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Foggy Glassware Answers

Question: Here's my problem: smoky, white stains on wine glasses. I've purchased two products guaranteed to remove lime and calcium deposits on glass but neither worked — and I soaked them overnight. I've tried toothpaste, baking soda and cleanser. My questions to you are: 1) What is the deposit? And 2) How can it be removed?


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Answer: Since the usual cleaning remedies haven't defogged your wine glasses, then perhaps I can make an educated guess as to the cause: etching (tiny permanent scratches that occur in the dishwasher). To avoid this with future glasses, hand-wash those wine glasses you want to keep sparkling clear.

Q: I saw your response to the problem of white stains and clouding on wine glasses. What part of the process in the dishwasher causes this?

I have read several comments that warn against putting crystal in the dishwasher, but no one ever says why. We have had this problem with glass, crystal, plastic and acrylic. Is it the soap, the temperature, something else?

We always thoroughly rinse everything that goes into our machine because we do not run it every day and I don't want to fool with the filter. Do we really need soap to get things clean, or is the hot water enough? We use a rinse aid, and everything is always spotless, but the "glassware" seems to cloud up. The dishwasher manufacturers have not been any help.

A: Great question! The answer to what causes the mysterious clouding of crystal and glassware sent for a spin in the dishwasher: a scratch-causing combination of water, detergent and you.

Let's start with the water; usually softened to make soaps clean better. And dishwasher water is heated to 140 degrees to further increase its cleaning power.

Then there's the dishwashing detergent. It's packed with phosphates to boost cleaning power.

Then there is you and me — the user who dutifully rinses dishes before loading the dishwasher. The combination packs an almost too-powerful cleaning punch.

When the dishwasher runs, things get hot inside. And not in a good cleaning way. Without hard-water minerals to act on, and little food waste to occupy them, those helpful phosphates turn into troublemakers for any glassware.

At the end of a cycle — or a combination of months of cycles — the glasses come out foggier than when they went in, with a coating that no amount of cleaning can coax away. A magnifying glass, however, would reveal the truth — your glasses aren't the least bit dirty or fogged with a film. In fact they're so clean as to be etched — as in the surface is scratched.

Hard water clouding can be removed with a vinegar rinse or wash. Soft water etching, however is permanent.

To prevent this vicious cycle of etching, switch to a detergent with a lower phosphate level, or use less of your favorite detergent. Then give it something to act on — skip the rinsing before you pop that plate into the dishwasher. Or, simply switch to a no-phosphate detergent.

Foggy Glassware Answers:  Created on July 21st, 2005.  Last Modified on January 21st, 2014


About Tara Aronson

Tara Aronson

Tara Aronson is author of Housekeeping With Kids. Her San Francisco Chronicle column entitled "Coming Clean" — focusing on household cleaning and maintenance — reaches 1.5 million readers. Aronson is an expert in home cleaning and organizing. Her advice has appeared in numerous national and regional publications, including Ladies' Home Journal, The Washington Post and Woman's World. Visit Tara's Web site.

Aronson is fast becoming a familiar face on national television (Living It Up with Ali & Jack, Soap Talk, The Other Half, CNNfn, etc.) and is also a much sought-after lifestyle expert for local television news and radio programs nationwide.

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