Detergent DRM Defeated On Diminutive Dishwasher

Has it really come to this? Are we really at the point that dishwashers have proprietary detergent cartridges that you’re locked into buying at inflated prices?

Apparently so, at least for some species of the common kitchen appliance. The particular unit in question goes by the friendly name of Bob, and is a compact, countertop unit that’s aimed at the very small kitchen market. [dekuNukem] picked one of these units up recently, and was appalled to learn that new detergent cartridges would cost an arm and a leg. So naturally, he hacked the detergent cartridges. A small PCB with an edge connector and a 256-byte EEPROM sprouts from each Bob cartridge; a little reverse engineering revealed the right bits to twiddle to reset the cartridge to its full 30-wash count, leading to a dongle to attach to the cartridge when it’s time for a reset and a refill.

With the electronics figured out, [dekuNukem] worked on the detergent refill. This seems like it was the more difficult part, aided though it was by some fairly detailed specs on the cartridge contents. A little math revealed the right concentrations to shoot for, and the ingredients in the OEM cartridges were easily — and cheaply — sourced from commercial dishwashing detergents. The cartridges can be refilled with a properly diluted solution using a syringe; the result is that each wash costs 1/75-th of what it would if he stuck with OEM cartridges.

For as much as we despise the “give away the printer, charge for the ink” model, Bob’s scheme somehow seems even worse. We’ve seen this technique used to lock people into everything from refrigerator water filters to cat litter, so we really like the way [dekuNukem] figured everything out here, and that he saw fit to share his solution.

71 thoughts on “Detergent DRM Defeated On Diminutive Dishwasher

        1. I’d argue that all of the resources of society that enabled you to survive from birth to adulthood, which you didn’t pay for, would be the “theft”. Your expectation that a newborn baby can afford those resources is also unreasonable.
          This is why the previous generation pays for your ability to exist, and it is only fair you pay for the next one to do the same.

          There is a difference between this, aka the concept of taxes, and the specific implementation of this, aka how a government goes about spending that money.
          The later is completely open for debate (and constantly should be!) but the former really isn’t. If you really disagreed with the concept, you wouldn’t actually be alive today as a result, so wouldn’t be able to complain in the first place :P

        2. You get what you pay for. Without public services you had better have enough land to be self sufficient, people and knowledge to work it and the ability to defend it all.

          There isn’t enough land on Earth for us all to live that way though. Supporting this size of a population requires a level of cooperation that requires shared infrastructure, policing, etc.. and somebody has to pay for that.

        3. @kc8rwr

          There are three categories of spending:

          (1) A person is buying something for themselves and paying for it themselves — in this instance, the buyer will be concerned both with cost (they will seek to minimize it) and quality/quantity (they will seek to maximize it) because they have direct skin in the game.

          (2) A person is buying something for themselves, but someone else is paying for it — in this instance, the buyer will not necessarily seek to minimize cost, because they know they won’t feel of the pain of it. But as they are still the direct beneficiary of the purchase, they will non the less seek to maximize quality/quantity.

          (3) A person is buying something for someone else with someone else’s money. In this case, the buyer has no skin in the game at all. There is no personal connection motivating them either to minimize cost or maximize quality/quality. At best, the buyer is a disinterested party. At worst, they may perceive their job/responsibility to conduct the transaction as a burden, i.e, something to “just get it over with”— an attitude that results in increased cost, decreased quality/quantity, or both.

          The OP for this hack probably falls in category (1), which is what motivated his investigation and hack in the first place. (I applaud it, by the way.)

          Virtually ALL expenditures paid for with taxpayer’s monies falls into category (3). This category produces the poorest result for the beneficiary, and we haven’t even accounted for the corruption, fraud, or nepotism that often goes along with it.

          To be clear, I’m not against the notion of taxes in principle. There are infrastructure items that need to be funded somehow.

          However, with all due respect, the implication that taxpayers “get what they pay for” is utter BS.

        4. @Dissy
          I’d argue that the resources needed to *survive* from birth to adulthood is usually a responsibility of the parents, not the state. And that responsibility mostly comes naturally.
          Besides, the resources the state puts in isn’t ‘theft’, it is an investment by the state. Not only to see the kids become new taxpayers, but also to maintain a functioning society.

          In fact, where I live the current generations pay far more into the social system – for less benefits – then the current elders, who’s voting established the system, ever have.

          Of course every society needs some degree of taxation to maintain the society. At the very least for defense, policing and a judicial system. The rest, as you say, is up for debate ;-)

  1. Techmoan on Youtube reviewed this, and I am sure that he said that you could use any detergent but the machine was designed for the casettes.

