Paris’ Dirty Little Secret

The water is Paris is rife with calcium. Which perhaps means there’s a low rate of osteoporosis in women around here. But it also means for the rest of us, we have to deal with this:

glasses.jpg

Oh, the humiliation…But why, I ask? Why me?

Because je suis Parisian (and it’s not just me), so I dump sel in my dishwasher and dutifully pop in one of my beloved Powerballs which releases its magic during each and every spin through the machine. Still, my glasses are covered with calcium. I’ve also soaked them in white vinegar, a must-have around here to combat the calcium buildup that blocks our faucets and water heaters as well.

And for my last desperate attempt to solve the problem once and for all, yesterday I splurged on a fine bottle rinçage (rinse agent) that was priced more than a moderately-good Burgundy, and washed everything again.

Nothing. I eagerly opened the door of the dishwasher the second the final cycle was done in great anticipation. But through the moist, hazy steam, I lifted a glass skyward and with the sun streaming through, my normally-cheery spirits dropped when I saw the stubborn white film had refused to budge from the sides of the glasses.

What can I do?
I’m can’t go out in public, and the weather’s getting too nice to hide myself indoors, shrouded in shame, for much longer…

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53 comments

  • I have the same problem where I live. The only solution I’ve found that works is to use citric acid (lemon salt?) and let it soak in hot water in the diseased-looking pot/electric kettle. I’ve yet to try it on glass, but it has to be worth a shot.

  • It sounds like the scale has permeated the glass. You could try soaking them overnight filled w/vinegar & then scrubbing w/a handful of raw rice. If you can find Comet cleanser or something comparable to it, that may work. Let the glasses soak in a mixture of Comet & water for about 30 minutes, rinse, then mix the Comet into a paste & work it over the stains w/your fingers. Sometimes it takes a few repeats for it to vanish completely. Other than that, it’s hardcore chemical treatment or new glasses. Good luck!

  • citric salt can be the solution. put them in hot water with a spoonful citric salt for about 1-2 hours. just don’t forget to wash them well afterwards… we have in israel high amounts of calcium in the water.

  • I did try the vinegar, but without the raw-rice scrub. The Comet sounds like it might work. Except I don’t think they have Comet in Paris, or Ajax even. I may have to bring some back from the US in June (that oughta be fun, explaining that to customs…)

    I don’t know where to get citric acid. Maybe at my trusty Pharmacie, which is my favorite place in Paris!

  • My poor David, now you are a REAL Parisien.
    There is no solution once your glasses are in this state. With new glasses + all the chemical gear you already have (salt, liquide de rinçage, powerball) you should be OK for about 1.5 years.

    My solution at home? Cheap Ikea glasses to be dumped (in the recycling bin) when too white.
    My husband’s solution at home? Clean the glasses by hand.

  • David:

    I’ve had the same problem in Lux. The glasses weren’t stained, they got permanently etched and nothing would take away the cloudiness. I had to cave in and buy new glasses (our wine glasses took the hardest hits).

    I had been using gel dishwasher detergent but then switched to those little tablets and *always* add extra salt now (even with the tablets that say they’re 3-in-1 or 4-in-1 or 12-in-one!).
    That has helped a lot and I haven’t had the heartbreak of nasty glasses ever since.

    I used to laugh at those commercials on TV that showed the horrifed housewife who’s expecting guests when she realizes that her glasses are all full of calcaire. I don’t laugh anymore now that I’ve shared her pain.

  • Yup, we have that too, must be good for our health?

    I’m seriously thinking about getting a salt water softening system. I heard that you should hook it up to your hot water only, so that you can drink the cold one with its “nutrients”.

    You can get citric acid at the arabic or turkish grocery stores. why they have it? I dont know, but I have seen it there.

  • Treat yourself to new glasses. It’s more fun to shop than clean.

  • Use toothpaste! See this post on Lifehacker for lots of good tips.
    I have the same problem and use citric acid in the dishwasher, a product called Lemon-Aid or something like that. Does the trick.

  • Try Alka-Seltzer. People keep telling me to use it on some depression glass, and I’ve tried, but I think the stuff is permanently etched on there. But maybe if you start at the first sign of the white spots …

  • There used to be a shop in Pais where US Expats could get goods they were homesick for, maybe they would have ajax. I’m spacing on the name of the place at the moment.

