Jonathan V. Last in the Jan 31st Weekly Standard
My dishwasher is the Bosch SHE58C—an amazing machine. Stainless-steel front, concealed controls, six cycles to choose from. The manual runs a brisk 63 pages. When we got the Bosch, I read it cover to cover, highlighting and annotating as I went, marking the manufacturer’s preferred method of arranging dishes and the proper way to sit utensils in the dedicated wash basket. I took some pains to relay this information to my wife, though it did not please her as much as I imagined it would.
At first, my Bosch was wonderful. Quiet as a wind’s whisper, the dishes were so clean you could eat off of them. But a few months ago I started noticing problems. A fork would come out with food between the tines; a glass would have bits of grime stuck to the bottom. Surely this was a fluke? Alas, no. My dishwasher no longer shines. What went wrong?
It so happens that in the last six months, a lot of people have suddenly discovered their dishwashers don’t work as well as they used to. The problem, though, isn’t the dishwashers. It’s the soap. Last July, acceding to pressure from environmentalists, America’s dishwasher detergent manufacturers decided to change their formulas. And the new detergents stink.
One of the key ingredients in dish detergent is (or was) phosphorus. Phosphorus is a sociable element, bonding easily and well with others. In detergent, it strips food and grease off dirty dishes and breaks down calcium-based stains. It also keeps the dirt suspended in water, so it can’t reattach to dishes. Best of all, it prevents the washed-away grime and minerals from gumming up the inner-workings of your dishwasher. Traditionally, phosphorus was loaded into dish detergent in the form of phosphates, which are compounds of phosphorus bonded to oxygen. (PO4 if you’re keeping score at home.) Prior to last July, most detergents were around 8 percent elemental phosphorus. Now they’re less than 0.5 percent phosphorus.