    This section of the review here ( ) discusses the cassettes, and shows a shot of the part of the manual that says:
    “If you do not use Bob Cassette then you must add dishwasher detergent directly into the main body before starting a program.”
    It also warns that you will have to follow a different cleaning schedule (for the machine itself) if you do not use the cassettes.

    1. Yes, this was my first reaction as well. “Is this the machine techmoan talked about? I clearly remember he stating you could bypass the cartridge”.
      Nobody can stop you from putting detergent inside the washing chamber anyway, so I don’t get it.
      It was probably fun to hack it, though!

        1. I’m going to say that would be the purchaser’s own fault. Buy the one that does not require it.

          They will keep on making more and more of these things as long as people keep on happily buying them.

    2. The problem with adding detergent directly into the main body is that it is equivalent to put it only for pre-cleaning, but not for the cleaning itself (that’s why a lot of dishwashers have two compartments for detergent… I strongly recommend to watch the video dedicated to dishwashers from Technology connections).

        1. Well, some newer dishwashers dropped the prewash compartment (which is usually open and without a lid or gasket), but by-and-large, the prewash compartment was a feature for all markets for a pretty long time. The only major feature difference I can think of between EU and US market dishwashers, is how a lot of EU models include a limescale removing salt dispenser, whereas in the US limescale removal is typically accomplished with a whole-house water softener.

          Anyway, you can still effect a prewash by pouring detergent into the dishwasher pan, but as Sergio mentioned, I recommend watching Technology Connection’s video on dishwasher pods to get the whole story.

          1. I watched that video. But to be honest, I did not yet see a prewash detergent compartment in any of our dishwashers and my mother had the first one 40yr ago.
            I can not remember, if the manual recommended putting extra detergent into the tub for a more efficient prewash cycle.

          2. I have never seen a prewash compartment in any dishwasher here in The Netherlands – not in old ones, not in new ones, not in cheap or expensive models. And putting detergent in the tub was never a thing.
            They do and did always have a compartment for salt, one for a rinse aid and one for a detergent, now almost always in tablet form.
            The main change in newer models is that they have new programs that take 3-4 hours to complete, but are much more energy and water efficient, and some improvements in the drying methods. And some tricks such as projecting the time left on the floor, in higher end models, plus of course network connectivity…

          3. Is a “prewash” really necessary? Isn’t it just a way for someone to sell more detergent (and to sell machines by adding superfluous features)? Similar to nearly-universal “directions” for shampoo to “wash, rinse, repeat”?

            Instructions for or product stickers on dishwashing machines often “recommend” a specific brand of detergent. They do this because they’ve contracted with that brand to do so, and that makes the sellers of the machines also sellers of the detergent. Of course if one brand does it, they all have to in order to “compete,” thus a non-existent need becomes a must-have necessity. This is why “First World” problems dominate the world’s economy–one detergent “pod” at a time.

        2. My diswasher have only one compartment, but if you read manual it tels you that you should add prewash detergent directly into dishawasher… But no one reads manuals :))

      1. Saw both the TechMoan video and the exhaustive videos on Technology Connections and learned two things: that small dishwashers existed AT ALL and then how to best use them. So I now own a small dishwasher (not Bob) that uses regular detergent and it works absolutely perfectly. I’ve never had dishes this clean in my life. Which is sad. And also thrilling. Technology Connections was extremely informative on how and when to use the detergent and he ought to be required viewing to own one of these things.

    3. If you had bothered to read the links, you’d see that dekuNukem references Technoman’s review and explicitly lists a number of reasons why he wants to use cartridges. See the “Alternatives” section

  2. He probably didn’t pay attention to some description somewhere in the product packaging or labeling saying those cartridges where required. So I’ll give him a pass on this.

    However, manufacturers will keep on making and selling products with this absurd model, **for as long as people keep willingly buying them**

    So it’s their own fault.

    1. Or they can force you to change. I am seeing the disappearance of bar soap, powder washing detegent off the store shelf and replaced by the liquid forms. These now requires plastic packaging instead of the old paper/cardboards.

      1. I regularly see both, but I prefer the liquid products. They are more convenient. I prefer pushing the button or even only holding the hands under a dispenser instead of slowly “rubbing” enough soap off a slippery soap bar and then have to put this slippery bar somewhere.
        And in my experience powdered laundry detergent often does not dissolve completely.