    Maybe:
    Thanksgiving- 20, rue Saint Paul 75004

    Or:
    The Real McCoy- 194, rue de Grenelle 75007

  • They might be right about the etching but before you run out to buy new glasses you might try the acid with heat idea. It should work with vinegar or citric acid as they accomplish the same thing.

  • There are also some products for de-scaling the calcium deposits in espresso machines that you can buy and might work for the glassware too. Urnex or CleanCaf, I think are the brands.

  • Well, the toothpaste trick didn’t work (and my neighbor, who saw me brushing my glasses probably thinks I’m weird).

    Gail: I’d buy new glasses but my favorites are my 50s French wine glasses that are totally cool, and can’t be replaced.

    From now on, there’s 2 words around here for wine-glass…”hand” and “wash” (which are two words I normally avoid like the plague.

    Will try to citric adic. My local Arab market has it. Those epresso machine cleaners are supposed to be good, but I don’t know where to get them in Paris. I don’t think many people clean their espresso machines, from what I’ve seen…and tasted.

  • Those tablets that one soaks their dentures in – it works. Gotta let them soak. Great for vases. Difficulty is explaining to someone why you have a box of Efferdent tablets in your cupboard…
    Comet cleans tons. Worth the curious looks at Customs.

  • I hate to say this, but handwashing new glasses may be your only option. Dishwashers are very hard on things even with soft water.

  • I’m in Southern California, and the water is crazy. I can clean my glass shower doors and after one or two uses, they’re so filmed over you can’t see through them.
    There are cleaning products here that are amazing at getting rid of that film – CLR comes to mind – but I don’t know that they’re available overseas. For that matter, I don’t know that you’d want to use them on things you drink out of! I hand wash my glasses and towel dry them, and that seems to work decently.

  • We used to use a whole water softening system that our handyman used to dumb huge bags of salt into. The system was in place when we moved in, so i don’t know much about it, other than that it worked very well and was made by some British company.

    Kate

  • Oops… whole HOUSE water softening system that is…

    Kate

  • Have you tried baking soda? I think it contains the same abrasive (pumice) that you might find in Ajax/Comet and toothpaste. I use a bit of baking soda with water to form a paste to get rid of tea/coffee stains that you usually find in white coffee cups. It works great.

  • Our water is liquid rock here in SW Ontario as well.

    In fact, even though I religiously run vinegar and CLR through my dishwasher regularly, the calcium deposits have somehow killed it. The repair guy swears by Tang, which probably contains the citric salt that everyone is mentioning. I don’t know if it works or not because he is not done fixing my machine yet.

    Your glasses look etched to me. They may have to be tossed if some of the suggestions here don’t work. The Citric salt sounds promising. If it works, I’m going to hunt some down.

    What I plan to do from now on is handwash my nice glasses and save the dishwasher for the less precious ones. I won’t buy expensive glasses anymore because no matter what, it seems they need replacing every year or two anyhow.

  • Hand washing glasses is good for the soul. It’s rhythmic and meditative.

    Ingrid Bergman taught her lovely daughter, Isabella, when doing the dishes after a party, do the glasses last. Empty the sink, and fill it again with completely new water: the hottest possible. Wash each glass lovingly and dry it as soon as it’s done dripping.

    I wash all our glasses (in fact, all our dishes) by hand, because we have something worse than calcium: we have horrid well water. Nothing stays white.

    Enjoy your careful labors!

  • what about using those “Mr Clean Magic Erasers”? I use them a lot and they seem to work on any stains. hope this helps…Good luck!

  • Dude, I’ve got the same problem in Pa. The only solution is to buy better glasses. Cheap glasses like the type you show here have too many pits in the fabric. You have to buy better quality glass with less surface area for the minerals to cling to.
    Otherwise the only thing to do is to scrub them by hand with something acidic like white vinegar.

  • Hey, David, try the denture cleaning tablets. I hear they work, although since my glasses don’t fit into the DW I haven’t had to try them. OTH, my old fashioned glasses do go into the DW, and I don’t have build-up…
    Nowadays I have a water softener, but I didn’t for the first 3 years.
    Have you tried any of the things like Cillit Bang and Viakal that are made for removing calcare?

