Cleaner rivers = dirtier dishes? Maybe not

Are your dishes coming out dirtier than they used to?

A ban on most phosphorus compounds in dishwasher detergent went into effect last month in Pennsylvania and 15 other states, and the effect was a nationwide reformulation of dishwasher detergents starting July 1.

The good news: Contrary to earlier tests and widespread concerns, Consumer Reports says many of a new wave of products work very well - almost as well as the old phosphate-laden detergents they replace.

My colleague Tom Avril explained the ban a few months ago (click here to see his story).  Phosphates, limited in laundry detergents since 1994, are an environmental concern because their runoff promotes the growth of algae, which crowd out other plants and fish. Before July 1, dishwasher detergents could contain up to 8.7 percent phosphurus. Now they're limited to 0.5 percent.

While none of the new formulations rated "excellent" in CR's lab tests, six of them rated "very good."  For what it's worth, CR says there was no discernible pattern on product type or other factors, even though tablet- and packet-style detergents claimed the top spots in this round of testing. Its testers said bleach made no predictable difference, and brand name wasn't a useful predictor, either - some brandmates to its top-rated products scored way down in the "Fair" range.

Click here to read Consumers Reports overview. CR's ratings are behind a pay wall, but here's a list, in rank order, of the six top products it tested. The top two and the fifth were rated "excellent" for cleaning dishes, and the top five won  "excellent" ratings for avoiding spotting. Only one, Finish Powerball Tabs, won a top rating for cleaning pots.

  1. Finish Quantum tablets
  2. Finish Powerball Tabs tablets
  3. Cascade Complete All in 1 packets
  4. Cascade with Dawn ActionPacs packets
  5. Method Smarty Dish tablets
  6. Ecover tablets

So if your dishes aren't coming out clean, don't blame the fish.