Washington Department of Ecology news release

Water-friendly dishwasher detergents now on grocery shelves

OLYMPIA – New low-phosphate dishwasher detergents are already appearing on grocery store shelves across Washington, making the state ready for a new law that goes into effect July 1, 2010.

The new requirement – which will now apply in all 39 counties – requires that that all dishwasher detergents have low-phosphate formulas.  It applies to the dishwasher detergents for residential uses only, and is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to improve the health of water in our lakes, rivers, streams.

Phosphorus that goes down the drain creates water pollution problems.  It acts as a fertilizer to algae and plants.  When the plants and organisms die, their decay uses up oxygen, suffocating fish and other aquatic life.

Sewage treatment plants can remove much of the phosphorus from our wastewater, but they cannot remove all of it before it reaches rivers, lakes and streams.

“The easiest way to remove phosphorus from wastewater is to not put it in to begin with,” said Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant.  “Using less phosphorus in dishwasher detergents is something that all citizens can do to help keep our waters clean.”

The new law requires that dishwasher detergents contain no more than 0.5 percent phosphorus.  Previously, the products could contain up to 8.7 percent phosphorus.  Because soaps designed for washing dishes by hand are already phosphorus-free, the new requirement affects only soaps used in automatic dishwashers.

Phosphorus limits in laundry detergents have been in place since 1994.  Currently, laundry detergents can contain no more than 0.5 percent phosphorus by weight. 

The state Legislature passed the law in 2006, making Washington the first state in the nation to pass this law.  The new limits went into effect in Spokane and Whatcom counties in July 2008.  The Legislature and Gov. Chris Gregoire chose to apply the limits in Spokane and Whatcom counties in 2008 because of environmental conditions that demanded immediate action.

Dennis Griesing of the Soap and Detergent Association said, “Washington’s phased-in law was the first, and 15 other states followed.  The industry has been readying for the new law for months now.  And while July 1 is the legal effective date in 16 states, the new products are part of a nationwide rollout being undertaken in Canada as well as the United States.”

Bill sponsor state Representative Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane said, “We proposed this bill to reduce the phosphorus management problem in the wastewater treatment system.  It’s more effective and less expensive to decrease what goes down the drain than it is to treat it at the plant.  This way we’re all part of the solution.”

Some experts have estimated that dishwasher detergent accounts for 10 to 12 percent of the phosphorus in wastewater.

The other 15 states joining Washington in the move away from phosphate-laden detergents July 1, 2010 are Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The new law does not apply to commercial and industrial dishwasher products. 


Media Contact: Sandy Howard, 360-407-6408 (desk); 360-791-3177 (cell); sandy.howard@ecy.wa.gov

For more information about the new dishwasher detergent law: www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/nonpoint/phosphorus/PhosphorusBan.html

Learn how you can help protect Washington’s waters: www.ecy.wa.gov/washington_waters/

Ecology’s website: www.ecy.wa.gov

Sandy Howard

WA State Department of Ecology
office 360-407-6408 | cell  360-791-3177