  • I buy my expresso machine cleaner at Nespresso’s either in their Paris stores (Opera, Champs Elysees…) or on the internet.

  • Too bad about the toothpaste. I think it was the baking soda in the toothpaste that helped remove the grime, so maybe other’s suggestions will help.

  • Hello

    I’m living in Paris, but I don’t have trouble with my glasses.
    I don’t want to be pessimistic, but there is really nothing to do, it depends on the quality of the glass.
    Anyway it’s much better to avoid tablets (use powder, salt and rince separately) and washing machine to wash pricy or old glasses.
    If you want to try expresso cleaner or iron cleaner, you can find it in Castorama, or any supermarkets or little drugerys, but this is no more working like hot vinegar, just a little bit expensive.
    Hope to see you coming back with your Comet (ah ah Us security matters)

    Jane

  • There is a difference between residue and etching. In my experience, residue is in the early stages (many suggestions above to remove this) and etching comes into play later. From what I understand, etching happens as the (very) hard water is shot at high speed against the glass. Game over, unfortunately, unless you re-polish the glass.

    This residue/etching difference is why some people have great luck with all the above suggestions (like my sister, who was annoyed with the cloudy look very quickly because it was still just residue) and some people struggle miserably (like me, who just ignored it for quite a while, so I was now fighting etching).

    (I would imagine that if it is etching, the worst of the clouding is on the INSIDE of the glass…which is where the most power from the dishwasher sprayer is. Residue would probably be on both sides of the glass.)

    Anything I care about gets hand washed. Our everyday wine glasses are Ikea (or price point thereabouts) so we can chuck them with impunity when they ugly out.

  • i agree with valentine. if you soak your glasses in vinegar for one night and if calcium isn’t gone, it’s simply etching. your glasses are corroded. game over :/ …

  • Hi Dave,

    As both a restaurateur, engineer and glass blower, perhaps I can add to this discussion.

    Your glasses look to be etched. I imagine your water is alkaline. So are many dishwashing detergents. Few dishwashers do a great job of rinsing because the designers try to conserve water. Whatever that is that you put in your rinse ball may make the situation worse.

    What is happening is that during the dry cycle, water that is undoubtedly high in pH that remains on the glass after rinsing is slowly evaporated, concentrating the dissolved high pH solids. As the concentration of dissolved solids increases in the hot environment (reaction rates double for every 10 deg C increase in temperature) the etching accelerates. The end result is etching AND deposits which take the shape of the residual water at the start of the drying cycle.

    Ironically, the most beautiful glass, high lead content crystal, is also the most subject to etching. It is considered a chemically “soft” glass. The higher the lead content, the higher the refractive index, the more the sparkle and the easier it is to etch. Anything above about 24% lead will etch almost by being looked at!

    Since your glasses are heirloom, there is a fix that’s worth doing. You can re-polish the glass or have it done. In the States, craftsmen who advertise “crystal repair” can do it. The process is quite simple and you can do it at home if you’re so inclined. You’ll need a soft cotton polishing wheel that can be chucked in an electric drill and some cerium oxide polishing compound. Google the net for a local source. Cerium oxide is the final abrasive used to polish glass after cutting and is what puts the “better than blown” luster on the finest cut crystal.

    The stuff is a pinkish very fine powder, finer than face powder. You simply apply some to the wheel and carefully apply the wheel to the blemishes, working an area around the blemish to avoid making an optical divot. For slight damage as in your photo, the process should only take minutes.

    To prevent the problem in the future, use a neutral or slightly low pH cleaner, wash by hand in tepid water, rinse thoroughly and towel dry. The last step is most important to prevent evaporation from concentrating dissolved solids from the tap water. Here in the States, restaurant supply companies sell “wine glass detergent” that fits that description.

    Bars almost always have round brushes in the bottom of the glass wash sink – in high volume bars the brushes are motorized. The idea is to get the glass in and out of the wash tank as quickly as possible and get it rinsed. You can do the same at home with a hand-held round glass brush. In the wash water, a quick swish with the brush and outside wipe with a dish cloth and to the rinse.

