DW and calcification

aliris19August 25, 2013

I know this has been covered a thousand times. I still don't get it.

Y'all have schooled me about them "enzymes" in the newfangled dishwasher soap. I don't get how they can be "deactivated", and don't get how they work.

So the repairman who graced our abode recently told me that moisture is the death of the enzymes in the detergent. He puts his in a ziplock he says, to keep it dry. If it's old it's unlikely to be working any longer because it's likely to have absorbed moisture.

From my little knowledge of chemistry, I suppose that's vaguely plausible. But there are real live chemists on this site and thought I'd ask for some enlightenment. I am guessing it's a trade secret what these "enzymes" actually are. But it would be nice to know.

Here's what really confuses me - the contention that these things need 'food on the plate' in order to "work". And if the food isn't there then the plate will be etched preferentially.

So -- how does this work??? You're supposed to rinse the food particles from the plates, the pieces, but leave a film of slime? What if there is none? What about water glasses? What if there's something that needs scrubbing, say, lipstick? Why does some sticky food actually seem to get dealt with surprisingly well and others not - e.g., egg in my machine (KA KUDE series) works amazingly well, caked on and annealed as it seems to be. Fruit goo from smoothies does not. You have to rub every mm of that stuff away; the DW just doesn't get rid of it. But why not? What about those fabled "enzymes"?? And that stuff isn't terribly obviously sticky the way, say, egg is ... I don't get it.

How do I know that the enzyme is water-saturated and that's the reason for its failure? When I look at my detergent I see fewer of those little colored bits. Were those the enzymes? Do they lose their color when "deactivated"?

Etching. I totally don't get this either, and also what the difference is between this and calcification.

So it's been said on this forum that if you place plates and glasses in too clean, the enzymes will start to 'eat away at' the crockery because, um, there's no food around for them to "digest". This seems bizarre to me in light of, for example, the fact that these enzymes seemingly do nothing to, say, smoothie goo (see above).

Moreover, my glasses, which are all now incredibly cloudy, seem instead to have a really hard-but-not-impossible film of calcified water on them. With the blue-scrubby side of a sponge I can get it off. It takes some elbow grease, but the glass comes out OK, seemingly not "etched". Which makes sense to me, though is in opposition, maybe, to claims from this forum. I say "maybe", because it could be that other conditions would actually etch the glassware still, and I don't have these. So there's a sort of "convergence" of symptoms, if you will -- namely, cloudy glassware. I seem to have it from calcification, but that doesn't mean, say, that 'etching' isn't possible as well.

The repairer who was here recommended purchasing a product from Home Depot that you run in the machine alone, comes in a cup size with a wax seal which dissolves on running the machine and will scrub away at the calcification. The buildup in my machine is *considerable*. He doubts it can really be cleaned out, it's so bad. But he said to give that product a try. However when I go to HDespot I can't find it. There are tablet thingies designed to go not in the tray but in the soap cup and can be used with dishes -- is that a different product? Less heavy-duty? Does anyone know what the other one might be? Does anyone know whether it's useful and/or likely to be effective?

Is there an alternative to "product" to melt away the calcification? What is "like" (as in "clean like with like") calcium or magnesium? that I could use to clean the machine directly rather than through product?

Also stated here and reiterated by Mr Repairman is that I *need* another product, that JetDry. I tried to explain to him that quite frankly, I couldn't care less if my dishes come out of the machine squeaky-dry. Honestly, with the amount of work that needs doing around here and the backed-up schedules of it, opening a DW and letting it all air-dry for an hour is just not a problem.

But the claim's been made here that the JetDry is necessary to ward off the "etching" and/or calcification.

To which I say grump and double-grump. I don't like being up-sold on all this "product". What's wrong with a pinch of soap and water?

OTOH, something's wrong, way-wrong. Still. And I bet that super-fine meshed filter in my machine is itself seriously clogged just with calcified deposits I can't even see and that in itself diminishes the effectiveness of the machine. So I'm guessing at least buying some product to set me back near to square one would be necessary....

