Why is there White Film on My Dishes?

How Dishwasher Detergent Changes could be Causing White Film on Your Glassware, Dishes, and Dishwasher Interior

Are your dishes not as clean as they used to be? There’s a good chance that the cause isn’t a faulty dishwasher, but instead changes in your dishwasher detergent. In 2010, phosphates were removed from dishwashing detergents, leading to more and more homeowners finding their dishes covered in a white film (or mineral build-up) after running the dishwasher, especially in areas with particularly hard water.

What are Phosphates and Why Were They Banned?

Phosphates are chemical additives that were added to many detergents and soaps, including dishwashing detergents. They acted as a cleaning agent and helped to remove stains, grease and spots. They also suspended food particles and kept them from sticking to dishes during the wash cycle, and softened the water allowing for the formation of soap suds.

While phosphates helped to give you cleaner dishes and clothes, they were nearly impossible to remove from waste water. As a result, many streams and lakes were beginning to be filled with phosphates. The issue was that water with high concentrations of phosphates has lower oxygen content and more algae growth, which threatens the health of our fresh water ecosystems and water supply. Ultimately, states began banning phosphates in dishwasher detergents, which followed previous phosphate bans in laundry detergents and hand soaps.

Because it wasn’t cost effective for detergent companies to make separate batches of detergent for the states with phosphate bans, they removed phosphates from all dishwasher detergents.

How Can You Still Get Clean Dishes?

It’s important to not let food dry on your dishes, i.e., scrape or rinse your glasses and plates before placing in the dishwasher when you don’t plan on running it right away. The easiest way to remove the white film is to run your glassware and dishware through a dishwasher cycle using citric acid. You can use our Citric Acid cleaning kit or purchase citric acid at the local supermarket.

Citric Acid Dishwasher Cleaning Kit

Finish® Dishwasher Detergent Booster

Cleaning with Citric Acid

  • Pour the citric acid in the detergent cup and close the cover.
  • Place the filmed, but otherwise clean, glassware and dishware in the dishwasher.
  • Leave silverware and other metal items out of the dishwasher.
  • Turn the dishwasher on and let it run through a complete cycle without detergent.

The glassware, dishware and dishwasher should come out film free and sparkly.

Cleaning with a Vinegar Rinse

  • Pour 1 cup of vinegar into the dishwasher just after the detergent cup opens.
  • Let the dishwasher complete its cycle.

This may be repeated several times a year if needed.

The use of a rinse agent may also help minimize the buildup of film.