View Full Version : What do phosphate free detergents do for (or to) clothes?

Stephen Tashiro
08-17-2010, 12:03 AM
I've tried phosphate free Cascade dish washing detergent and it left a white powdery deposit on the dishes. It took a gentle scouring with a copper pad to get that off. So what would a phosphate free laundry detergent do to my clothes? Leave a white powder on them? Or is the white deposit something that only happens in the high water temperatures found inside dish washers?

Dan Hintz
08-17-2010, 7:03 AM
Considering the phosphates are your main cleaning agent, I hate to see any detergent with little phosphates in it. You're relying on the company to provide a phosphate-free equivalent that still gets out the grease/oils, and that's easier said than done while still keeping it economical. Cascade has one of highest phosphate levels (their regular stuff), and it's what we use. Any white powder you have is most likely hard water minerals that are left on your dishes when they dry... sounds like you need a rinsing agent, not a different detergent.

Pat Germain
08-17-2010, 8:44 AM
Costco has some phosphate free detergents. Consumer Reports tested them and found they worked very well. I bought the dish soap and it does work very well. Based on CU's tests, some "green" detergents worked better than others. Perhaps you just got a dud brand. Phosphate free detergents are much better for the environment. If they work, I think we should try to use them.

Cliff Rohrabacher
08-17-2010, 9:47 AM
As a general propositions those "Green" cleaners are anything but green. They rely on metasilicates.
I prefer the phosphates and nitrogen. My grass and the environment actually knows what to do with fertilizers. Metasilicates not so much.

Stephen Tashiro
08-17-2010, 12:14 PM
I've tried a rinsing agent ("Jet Dry", I think) with the phosphate free Cascade and it doesn't don't help.

Which states have passed laws outlawing phosphates in detergents? I can't find a comprehensive list of them on the web. I see stories for New York and Michigan.

Joe Pelonio
08-17-2010, 2:36 PM
I remember back about 1970 when my parents became Amway distributors on the side, and used their supposedly biodegradable phosphate free laundry detergent. With 9 kids and a granparent there were loads for 12 and it was highly concentrated so only a small amount used. They were so convinced of it's safety that he ran a 3/4" hose out the washer and used it to water the artichokes, which we then ate. That was to save on the water bill. I have not started glowing in the dark or anything, but that was only a few years before I moved out. It did clean the clothes just fine.

Jeff Bratt
08-17-2010, 5:47 PM
Which states have passed laws outlawing phosphates in detergents? I can't find a comprehensive list of them on the web. I see stories for New York and Michigan.

States with a legal limit on phoshates are Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. There is some indication that all dishwasher detergents will be low/no phosphates - just like laundry detergents already are - all across the country. But I won't be doing a survey to find out.

Phosphates are a water-softening agent that allows the detergents to work better. So phosphates will missed more in hard-water areas. As to safety, they are also fertilizers. The pollution aspects of phosphates are that an abundance of them can cause algae blooms in lakes and oceans. Unless agricultural fertilizer runoff is also abated, I'm not sure how big an effect these bans will have, but if there are good alternative detergent formulations, this is a positive step. I'm still observing the results, as these new formulations are just hitting the shelves in our area.

Consumer Reports did a test on the new dishwasher detergents, and Cascade was knocked out of the top-rated spot it has held for a long time - although it is still fairly highly rated. When comparing the old and new formulations, these 2nd generation low phosphate detergents are much better than the first generation formulas tried a few years back, but don't quite perform as well as the old high-phosphate detergents.

Joe Pelonio
08-17-2010, 8:22 PM
It sounds like, then, if you have very soft water from snow runoff it may work fine, but if you have harder well or local reservoir water it could be a problem as far as the effectiveness of the cleaning.

Bryan Morgan
08-18-2010, 1:11 AM
Phosphate free detergents are much better for the environment.

How so? What is so bad about phosphates?