Friday, February 4, 2011

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs?

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs?  Or is it snowballs?  But I digress on the recent weather around here...

In today's dinner-cast, I don't expect that we'll have any problems with meatballs, they'll be yummy, and then the plates will go in the dishwasher.  However, we should expect to see clouds...cloudy glassware, silverware, and plastics, that is.

In 16 states, including MA.......the new "greener" non-phosphate dishwasher detergents have resulted in cloudy, milky looking glassware.  Why is this happening you might wonder?  In the states adopting The Household Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law, July 2010, the law stipulates restrictions on the amount of phosphates allowed in dish detergents, as well lawn fertilizers.  As a result, dish detergent manufactures have reworked their formulas to drastically reduce phosphates added to make your glasses and dishes sparkly.  

But, how does phosphate impact habitats in lakes, rivers, and other freshwater systems?  Phosphates cause the over-growth of algae, and this leads to oxygen-starved areas, and without oxygen in the water, fish, frogs, and other aquatic animals can not survive.

Why do the glasses and other things coming out of a clean dishwasher look cloudy or milky anyway?   The problem begins if you have "hard" water, which is caused by  high levels of minerals dissolved in your water, specifically calcium and magnesium. According to Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., "Soap is less effective in hard water because its reacts to form the calcium or magnesium salt of the organic acid of the soap. These salts are insoluble and form grayish soap scum, but no cleansing lather." In other words, unattractive, cloudy, milky glassware.
So how can you tell if hard water is the issue, or if your glassware is suffering from etching, which is varying degrees of scratching or pitting of the glass surface?  Try soaking a cloudy glass in vinegar for 5 minutes, and if the milky deposits diminish, then hard water is your problem.  I just did this experiment, and sure enough, the glass is clearer in just 5 minutes (don't worry I'll reuse the vinegar to clean something else, I mean the glass wasn't "dirty", it just had some hard water buildup on it)

The dilemma...
Is the aquatic habitat of frogs and fish more important than sparkly dishes?  Or do sparkly dishes trump wildlife?  Can we be environmentally friendly and have sparkly dishes?

Since I'm elbow deep in soap suds washing these cloudy, milky glasses, I figured it's time to get the dish on sparkly solutions, because I definitely prefer letting the dishwasher do the dirty work.

I learned about a product called Lemi Shine, by Envirocon Technologies, Inc.  It's an additive for dishwashers touted to bring back the shine and sparkle to your dishes and glassware.  I checked out many reviews of their product as well as their website, which states that Lemi Shine is "Made with real fruit acids, natural citrus oils, and fragrance. Phosphate free."  Hmm, seems like this is one possible solution to the cloudy glassware...

So I wondered how Lemi Shine works?  Does it add back in some other nasty chemical?  I decided to get a little wetter, I mean better information on the "fruit acids" ingredient.  Ah ha!  A timely show on cable about staging your home for sales gave me a clue to work with!  They used a packet of lemonade mix to clean the dishwasher, because a sparkly dishwasher makes buyers smile.   And then a lightbulb went off (don't worry not a CFL, just brain energy was expended)!  In the past, I'd cleaned the inside of my dishwasher with Tang when it got a yucky film on the tub.

I checked the labels of these two, and the common ingredient?  Citric acid!   Although Lemi Shine doesn't list citric acid specifically, I'd be willing to bet that the secret ingredient, aka "fruit acid" is in fact citric acid.    Delving deeper into the kitchen, I learned that citric acid was originally extracted from lemons, limes, grapefruits...CITRUS fruits (citric...citrus).  Now citric acid is produced commercially by a fermentation process; the mold Aspergillus niger ferments a carbohydrate to make citric acid.  Get out your magnifying glass, put on your lab coat, or your apron and check the labels on your foods.  You'll be surprised when you read the fine print and see how citric acid is a common additive to prevent foods from browning, add tang to drinks and sweets, to preserve, and stabilize foods. 

Who knew how handy chemistry would be?  I mean I like sparkly things just as much as the next girl...(diamonds are a girl's best friend...but again I digress).  Seriously,  I do like my glassware to be sparkly clean, but not at the expense of the aquatic critters.  Now, thanks to science, and chemistry, I think I've found a compromise!  Add some citric acid in the form of lemonade mix, Tang, or Lemi Shine, to the main wash section, and your regular dishwasher detergent to the pre-wash, and smile with me when your glassware is shiny once again :)



  1. Just wanted to let you know that I did buy Lemi Shine at Walmart, and we've been using it, and our glassware is looking much better! Giving the glassware a quick scrub with a scouring pad gets off the build-up, and then the Lemi Shine is doing a good job keeping things sparkly! YEAH!

    1. i'll have to tell Kim since she is at Walmart alot.