Farewell Phosphates, HELLO Citric Acid!


Many of you live in states that have banned the use of phosphates in dishwashing detergents. I do! I had no idea the impact phosphates had on dishes & the environment until Chris pointed me to an interesting article published by my local news. See, I had been getting more than a little frustrated with our dishwasher at the time. So frustrated in fact, that I had stopped using the dishwasher all together & was washing dishes by hand. I just could NOT bear to touch another “clean” dish that felt like a chalkboard. Chalky dishes make me cry. I have texture issues.

After reading the article about how the lack of phosphates result in chalky dishes, I immediately went over to my dishwasher & gave it a hug & apologized for swearing at it. Then I got mad that all of those scientists haven’t figured out a way to replace phosphates. A couple of weeks later, I was surfing on the web & found a great article on Fresh Nest about the dilemma I’ve been facing & ways to avoid chalky, gross dishes! There were tons of great suggestions in the post & in the comments; I thought I’d give one commenter’s suggestion a try – use powdered detergent + citric acid – since I just so happen to have citric acid on hand.

Oh wow. I practically cry with delight every time I unload the dishwasher now. Our cups are clear, not frosty! Yahoo. Citric acid is the best. You can find it at culinary supply stores or pharmacies or natural food stores. I owe so much of my sanity to Deb & @thinkCara.

Have you had the same issues as me? Do you cry yourself to sleep at night, too?

If you’re wanting to make your own dishwasher detergent, check out this fabulous recipe over at Sutton Grace!! She uses citric acid in her recipe!

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    1. Erica says:

      Thanks for sharing!!! I literally have had this same problem for awhile. I just washed all of our dishes by hand after a big party. It sucked big time, but I was so tired of gross dishes. I am going to try this ASAP. Thanks

    2. How or where do you add the citric acid? And how much?

    3. erica p. says:

      I’m also wondering where you put it and how much to use. I have an extremely active lemon tree – I wonder if I could make citric acid?

      • Melissa says:

        You can get it online, or at any pharmacy. My mom had the best luck going to a culinary supply store. I had the best luck going to a natural foods store. I had to ask & they had to special order for me, but that only took a couple of days. I think I spent $12 on a 1lb bag of it, and that was 2+ years ago. It lasts FOREVER!

        I put about 2 teaspoons in the main compartment & 1/2 a teaspoon in the rinse compartment, along with the powdered detergent. I’m not sure how you’d make citric acid in powder form, but I’m sure there might be a tutorial out there. Wanna send some of those homegrown lemons my way? They’re my fave! ;)

    4. Rebecca says:

      Chalky dishes drive me INSANE! I can’t wait to try this. Thank you!

    5. this couldn’t have come at a better time. our dishwasher here sucks (or maybe it’s the lack of phosphates!). in the old place our dishwasher repair man told us to add “lemme shine” to every wash (you can get it at walmart for $3 for a small bottle. he said to fill the detergent cup with it, then put a little of the cheapest powder detergent in the pre-wash cup). it works like a charm, but it’s not that cheap. i bet this is a much cheaper alternative and sounds like it’s essentially the same idea! thanks for sharing.

    6. Lauren says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m going to read these articles right now!

    7. Angela says:

      Oh, my goodness! I’ve been lamenting chalky dishes myself, and knew the problem, but didn’t know how to fix it. Thank you for sharing! I have some citric acid on hand from my experiments with home-made mozzarella, so I will definitly try this.

    8. Anita says:

      I like to to use a packet of unsweetened lemon flavored drink mix (ie kool aid) with my detergent. The store brands are usually quite inexpensive so you get the citric acid and a nice lemony scent too.

    9. Melissa says:

      So, my cousin just informed me that my grandma used to use a bit of Tang in the dishwasher for the very same reason! I had no idea!

    10. hannah says:

      I had the exact same problem and started using a rinse agent called LemiShine. It is phosphate-free also and I just put it in the rinse compartment (about a month ago and I still haven’t had to refill it yet) and then use my regular liquid detergent. It is a little pricey (i think it was about $6 for a bottle) but it seems to be lasting forever.

    11. geri e. says:

      have that EXACT problem! and it’s driving me crazy, in fact I think I might jump in the car and run to the store to find myself some citric acid!
      do you have to pair it with dry detergent or can you use it with liquid?

    12. Shaela says:

      OMGosh… you are my salvation!!! Since moving here to Vegas last year we have been having the same thing as you: chalky dishes, and it’s nasty. Like you, I started washing them all by hand. But I am TOTALLY going to try this now. Thanks so much – I can’t wait to see how it works for me!! :)

    13. Deb says:

      YAY for sparkling clean dishes!!

    14. Jess says:

      Try using plain ol’ white vinegar as your rinse agent – it will do the same thing & for cheaper too. :)

    15. Erin says:

      I haven’t had that problem (I think it’s the lack of hard water here) but I recently switched to a homemade dishwasher detergent that has citric acid in it and I have been very pleased with the results so far. Those phosphates sure are nasty, huh?

    16. Emily A says:

      EW! Is THAT what’s going on! I thought I was going nuts, THANK YOU for sharing that Melissa!

    17. Heather says:

      SHOOT! Maybe we should not have been so quick to get rid of our dishwasher! My dishes were always coming out gross, so after trying different soaps I just assumed our dishwasher needed to go….hmmm. Crap. Now I AM the dishwasher :0( Til Santa or someone gets me a new one. Next time I will know to try citric acid first.

