Brenda Sonoda hadn't done anything wrong, but she still found herself apologizing -- about her dishes.
"Friends would come over and I'd say, 'They're clean. I know they look cloudy, but they really are clean,' " she said.
The dishes were covered with a very noticeable film.
"It seemed to worsen with every wash," the Ogden woman said. "Even the silverware was clouded, and the Tupperware cups looked yucky."
As much as it bothered Sonoda, her husband hated it more.
"He said, 'We've got to figure something out. We can't have our dishes looking like this,' " she said.
So she called the manufacturer of her dishwashing detergent. A representative told her it was because she purchased the "regular" product, and sent a coupon for "complete" detergent.
"I still had the film, and then I heard it was because they took the phosphates out," Sonoda said.
Manufacturers changed automatic dishwashing detergents to comply with laws passed in 16 states, including Utah, limiting phosphates in household detergents. The laws went into effect July 1, 2010.
Some people didn't notice a change using reformulated detergents, but others, like Sonoda, did. Enough people complained that Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, introduced a bill this year to repeal Utah's law.
That bill is essentially dead, but even if the law were repealed in Utah, detergents aren't likely to change. It's too difficult for manufacturers to make and ship different products for different states, according to Dennis Griesing, vice president of governmental affairs for the American Cleaning Institute in Washington, D.C.
People with film-covered dishes are going to have to live with it or try something different.
Water vs. dishes
Phosphates were used in detergent for years, leaving dishes and clothes sparkling clean.
"They do improve cleaning ability," said Spencer Seager, professor of chemistry at Weber State University.
Phosphorus helped by softening water, Griesing explained. "It held magnesium and calcium ions in suspension."
This stopped hard water from interfering with the cleaning process, and kept the minerals from depositing back on dishes. The ability of phosphorus to grab onto stuff and hold it in suspension, he said, allowed food particles to be more easily washed away.
The problem is that phosphorus is also a fertilizer, and can cause problems when released into waterways, such as slow-moving rivers and lakes.
"It causes algae to grow much more rapidly," said Seager.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, too much algae strips bottom waters of oxygen, killing fish and other aquatic life.
Airing dirty laundry
The last major manufacturer removed phosphates from laundry detergents in 1993, said Griesing.
Teresa Hunsaker, family and consumer science educator for Utah State University's Extension Service in Weber County, says the results are visible.
"We see it in the fiber of clothing in the form of dinginess," she said. "Dirt and stains are not lifting out as effectively."
Griesing says that's why laundry-detergent manufacturers created so many new formulas. "They had to develop a number of different chemical systems to do the same job that phosphorus compounds were able to do," he said.
Now, dish detergent companies are also working on the problem.
"I think consumers can expect the same industry-based innovation and product improvements," said Griesing.
The new dishwashing formulas are working for most people, according to Ian Tholking, with external relations for Ohio-based Proctor & Gamble Home Care.
He says many complaints about less-than-spotless dishes can be resolved by meticulously following dishwasher loading and detergent instructions, and making sure the water temperature in the dishwasher is at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit. However, there are some problems related to the removal of phosphates.
"The small number of consumers who are having issues with filming, they tend to live in areas with hard water," he said.
He recommends buying a detergent product that has a water softener in it. If film is still a problem, try a rinse aid.
"Instead of food particles and residues sticking in drops on glassware, it helps rinse it away so it doesn't dry on there," Tholking said.
Sonoda says it's frustrating to have to buy something in addition to detergent, but she's doing it anyway.
"One day my friend dropped off a bottle of Lemi Shine," a detergent additive on the market, she said. "I tried it and it worked wonders."
Lemi Shine's website says it contains no phosphates, but instead uses fruit oils and acids to clean.
"Acid breaks down minerals, and minerals are what is building up because they're being leached or pulled from water and reacting with the alkalinity of the detergent," said Hunsaker. "Basically what it (acid) is doing is softening the water ... or changing the reaction of the minerals."
Hunsaker has heard of people adding Tang drink mix to the dishwasher, which could have some effect because it contains citric acid. She suggests using plain citric acid, about a tablespoon per load of dishes.
Another acid that can be used is vinegar, she said, noting that one-half to one cup should be enough. Vinegar can also be added when washing clothing.
A posting on the American Cleaning Institute's website also suggests removing hard water film with white vinegar or citric acid, but educators for the institute caution against using these products on metal items like pots, pans and flatware because the acid could cause pitting or staining.
It's more of a problem with aluminum or nickel, said Hunsaker, not with stainless steel.
Michelle Snow, of Kaysville, found another answer to removing the film.
"Our dishes were horrible, but then I decided to experiment by adding baking soda to each load and it really helped," she wrote in a Facebook comment.
According to the Arm & Hammer website, www.armhammer.com, baking soda maintains a neutral pH so detergent can work its best. Just sprinkle a handful on the dishes or in the bottom of the dishwasher.
Baking soda can also be used with detergent when doing laundry, the company says.
IN A PHOSPHATE-FREE WORLD
Plagued by a white film on the dishes coming out of your dishwasher? Try these tips from our sources:
* Buy a detergent with a water softener.
* Use a rinse aid.
* Add a tablespoon of citric acid, or 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar, to each load of dishes -- although some experts warn these products could cause pitting on metal items.
* Sprinkle a handful of baking soda over the load of dishes before washing.