    BTW, THE best deliming chemical I’ve found is something used by dairy farmers called “milk stone remover”. Milk stone is the heavy calcium buildup that deposits in milk processing equipment. The remover is an approx 40% solution of phosphoric acid and a little detergent. It’s cheap – about $3/gallon at the local ag supply store and works extremely fast. It forms a protective passivating phosphate layer on metals other than stainless (does nothing to stainless) and leaves no taste.

    I’ve tried most of the chemicals the restaurant supply sells for deliming coffee and espresso machines and find that milk stone remover works better than any of ‘em. Being acid (though not dangerously so), it is safe to use on lime stained glassware.

    John

  • Wow John, you rock!

    I live in a very ag oriented part of Ontario and I’m always chipping away at rocks in my shower, laundry room, kitchen and bath. Nothing seems to work.

    I will hunt down this milk stone remover pronto. I know I can find it here.

    Also, back on the dishwasher topic: I found that the cheapest generic store brand powder dishwasher detergent to be the best, at least for my particular machine. It took some experimentation at first. The powerballs et al just left even more film on my dishes. The cheap stuff rinsed pretty clean.

  • John: Wow! You’re my hero too!

    We used to use milk stone remover to clean the professional ice cream maker I worked with. I wonder where I’d find it in Paris (you wouldn’t seem to know that, would you? You seem to know everything else so I just thought I’d ask.)

    Will try that out on my vintage glasses.

    btw: You should start a blog, http://www.stainedglasses.com…you the man!

  • I hand wash all my dishes and glasses and air dry them on the rack by the sink. I live in the area with hard water but I rarely have problem with calcium deposits. For the tea and coffee stains, I use baking soda mixed with dish washing liquid and usually that is all it takes. May I suggest handwashing your glasses?
    -Jill-
    P.S. I love your blog!

  • So does that explain why champagne bubbles so well in Paris, then?

  • If anyone gets new glasses, tossing a packet of lemon cool-aid in to the dishwasher from time to time (lots of citric acid in there) takes care of a lot of the problem.

  • Ahhh, in Denmark, we actually call this the glass plague! Maybe a small price to pay for strong bones and teeth and healthy hair and nails? I just acquired my first dishwasher, and am waiting for the first milky stains to appear. So lots of sel and rinsage pour moi!

    I am saving all the citric acid I have for making my usual insane amounts of Elderflower Cordial in a few short months…now, back to that ice cream I was making with the season’s first rhubarb.

  • This discussion is sooooo fascinating to me!
    While you all are trying to get the calcium OUT of your water, I am trying desperately to find a way to put it IN! Yep, for me, Paris tap water is the absolute BEST to paint watercolors with!!! The paint just FLOWS like a dream. This trip I finally managed to bring back 1 small refilled Vittel bottle’s worth, now that they’ve relaxed the liquid laws in the airport.
    But I’ve already tried putting Lime wash and Champagne chalk INTO my New York water=no go
    Maybe I should try the Bologna chalk, which has more calcium. Or maybe I need to go to PA or CA to get my painting water.
    For the moment I’m stuck divying out this Paris tap water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time! It’s maddening.
    I think Neon John may be able to help me…
    Signed,
    Desperately Seeking Hard Water

  • ParisBreakfast,

    I lived in NYC for fifteen years before I moved up here to Canada. I don’t know where exactly you live in NY, but Manhattan water is so soft there is absolutely NO buffer in it whatsoever.

    I keep aquariums, specifically freshwater planted ones which require CO2 injections, which require some kind of buffer to stabilize the PH.

    I used to add baking soda to buffer the water, but I don’t think that will help you. You may want to try some commercial aquarium buffers. I’m not sure what exactly you are looking for as far as mineral content, but there are many products at fish stores for reef tanks that are chock full of calcium. I’m not talking about salt mixes, I’m sure you don’t want salt water, but there are other things that are added to calcium reactors for the animals that need it.

    If you live in NYC New World Aquarium on 38th between 2nd & 3rd would be the place to go.

    You can email me at madcarlotta AT gmail DOT com if you are interested, I don’t want to hijack the comments section :)

  • Carol: I was wondering if you could ‘reduce’ the water in Paris: boil it down to concentrate the calcium. Then you could reconstitute is as you need it.