    18. Adrienne says:

      Just out of curiosity, did you have the citric acid on hand for making punch?

    19. Linn says:

      I thought it was our horrible hard water, I hate that our dishes are like that. I’ve been putting vinegar in our dish washer to help it from being frosty. I will have to try the citric acid. Hmm. I wonder if the lemony dish soap would help??? Probably not but it’s worth a try.

    20. Maren says:

      I used to use LemmeShine, but then it ruined a few things, so I stopped. I was living with roommates at the time, and therefore could not always control what was kept out of the dishwasher. It ate away the finish of some metal things like a baking sheet, an ice cream scoop, and a garlic press – I wonder if the citric acid would do the same thing?

    21. A. Passage says:

      I was JUST whining at my husband this morning about how terrible our dishwasher is!

    22. Sabrina says:

      I also saw the same news report. It bugged me because they tell of the problem with soap but didn’t give an alternative. I’m definetly trying this.

    23. marné says:

      I use LemiShine for the same reason, it’s about $3 for a bottle at Target, and it’s a miracle! Our water is super hard, and when we moved into our house the inside of the dishwasher was just covered with hard-water deposits. The heating element was completely white, and the dishwasher leaked about half the time we used it. After using the LemiShine a few times the heating element is all clean and back to its original black and no more leaks! You just use a tablespoon in the main compartment, and use regular detergent in the pre-rinse. So it’s pretty cheap too!

    24. Shae says:

      I Love LemiShine. I have used it for 3 years and it saved our glassware!

    25. You have solved the mystery. My mom blamed it on the liquid detergent, but I think it’s just as bad with the tabs. We’ll have to try this.

    26. alison says:

      Is your water hard or soft? I’ve noticed, over the years, that we’ve gotten chalky build-up on our glasses, but 15-ish years of phosphate-free detergents (in Canada) and hard water are bound to do that. On a day-to-day basis, it hasn’t been a problem, and we have horribly hard water where I am.

      Maybe our detergents have already sorted out that problem? The USA-Canada border manages to keep out awesome innovation like this, despite us being so close. It goes both ways. You folks have some amazing products that I would LOVE to use in my regular, every-day life, but for some reason, our manufacturers/importers cannot wrap their heads around the concept of sharing.

    27. Amy F says:

      Um, have you bugged my house? Seriously, how did you know this has been plaguing me lately? It’s gotten so disgusting that I had to start hand washing all of our cups and anything that’s plastic as it just was like glue sticking to them! We were sure that it was our dishwasher! This came at a time where I wasn’t able to get to the store, but I did have some fruit fresh on hand and I KNEW that it had citric acid in it! I’ve added it to the last few loads and it’s been FABULOUS!!!! We’ve tried the vinegar and it didn’t do anything, but I am SO thankful to you for sharing this (and with the picture too!)!!! Everything is sparkly and clean now!

    28. Megan says:

      I saw that same news article but luckily, I still have some of the banned dishwashing detergent. I’ve been using it every few washes to keep things under control. Why didn’t they offer an alternative?? My friend has been using Lemishine and swears by it. The Tang and lemon drink comments cracked me up. Maybe that’s the way to go?

    29. christy says:

      I am going to try this today…I keep buying new glasses…LOL.

    30. jen says:

      I’ve seen people talking about this but haven’t noticed any difference myself. Perhaps it’s because we have a water softener?

    31. Jen says:

      A water softener makes all the difference… if you don’t have one though the citric acid would be cheaper. Is lemon juice the same thing? We have the same problem in Canada… unfortunately. I hate chalky dishes too. Our problem just started last week when we ran out of our phosphate dishsoap and had to get the new stuff that doesn’t have it.

    32. Anna says:

      I second Jess’s suggestion – white vinegar as a rinse aid. Cheap, safe and effective.

    33. sara says:

      I have the same problem with the glasses, I must try your recipe!

    34. […] that gets dishes clean and it’s been working fine since. Before we get to what it is though, this post reminded me of the problem. And in it she links to this great post with some suggestions on what to […]

    35. Anna says:

      I love this! thanks for sharing the tip. Your blog is beautiful by the way, visited before, but now I can’t stop reading. :)

    36. Kath says:

      I had all the same problems and even chucked my old dishwasher and bought a new one! I am now using citric acid. I fill the pre-wash cup with dishwasher detergent, then the large cup with citric acid. The dishes absolutely sparkle! I tried vinegar and it did nothing. I am sure it depends upon the minerals in your particular water. Citric acid is the first ingredient in Crystal Light, Lemon/Lime Koolaid and Fruit Fresh. It is totally safe and there is no smell at all. I bought it at our local health food store and it was expensive. I found that I can buy 10# for $47.10 (including shipping) at http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/

    37. Lisa says:

      By the way, the citric acid is not good on metal items or patterned dishes, according to a GE website. (Someone above mentioned that her garlic press got damaged.) But I agree everything looks so much better!

    38. June says:

      Thanks for the tip! I linked to your blog from mine. It is simply astonishing to see clear glasses, especially the first couple of loads!

    39. […] clean the dishwasher. You can also add it as a detergent booster as enthusiastically endorsed here. It helps to keep hard water from depositing on your dishes or dishwasher, according to the Little […]

    40. Acid Lover says:

      Good thread even if it is a few years old! We are addicted to Lemi-Shine, and recently had trouble finding it. It is simply citric acid, which is also available in many grocery stores as “sour salt” which is used for canning tomatoes. You can also buy bulk citric acid online, in quantities as large as 50lb bags!! Cheers!

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