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DIRTY DISHES

I live in an apartment complex and have had a problem with my dishwasher since shortly after I moved here. Whenever I wash dishes in it, there remains a whitish film that seems dried on. It is very difficult to remove. I do not use the drying cycle during the wash, so that isn't a problem. I spoke to my apartment manager who said it is because of the hard water in this area. The only way to fix it, according to the manager, is to install a very expensive water filtering system that he cannot justify.

I have stopped using the dishwashers because the dishes look absolutely disgusting. - G.J., West Jordan.It's difficult to diagnose a problem like yours over the phone. We, however, tried.

After speaking to several experts, including the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers in Chicago, we concluded that your problem probably is, as you suggest, caused by hard water.

Minerals in the water react with the dishwasher detergent, leaving a film.

The problem is not uncommon and we suspect the owner's manual that came with your dishwasher has a section that discusses hard-water film. We suggest you try to track down an owner's manual and study it carefully. Each manufacturer has its own recommendations for dealing with the problem.

There are several options you can try. Some are cheaper than others.

- The most obvious and expensive is to install a water softener. There are models that connect only into your dishwasher which are probably less expensive than ones that serve an entire apartment.

- An additive, such as Jet Dry, may take care of your problem.

- Be sure you are using enough detergent. Many dishwasher detergents contain water softeners. If you are using an insufficient amount of detergent, there isn't enough water softener to take care of the mineral deposits.

- For the same reason, check to make sure the detergent cups don't leak. Here again, by the time the second cup is to be used, if the detergent has leaked out there won't be enough detergent to counteract the effects of the hard water.

- Manufacturers recommend a water temperature of 140 degrees F of higher. Many consumers, however, keep the temperature of their water heaters lower, like 120 degrees, to avoid scalding when they turn on the hot water tap. The cooler the water temperature, the greater the hard-water problem.

- Load the dishwasher so the bottom is not overcrowded, allowing water to circulate as intended.

- To get rid of the cloudy film that's on your dishes, first use white vinegar, then chlorine bleach, and then white vinegar. The owner's manual should tell you when to stop the dishwasher to add these items.