congress doesn't tackle some of these issues instead of their stupid pork barrel projects. They might be surprised how much of an impact they could make if they ever could agree on something.

  3. We get the Spokane TV channels down this way and so far most of the stories are how folks are going out of the county to buy detergents. More than likely after awhile people will just accept the fact and the usuage will drop even more.

  4. SQ: I was thinking about you our there in Washington State actually and wondering about the press coverage. The NPR segment was mostly about the smugglers, I wish it had focused more on the issue, it seemed to make smuggling fun and the smugglers martyrs for their dishes. We have super super hard water here in New England as well, and you're right, a quick pre-rinse with a bit of water does the job.

    Rae: I agree, the government could make a huge impact if they put their minds to it!

    Thanks for visiting! -kate

  5. We live in Spokane county and have made the trip to other places to get the stuff that works. But just a couple of weeks ago I tried the Method brand Dishwasher tablets with about a third cup of vinegar and it worked really well! I will be using that from here on out. The dishes had less residue on them with the Method brand then they did with Electrosol.


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