Can anyone help me please? I know this is a ton of questions and even more complaining -- sorry?! I guess along with a machine that's unbelievably quiet comes a new set of requirements and I should be grateful for what I've got and recognize it comes with a price. Still.... ;)


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Sophie Wheeler

If you have that much mineral buildup in your DW, then you need whole house water treatment. That's on the inside of your pipes and faucets and hot water heater too. If it's "severe" it can lead to blockages and plumbing failures. And it's a primary suspect in poor DW cleaning performance as well.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 6:29PM
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Hollysprings -- perhaps. Though one thing the repairer did find was that the water pressure was turned to half on the DW. That said, we live below a hill and the pressure is high here, it could have been that someone thought that was the right thing to do once; I don't remember. Still, it's also possible, perhaps, that the severe buildup is a function of insufficient water pressure in the machine of late?

p.s. I so don't want to hear need for another "product"?! :)

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 6:43PM
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I can't really comment on the chemistry. One thing in your post - you talk about rinsing off the chunks of food but leaving some slime - you're not supposed to rinse at all - SCRAPE the chunks of food off and leave the rest. Also, every dish and glass doesn't need food on it for things to work correctly - just a preponderance of dirty dishes :-)

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 7:43PM
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Hi Weissman! But that's what I don't understand -- how does the enzyme "know" which dishes have or don't the goo on them? Why is it ok for some to be "clean" and others not? That is then, the overall water that the dishes swirl around in has to have a sufficiency of melted goo in the water? It's not a per-dish thing that has to have food residue on it? Then why not just add goo to the detergent? What if you washed a whole load of water glasses only? Etching?

This whole enzyme-thing just doesn't make sense....

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 8:05PM
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Yes, my understanding is that "goo" in the water activates the enzymes, not on a per dish basis. How would you add goo to the detergent?!? The whole idea is to clean dirty dishes - many of us are pleased not to have to pre-rinse the dishes - although there are still people who can't give up the habit. My understanding is that if you washed a whole load of clean water glasses you might get etching on them.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 8:28PM
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It's all a chemical process. Enzymes are chemicals that dissolve food (organic) residue, along with water conditioners to sequester mineral content (hard water). It's not the enzymes so much that attack the glassware, it's the higher concentration of ALL the various chemicals in the detergent composition that does the damage when there's not enough "food soil" in the aggregate wash solution.

Whether you like it or not, accept it or not ... the facts remain that modern dishwashers are engineered to work properly with specific additive products, including rinse aid. Your usage technique thus far apparently isn't working so well, has caused considerable residue in your machine.

Lemishine (citric acid) is an alternative to the dishwasher cleaner you've been directed to use. Plain white vinegar can be helpful on mild to moderate calcification. I suppose in an extreme case one could try Limeaway or CLR. More than one treatment may be needed.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 8:49PM
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I thought enzymes were a chemical that speeded up a reaction, usually by physically attaching to another chemical and in some way changing the shape of the molecule so the reaction went faster? In this case, then, the enzyme would somehow speed up a food-dissolution-reaction.

That makes sense, I guess, what you say about it being an issue of dissolution "concentration"

Maybe I'll just try the white vinegar as I have a bunch of it. Do you just pour it in the bottom of the machine?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 9:42PM
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Vinegar should be added (try 2 measured cups, 16 oz.) to the main wash period of the cycle. Adding it immediately at the start would drain it away within a few mins if the cycle starts with a prewash and/or prerinse. You kinda have to be familiar with the operational sequence of the machine to know when to open the door and pour in the vinegar dose into the main wash period. Maybe close the (empty) detergent cup and listen for a "snap" when it opens?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 9:54PM
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Your thinking 'catalyst'. Enzymes are part of the normal digestion process and break down proteins. Yes, your body produces enzymes.

They're also used in laundry detergents for the same thing: breaking down proteins.

The last time I looked, glassware was not made of proteins.

There was a nice informative article referenced here a few years back describing the action of etching. It has more to do with the chemicals (bleach) and heat acting on the crystal lattice of glass.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 10:15PM
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The only thing that works for me is Lemishine. Vinegar didn't do it; wish it had. For me, no soap works without citric acid, (Lemishine.)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 12:40AM
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I think most of your problem is the new phosphate free
detergents,that white haze is the giveaway, I hate them, but they have improved recently.
This has caused the severe build up in your machine, you will
need lemishine or dishwasher magic to remove it, possibly
several passes.

I use institutional Cascade (available online and at some office
supply stores) or Bubble Bandit, also available online.
Dishes are always spotless, no buildup in machine, smoothie goo gone, lipstick gone These
have phosphates like all detergents used to.

I personally have never felt enzymes were all that, I never
rinsed before enzymes and had perfectly clean dishes. I barely even scrape.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 1:56AM
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EnergyStar-engineered dishwashers nowadays operate at lower water temps (less heating). Enzyme detergents are in turn engineered to perform at moderate temperatures for longer wash periods, on the "normal cycle" low at 105°F in some cases to maybe 125°.

Institutional Cascade contains bleach, not enzymes. I use it on plasticware (drink pitchers, storage bowls) to deal with tea and tomato sauce stains. Very effective.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 10:38AM
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