Surprising finding: the dishwasher can make you sick

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Does the added convenience come at a price? Rinse aid for dishwashers is suspected of triggering various chronic diseases. One ingredient is considered potentially toxic.

It saves a lot of time and water and makes housework much more straightforward: the dishwasher. Especially because nowadays, thanks to modern dishwashing detergents, the machine can usually get to grips with even the worst soiling. And the rinse aid makes the dishes shiny again without the need for re-polishing.

Rinse aid can damage the protective layer in the intestines
The rinse aid is suspected of being dangerous for our gastrointestinal tract. Specifically, the ingredient is alcohol ethoxylate, which can damage the intestinal epithelial layer, according to the results of a study by the University of Zurich, now published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

These cells are an inner protective layer of the intestine, which also decides what passes into the body. The skin and lungs also have epithelial layers.

Study leader Cezmi Akdis, professor of experimental allergology and immunology at the University of Zurich and director of the Swiss Institute for Allergy and Asthma Research, has been conducting research in the field for two decades and helped develop the so-called epithelial barrier hypothesis.

Cause of many chronic diseases?
Defective epithelial barriers are thought to be linked to the development of chronic diseases such as food allergies, gastritis, diabetes, obesity, liver cirrhosis, multiple sclerosis, chronic depression, Alzheimer’s disease and several more.

The epithelial barriers take damage from chemicals and additives we use in daily life – like the nonionic surfactant alcohol ethoxylate.

The study showed that even small amounts of rinse aid containing alcohol ethoxylate make the intestinal epithelial barrier more permeable. At high concentrations, the cells even die. Thus, rinse aid can trigger inflammation if it is not rinsed thoroughly. This is because the chemical is absorbed the next time the dishes are used.

For private households, however, there is – to a certain extent – an all-clear. Professional commercial dishwashers lack a rinse cycle at the end of the wash program to thoroughly wash off the rinse aid. Most of these machines need just two minutes for a wash cycle and use a minimum of water, according to utopia.de.

Alternatively, one can use a rinse aid without alcohol ethoxylate or do it thoroughly. Possible alternatives that can be tested include vinegar or citric acid.

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