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Ask the Builder: Dishwasher is clouding glasses. What to do?
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Ask the Builder: Dishwasher is clouding glasses. What to do?

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This drinking glass used to be crystal clear.

Q: Tim, please help me. My husband and I are at odds as to what’s slowly ruining all of my wonderful clear glasses and heat-treated glass items in my kitchen. Each time I remove them from my dishwasher, they look worse. My husband states it’s just hard water. I tried soaking some of the ruined things in hot white vinegar, and there was no change. It’s got to be something else, but I can’t figure it out. Can you shed light on this? —Sandra P., Las Vegas

A: The clear drinking glasses in my own home are slowly getting ruined just as Sandra described. I’ve got lots of experience with dishwashers, being a master plumber.

Many years ago I was first introduced to this strange conundrum by my mother-in-law. I was a brash young man and she showed me one of her ruined small drinking glasses. She asked me if I knew what was going on. “Sure, it’s just hard water deposits,” I said. “Let me take it home and restore it.”

I tried soaking it in white vinegar, a mild acid that has no trouble dissolving hard-water mineral deposits. There was no change. I then got out my toxic bottle of muriatic acid and tried it full strength. There was no change. I was flummoxed.

As time passed, I deduced the issue had to be with the actual dishwashing detergents, be they powders, gels or pods. In all my years of washing glasses by hand they never suffered from etching, so whatever was happening was happening inside the steel box with the thrashing water spray.

Last month, I finally had it. I reached out to what I believe is the largest USA manufacturer of automatic dishwashing soap, Procter & Gamble (P&G). They make the Cascade product I use. Since I’m a member of the working media, they were kind enough to accommodate my press inquiry.

A senior scientist from P&G explained that a perfect glass-etching storm can happen inside a dishwasher if you have these four things: soft water, low soil load, high temperatures and chelating agents. She went on to say, “Chelating agents, or chelants, are a major part of auto-dishwashing formulations because they form soluble complexes with calcium and other metal ions, enabling them to remove food soils and limescale, soften water, and boost hygienic cleaning action.” When you soften water, as I do at my home, you remove the calcium from the water. Uh oh!

To prevent glass etching, she suggested not rinsing dishes and glasses, wash in shorter cycles, not using the pots-and-pans or sanitizing settings, and using a dishwashing product that contains zinc.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that if you want your clear glass to remain clear, you better do what I had to do as a kid. Wash them all by hand with normal liquid dishwashing soap. Your other option is to just keep buying new glasses after they get etched should you not want to wash them by hand.

Q: Tim, I’m at my wits’ end. My builder thinks my new house is finished but there are numerous defects. He had the building inspector through, and this government official issued a certificate of occupancy (CO). The builder says this is proof everything is OK. I know there are numerous items that are against the building code, and I hired an engineering firm to produce a report to verify this. How would you settle this scrum? —Meredith S., Windham, N.H.

A: Oh, my. Meredith’s plight is a common one! I receive identical emergency requests from homeowners all across the country on my AsktheBuilder.com website each week. The problem is growing and it’s very troubling.

I’ve done expert witness work in situations like this for the past 20 years. The last case I worked on had me crawling over the roof of the Brazilian ambassador’s house in Antigua. It was a mess!

As I see it, there are two problems in Meredith’s case. Let’s assume she’s right and there are numerous code issues. If that’s the case, the building inspector who issued the certificate of occupancy has made a mistake. The building code is not a document of recommendations. It’s a pass/fail document. Something either meets code or it doesn’t. There’s no gray area.

The way I prevailed in all my past cases was to ignore quality issues for the most part and just stick with code violations. I’d go page-by-page through the code, and any section that had a measurement requirement, I’d go measure that item in the house. I’d then take a photograph or two to prove that the item didn’t meet code.

You don’t have to hire an expert to do this. You can read the code and take measurements. If you do discover lots of things that don’t meet code, then schedule a meeting with the head building official and present your evidence. She/he should rescind the CO and only re-issue it after all the work in the house complies with the code.

(Subscribe to Tim’s’ free newsletter and listen to his new podcasts. Go to: AsktheBuilder.com.)

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