No, I am not talking about The Clash’s 1979 album. It’s literally true. Last month when news of “soap smugglers” in Spokane County hit the news wire, Ecology’s Eastern Regional Office received a media call from the BBC in London. Why all this press about soap?
Last June it became illegal to sell automatic dish detergent with more than 0.5 % phosphorus in Spokane County. You can review this law and a similar one for Whatcom County at our reducing phosphorus webpage. Frustrations began to surface when dish washers became frustrated with some of the commercially available phosphorus-free detergents. Spokane’s notoriously hard water was leaving spots and film on clean dishes. Reports started flying of Washingtonians driving to nearby Idaho to buy “hot soap”. That is when London called.
So what is the big deal? Why can’t we put the phosphorus back in the dishwashing detergent? Here’s the thing. Too much phosphorus in water can cause big pollution problems. Phosphorus in water acts as a fertilizer causing plants and algae to grow. Then when they die they rob the oxygen that fish and other critters need for survival.
Removing phosphorus from dishwashing detergents is just one action being taken to protect Washington’s Waters from pollution. The simplest way to reduce phosphorus in water is to not put it in there in the first place. Whether it goes to a wastewater treatment plant or an on-site septic system, avoiding excess phosphorus means good news for Washington’s waters.
Getting back to the “soap smugglers” – why the apparent exodus to Idaho for phosphorus-laden detergent? And what about the people that aren’t driving to Idaho – are they eating off of dirty dishes? Well, I can tell you this, some detergents perform better than others. You can visit Greener Choices, a branch of Consumer Reports that ranks these detergents on their ability to clean. They even found that some of these detergents do an “excellent” job of cleaning.
Even if you’re not in Spokane or Whatcom counties, you may want to test drive the phosphorus-free detergents, because in 2010 the law will be enacted in all of Washington. In fact, many states in the nation will be enacting laws requiring dish detergent limits on phosphorus. Detergent manufacturers are working now to change their formulations to comply with the new law and they expect to be going phosphate-free in markets nationwide.
Have you tried a phosphorus-free dish detergent? What tips do you have for cleaning dishes the phosphorus-free way?