      2. there are some benefits of liquid form detergents – less dust/smell. For allergic or very smell-sensitive people this is hell – ask my wife ;)
        also dishwaser tab’s in wrapping that dissolves. not ecco-crazy but the less artificial smell the better

      3. Like I said, people buy it. If brandx does this and people switch to brand y instead of “ok, I guess I’ll have to buy it” and do buy it, product won’t leave the shelves and they won’t make product that does not sell.

        It’s not like every brand switch to this model all at once over night.

        But people give in too easily. “You get what you pay for”, right?

        1. Chances are there there are only a handful of mega corporations that controls all the brands you see. In some cases, the different brands are coming off the same factories. Who own the companies that made the washers?

          While consumers may have some say. People aren’t exactly smart and they fall for gimics and short term convience. They might pick the one(s) that you wouldn’t want just like what happended in a certain election.

        2. While I have no problem with activism, it’s also perfectly reasonable to buy a thing that currently functions in a way you’re not happy with, secure in the knowledge that you can modify or rebuild it as you see fit.

          Perhaps buying the product gives you a better start at getting what you want than building it yourself from scratch, or the alternatives are in some way “less suitable” despite being less annoying in their base configuration. Or perhaps, your prime motivator is the joy of the hack itself.

          In any case, while activism is a perfectly reasonable choice that should be respected, I’d argue that the choice to modify is also a perfectly reasonable choice, and equally worthy of respect.

    2. But if the company uses the standard “razor/blade” pricing model, we can get a washer sold cheap below cost, and not provide them with a profit by not buying the cartridges!
      They still lose money, at least from those of us buying it with the intention of breaking the DRM.
      At scale, I would agree. Which is a good reason to spread such DRM bypassing methods far and wide to the general public too

      1. The problem is that regular people are either not going to want to or be too scared to hack stuff even if you provide them with a $5 solution for it.

        So the real solution is for people just refuse to buy stuff like that, period.

        But you’re right, people worry more about saving a few pennies here and there instead of putting their foot down.

  3. I have an electric hand soap dispenser and it also uses cartridges of – antibacterial – soap. These cost about €6 for 200ml. Luckily they are not chip protected, so all I needed was some suitable plastic tubing to act like a syringe needle to refill it through the outlet valve with liquid soap for like 65ct/liter.
    This is not antibacterial, but in my opinion the routine use of disinfectants in a normal household when nobody is sick, is not so good. It also can lead to the development of resistant pathogens.
    The plastic tube was from some spray bottle and I wrapped some self vulcanizing insulation tape over it, to give it a good seal. One turn of the tube in an ordinary pencil sharpener gave it a beveled edge to make insertion more easy.

    1. >but in my opinion the routine use of disinfectants in a normal household when nobody is sick, is not so
      >good. It also can lead to the development of resistant pathogens.
      I fully agree. Normal soap and standard house cleaner is more than enough, no need to desinfect everything and every day. Of course with this nasty virus going on things might be a little different.

      Great hack of course, but as stated above it would even be better to not buy such DRMed-products at all.

    2. “One turn of the tube in an ordinary pencil sharpener gave it a beveled edge to make insertion more easy.”

      I need to remember this the next time I need to thread a fuel line for a 2-cycle engine!

      “It’s a hack!” [TM]

    1. Dishwasher detergent comes in powders, liquids, pods, and tabs. Making a chamber that opens mid-cycle is a simple solution that suits all of those use cases. Obviously it’s not impossible to have a liquid dispenser as even the cheapest dishwashers have a tank and dosing pump for rinse aid.

      Space is also likely a reason. A gallon of detergent has to fit somewhere, and making the door 1 gallon smaller means that rack depth needs to be decreased to match. Those few ounces of rinse aid take up much less space, and last for a month. You can probably get as much or more time between fills with a gallon-sized detergent tank, but that’s not as attractive a feature as being able to wash more dishes per load.

    2. I used to own a restaurant and the commercial dishwasher was a loan from the company you bought the soap for it from, and it took big gallon sized boxes. The rep had a pretty good vibe for when to come around and sell you more too.

    3. There are a few clothes washers that have this feature, I looked at a few from LG.

      My paranoid self worries that it will use more soap than necessary due to kickbacks from soap makers, but I’m working on my trust issues.

  4. Wow have humans become lazy. You obviously can’t wash much with this device. The simplest solution would be to just hand wash those few things, and avoid this POS……

    1. 1. It does not say in the story what he uses it for, so it could be for something other than dishes.
      2. If you use paper plates and the like (I certainly did in my younger days because I hated washing dishes and the place I lived in did not have a washer), it’s perfect to toss your silverware in there once you used a few and turn it on before going to bed. I bet it uses a lot less water than washing it by hand.

