Why Do I Have Cloudy Dishes After I Wash Them?

You expect them to come out spotless. When they don’t, your water could be to blame.

Cloudy dishes coming out of a dishwasher

The good news is there’s a proven water treatment solution for milky glasses!

Sure, you could keep trying to scrub those milky glasses and cloudy dishes harder with more soap and water. But we’re guessing that hasn’t helped all that much so far. Plus, it’s probably increasing your grocery bill as you go through all that dish soap.

Instead of continuing to struggle with the symptoms, why not fix the root of the problem? It’s easy to find out if your water is causing your cloudy dishes. And if it is, the solution is just as simple!

Read on to learn:

  • How your water causes milky glasses and cloudy dishes
  • Other issues this water problem can create
  • The simple water treatment solution for this problem
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How Water Causes Milky Glasses and Cloudy Dishes

Your dishwasher is most likely producing milky glasses because it’s washing them with hard water. Hard water contains a high concentration of calcium and magnesium ions, which it collects from flowing through the earth.

Most of the United States has hard water, including the regions our company serves in Northern Illinois and Southeast Florida. In fact, a U.S. geological survey confirms that the Chicago suburbs and West Palm Beach County have some of the hardest water in the country at over 181 milligrams/Liter.

This hard water can cause cloudy dishes and milky glasses in two different ways:

First, the water’s high mineral content doesn’t interact well with dishwashing liquid. When the minerals and soap interact, a chemical reaction occurs forming a curd known as soap scum. These hardened chunks of soap stick to the dishware and don’t wash away easily.

Very hard water also leaves behind excess calcium and magnesium particles on dishware as it rinses away.

So, your cloudy glasses and dishes could be from the dishwasher leaving behind these two types of residue.

Here are a few more factors to be aware of if you suspect hard water is causing your milky glassware.

Homes with Well Water are Very Vulnerable

If your home gets water from a private well, then you are especially likely to have hard water. This is because well water comes into the home directly from the earth without any prior treatment. This untreated water often collects a lot of calcium and magnesium from the surrounding rocks, making it very hard.

Many homeowners in Northern Illinois towns like Kildeer, Long Grove and Wauconda get water from unregulated private wells. As a result, hard water goes to every water-using appliance in their homes, including their dishwasher.

Regions with City Water are Still Not Immune

What about Chicagoland and Florida residents that get pre-treated water from their local water utility? You would think this water would be less hard than the water from private wells.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

City water receives municipal treatment, which usually includes chlorination and fluorination, to neutralize some contaminants. However, this treatment does nothing to get rid of the minerals that cause hardness. 

So, while it is slightly less likely that your water will be hard if you get it from the city, it’s still highly probable. For example, most Chicago suburbs receive treated water from Lake Michigan. The water in that lake has an average hardness of 8 grains per gallon, which is quite hard.

An Easy Way to Check if Hard Water is the Culprit

How can you check if hard water is making your glasses milky? Fortunately, there’s a very simple and inexpensive way to do so. All you’ll need is a little vinegar.

Here’s how to do it:

Take one of your cloudy glasses and submerge it in vinegar. Then let the glass soak for five minutes. If you remove the glass from vinegar and the milkiness is gone, then hard water is causing the issue.

However, if the cloudiness does not clear, then you’re probably dealing with etching. These are permanent scratch marks left on dishes and glassware from over cleaning. We’ll take a quick look at how to deal with this problem in the section below.

What to Do if Etching is the Problem Instead

Preventing etching requires changing how you do the dishes. Using less detergent can help as using excess detergent is often what causes the scratches. You can also decrease the water temperature since high heat usually makes the scratches worse.

Another way to prevent etching is to avoid rinsing your dishes off before putting them in the dishwasher. The reason for this is dishwashing liquids are designed to remove excess food and residue. So, when you rinse off that excess food beforehand, you make it so that it has nothing to remove. As a result, the detergent wears away at the rinsed dishes leading to scuffs and cracks.

Other Problems Hard Water Can Cause

Aside from making your dishes look cloudy, hard water can also make dishwashing more expensive since you’ll have to use more detergent to get your dishes clean. However, adding too much detergent can make the dishes cloudier.

Hard water can also cause many other problems for a home, including:

All these issues are certainly frustrating and costly. However, the good news is consuming hard water has no dangerous health effects. The only way it can cause problems for you physically is by drying out your hair and skin in the shower. This can worsen skin diseases and cause hair loss over time.

Graphic listing the two main causes of milky glasses
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How to Clean Cloudy Dishes and Keep Them Clean

So, what do you do if you know hard water is the cause of your milky glasses and you want it to go away? We have a simple four-step process for you to follow to get rid of the cloudiness and keep it gone for good!

Step 1: Soak and Handwash Your Cloudy Dishes

Before we can get rid of the problem for good, let’s take care of any milky dishware you currently have.

Round up all your cloudy dishes and glasses and follow the following instructions to get them crystal clear again:

  1. Put your dishware in a large tub and fill it with enough vinegar to cover the dishes.
  2. Let the dishes soak in vinegar for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Remove the dishes from the vinegar and handwash them using dish soap and hot water.
  4. Dry the dishes with a dishcloth.

Once you’ve completed this process all your dishes should be spot free.

Now we can move on to making sure they stay that way. We will do this by finding the right water treatment equipment for your home.

Step 2: Test the Hardness of Your Water

It may seem strange to test the hardness level of your water when you already know you have hard water, but there’s a good reason to do so.

You need to know how hard your water is to find a system equipped to remove that amount of hardness minerals. After all, not all systems are created equal. Some can remove more hard water minerals, others less.

You should get the water in your home tested at an EPA-certified water testing facility. This certification guarantees trustworthy results. The test will also reveal if you have any other potentially dangerous contaminants in your water.

Once you know how hard your water is and what’s in it, you will be able to make an informed decision on what equipment you should invest in.

Step 3: Consider Investing in an NSF/ANSI 44 Certified Water Softener

The most common hard water remedy is to invest in a salt-based water softener system. This device removes calcium and magnesium ions from the water before they enter the home through a process known as ion-exchange. With the hardness minerals gone, your dishwasher will rinse the soap off your dishes to leave them good as new!

If you decide to go with a salt-based water softener, we recommend investing in a system with NSF 44 certification. This certification means the softener has gone through many tests to show it does what it says it will do. So, you can trust you’ll be getting those splotch-free dishes for a long time.

Step 4: Have Your Softener Properly Installed and Maintained

Installation and maintenance are the keys to keeping those milk splotches away for good. It doesn’t matter if you pick the most impressive water softener system on earth. If it’s poorly installed and you don’t give it the yearly maintenance it needs, then your relief from having to deal with those milky glasses won’t last for long.

So, be sure to have your system installed by a licensed plumber. And once it’s up and running, remember to have it inspected as often as the manufacturer requires for warranty coverage (usually this is at least once a year).

Graphic displaying cloudy glasses without a water softener and clear glasses with a softener

Need Help Preventing Milky Glasses and Cloudy Dishes?

You don’t have to put up with those embarrassing splotches on your dinnerware. The right water softener will help you make that problem history!

Need assistance getting started? The team at Angel Water is here for you! For over 50 years, we’ve helped Chicago residents get the soft water they deserve. We provide EPA-certified water testing, NSF-certified water softeners, licensed installation, maintenance services and more.

If you live in the greater Barrington, IL, or West Palm Beach, FL, regions, It would be our pleasure to help you.

Please call us today at (847) 382-7800

or fill out the form below to talk with an expert or schedule a free consultation!

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