    Jill: I’m going back to hand-washing my glasses. And glad you like the blog!

    Trig: There’s champagne in Paris? ; )

  • I read recently that Paris water is filled with magnesium, too.

    I noticed that my hair is unmanageable in Paris – could this be the cause?

  • WOW THANKS for the water recipes!
    I just made David’s terrific Lentille de Puy last night=YUMMY
    Now I’m going to pursue some of these hard water recipes. Neon John is a veritable chemistry lab of ideas.
    Paris water always wrecked my hair too Mimi.
    There’s only one solution (no pun intended).
    Get a Paris haircut.
    Paris tap = bad for the hair and glasses and good for painting.
    PS THANKS for the swell Lentille recipe David and FOR THIS post!

  • Mimi: Well, according to Dorie Greenspan in Paris Sweets, she says all the minerals in the water assure you that in Paris, “Everyday is a good hair day.”

    (although try explaining that to Michele…)

  • My husband worked for a glass company in his younger years. He says that the glass is permanetly scarred. Nothing will remove those marks. Take care of your glasses from the start to prevent this.

  • I don’t know if someone posted it…but when it doubt…use baking soda… We live in the “Limestone City” and this stuff happens all the time… the other thing we use, mainly b/c of our expresso machine is a decalcifier…we use the Saeco brand…you could use it for glass/stemware too.

    PS. I read your post about the condensed milk in a tube…and I must say that when growing up in Europe…we used to get a tube of that stuff and drizzle it right in out mouths…I’m not even sure if it was used for anything else at our house. It came in three flavours: Chocolate, Vanilla, and Regular. Since then the best company packed it in, and now it’s hard to find a tasty one…but I must say, I’m almost 30, living in Canada, and still managed to import a tube…just in case.

  • Asia: Try Longevity brand condensed milk. It’s available in Asian markets and I think it’s Vietnamese. It’s the best brand I’ve tasted.

  • ParisBreakfasts: Have you tried using mineral water for your watercolour? european mineral waters should be available everywhere at a decent price, and likely contain the minerals that are helping your painting. I’d be willing to bet that with some research you’d be able to find a mineral water bottled in the Paris area ( try here: http://www.mineralwaters.org/ ) The beauty of mineral water is the mineral content is often right on the label. I’d let a carbonated mineral water sit open to settle, or shake to hurry it up.

    Cheers,

    Aaron

  • A bit late on this one sorry. We have the same problem in Bordeaux and I’m told that the secret is never to handwash your glasses. Handwashing creates microscratches and the limescale in the water gets stuck there after a few cycles in the dishwasher. God I’m boring.

  • Try a water softener. Good luck!

  • CLR is your answer. Just dip your glass into it and you are done. Calcium, Lime and Rust remover made by Jelmar
    5550 W. Touhy Ave. Suite 200
    Skokie, IL 60077
    USA

    Their website is jelmer.com

    It looks like you have so many responses (one person even mentioned CLR) you may never read this far…but if you do, try CLR. Hey it rhymes. Ha. Your glass-blower has a point: etching is very different from deposits. I assume you have calcium deposits because you said that was your cause. If so, CLR works. Almost miraculously!

    On a side note, the people who just suggest new glass are missing the point and might be missing enjoying great wine–crystal by nature is porous and this helps wine release its bouquet. Dip your high quality crystal glasses in CLR once a month and you’ll have clean crystal and great tasting wine.

  • It sounds like a trip to IKEA should do the trick!

  • Dear David,

    As said before (also from Israel), Citric Acid will solve your problem. Once in few months, put 2-3 tbs of Citric Acid in you dishwasher, instead of the powder or tabs.
    Citric Acid is a spice! usually used in very small quantities, in mediteranean cuisine, for soups, Kubbeh, stuffed veg and even Tahini sauce prepared in restaurants. Can be used in larger quantities for washing machines, kettles etc.
    Alors, cherchez a l’Epicerie, pas a la Pharmacie… Bon Chance !!

  • This post is really old now, but if you’re still having problems with calcium buildup, I’ve found that Durgol works quite well.

    It’s Swiss –the water in Zurich is so full of calcium it’s ridiculous– and I’m not sure where you can find it in Paris, but it’s amazing.