      But yes, humans have become lazier in general. It’s what convenience tech allows us to do.

    2. While I can’t disagree entirely there is an increasing degree of extreme energy efficiency (laziness) to the modern human, a device like this should use bugger all water, so its well worth having if you are the lone adult/couple not generating enough dishes to fill the bigger machines.

      Our current dishwasher claims 6 litre for the entire cycle, I’ve not personally verified this, but that is about half of what it takes to fill up the sink and wash dishes by hand, and it deals with much greaser dishes better than hand washing, so actually often cleans better than you could by hand with that one sinkfull.

  5. Looking at it, it seems that the objective can be achieved even more easily by just (carefully) drilling a hole in the right place and shorting pin7 (WP) to pin 8 (VCC). Then it will be unable to change the counter at all.

  6. “give away the printer, charge for the ink”

    Let’s hope for his sake that they are using that business model, and not the more common “charge for the handle, charge extra for the blades, sue the competition over and over until they can’t afford lawyers anymore” business model.

  7. I like this hack a lot. It solves two problems:
    1. The sleazy attempt of corporation to suck money from people by selling them expensive replacements.
    2. The matter of waste generated by these replacements.

    I hate and despise this kind of hardware DRM intended to financially rape the unfortunate customers. Corporations tried it with inkjet and laser printers, with 3D printers (only supporting brand filament at inflated price) and even paper cups for coffee maker. Fortunately people found a way around these greed-generated solutions, and that’s great. We need to fight this trend, or else everything might be DRM locked. Just imagine a washing machine with similar system to Bob, or a fridge which knows, what brands of food you put inside, and if more than 80% of them is not from approved list, it reverses the operation (heat pump, baby!) and heats up the contents…

    As for Bob, someone should make an OEM containers under the brand name “Dick”, so anyone could put a Dick in their Bob…

    1. Modern refrigerators require proprietary filter$ for the ice maker/ water dispenser.
      Although not locked in to a specific detergent, I am familiar with a clothes washer that had around 1 gallon capacity for liquid detergent dispensing.

  8. The appliance purchaser is not necessarily the user who has to buy DRM-monopoly-priced consumables in perpetuity. That point underpins _Unauthorized Bread_ — landlord saves a buck, tenants overpay forever.

  9. If it doesn’t verify writing to the cartridge you could replace the EEPROM with a ROM chip so it always thinks it’s full and install it inside the case instead of Inside the cartridge. Perhaps do what they do with printers and add a bottle of detergent and a length of tubing.

  10. If it does verify the data maybe add a shift register as a buffer, have it read from a ROM at startup but but write to the register until it’s reset. Then it’ll be blissfully unaware it’s talking to itself and you’re just going to ignore it next time you turn it on.

  11. Simply, I don’t get it, this is a complete waste of time, why buying a dishwasher with detergent DRM !!! when you can buy a similar one without any DRM.
    Use your time for real thing that make sense.
    Buying stuff with DRM encourage company to produce more stuff like this.
    This is the future you want for you and you children ?

  12. I am waiting for other kind of dishwasher hacks. Modern “eco-friendly” dishwashers runs for hours and have very poor cleaning and drying results. Old devices did much better in 1-1.5 hour. It would be perfect if we could modify modern device to work old way. For sure water dosing could be tuned, I don’t know if it is also possible with pressure of cleaning water or drying temperature.

    1. Check your water temperature in the machine after a fill, most dishwasher like to have ~120° water, and don’t work well without it.

      If your water heater is on the other side of the house you can open up the faucet on the kitchen sink for a minute or so to prime the hot water system, or better yet, install a hot water recirculation pump to not waste water. Or there are dishwasher models that will use the drying element to heat up the water in the tub, on my GE it’s called “Added Heat” or something, it’s a button to save energy.

  13. This is the laziest implementation of DRM ever. They have no encryption or even a checksum on the memory. Not even the slightest obfuscation. It’s almost as if the software engineers made it intentionally easy to hack. But maybe they don’t need much because even this might violate DRM, and they could sick their lawyers on anyone who tries to capitalize. But still, don’t buy it and reward companies who try this hostile tactic.

    1. Or, maybe, they are not actually evil? They do document in the manual how to not use their system, they just think that their system works better.

      I can get as incensed as anyone about DRM. But this is a cool hack against a not-very-evil company.

      So, how about liking the appliance _and_ the hack? there is no inherent mutual exclusivity.

  14. Another way of looking at this is you are rewarding bad behaviour buying DRM enabled hardware in the first place. If people simply refused to buy this junk then manufacturers would stop making it.

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