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Effective and environmentally friendly dishwasher detergent

Over 550,000 tonnes of dishwasher detergent is used by European consumers each year, resulting in large quantities of chemicals entering the wastewater system. Phosphates have however been banned in dishwasher detergents since January 2017. Sweden was early to phase out this environmental pollutant and at RISE we have been helping companies to identify equivalent alternatives for many years.

Phosphates have traditionally been added to dishwasher detergents as complexing agents in order to prevent the build up of limescale during washing. It has long been known that phosphates damage the environment and contribute to the eutrophication of marine environments, which is why a ban was introduced throughout the EU in 2017. By that time, however, Sweden already had a long-standing ban on phosphates and was therefore some way ahead in the search for alternative complexing agents and other additives to replace phosphates.

“As an environmentally aware nation, Sweden has long known of the contribution of phosphates to the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. A ban was in place in Sweden as early as 2011, meaning that we have been helping Swedish customers to test, evaluate and develop their products for some time now,” says Maria Lundin Johnson, researcher and project manager in the field of applied surface chemistry at RISE.

Many trials and studies in this field take place at RISE’s Cleaning Innovation test bed. In the wake of the EU-wide ban on phosphates, Sweden’s position at the forefront of this research has been made apparent to Maria Lundin Johnson in the stream of international stakeholders now turning to RISE and Cleaning Innovation.

“It is clear that the entire market, both in Sweden and internationally, is looking for something with good cleaning properties but that does not attack glass, create limescale or cause unsightly grey stripes on drinking glasses. The difficulty in replacing phosphates lies in their multifunctionality in dishwasher detergents; as an effective complexing agent for calcium and magnesium (and thereby a water softener), in maintaining dirt in solution and preventing the redeposit of food particles on kitchenware and deposits on the dishwasher itself.

Not only that, but any replacement should preferably be environmentally certified, something that is becoming increasingly important to manufacturers. And of course, there must be no increase in cost; the price issue is the first one raised by the customer,” explains Maria Lundin Johnson.

So, there are many different aspects to be considered in the quest for the optimal dishwasher detergent. Thus far, it has not been possible to develop an optimal formulation to replace phosphates, although the RISE test bed does offer good conditions for doing so. As well as spanning a number of geographical areas, Cleaning Innovation is partly virtual and offers broad and large-scale evaluation of technology, chemicals, equipment and methods. 

“One of our major advantages is that we can test at laboratory, pilot and industrial scales, which is positive for customers. Naturally, they are employing us in order to develop and improve their products and thereby strengthen their competitiveness on the market.”