What’s in your dishwasher detergent?

There is a seemingly endless list of ingredients contained within whatever tablets, powder or liquid you’re using in your dishwasher – some ingredients more important than others. They all have distinct purposes though, ranging from stain removal to keeping the dirt and stains off your dishes once they’ve been removed in the first place. Here, we have put together a list of the more common ingredients in dishwasher detergents.

Dishwasher tabletsAlkaline salts

The main ingredient in many dishwasher detergents, these are the chemicals that can cause a parent’s nightmare; if dishwasher detergent is swallowed by a child, these are the chemicals that can cause severe corrosion to the mouth, throat and airway. The high pH is useful in dissolving dirt, but has the unfortunate side effect of stripping the glaze from crockery and the shine from glassware. While some of the other ingredients in dishwasher detergent exist to counteract this effect, they don’t always work and not all detergents contain these chemicals.

Surfactants

These substances reduce the surface water tension, in order to make it easier for the cleaning solution to quickly wet the surfaces of dishes. They also emulsify oily stains and keep them suspended in water so that they don’t splash back onto the dishes and re-stain them. To make sure they’re effective, many detergents will include two or more surfactants.

Bleach

Generally present in the form of chlorine or oxygen bleach, bleach is necessary in detergent for a number of reasons. The hot steamy conditions created inside a dishwasher are a breeding ground for bacteria and mould. However, bleach helps to kill these bacteria. It also breaks down proteins found in food and helps to remove tough stains left by tea and coffee.

Rinse aids

Chemicals that really should be re-named as drying aids, these help to make the water less physically willing to stay on your dishes. By doing this, they lower the chances of water spots being left on your dishes.

Corrosion inhibitors

When certain types of metals and alloys are exposed to oxygen and moisture (both of which exist inside a dishwasher), they can rust. Because of this, many dishwasher detergents have substances in them to try and combat this process, known as corrosion inhibitors. They generally do this by forming a thin protective coating or layer.

While dishwashing detergents are essential if you have a dishwasher (and they are a very useful appliance), do keep in mind that none of these ingredients are safe to keep around children who might mistake them for something edible. So whatever kind of detergent you use, make sure to keep it out of reach of both children and pets.

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