Monday, July 7, 2014
The Dishwasher is Useless!
One of the most useless appliances in the kitchen, in my opinion. By the way, who washes 20 place settings at a time, as illustrated in this photo?
We recently rehabilitated our old condo, and this meant replacing the 20-year-old appliances which were well beyond their design life (they may have been older than even that!). For a few days we didn't have a dishwasher, and I was fine with that. Dishwashers are useless or worse than useless, unless you have a large family - and even then.
Why do I say that? Well, the dishwasher is a study in passive-aggression. No one wants to load it. No one wants to unload it. It is a pain-in-the-ass (or more precisely, the back) to use, and it just ends up hoarding dishes.
Oh, and it doesn't wash dishes very well. That.
If you are single or just a couple, the amount of dishes you use is pretty minimal, and you can wash them by hand and put them in a drying rack (or hand dry them) and put them away in a matter of minutes, without having to bend over, load some machine, run it for two hours, and then put things away. The dishwasher doesn't save labor, it creates more.
For single people or small families, one approach is to load the dishwasher until it is "full" with several days of dirty dishes, and then run it. Once "clean" (we'll get back to that later) it is a huge pain in the ass to take nearly every dish, cup, saucer, glass, and piece of silverware you own, and put them away. No one wants to do it, and as a result, a lot of people end up just taking dishes out of the dishwasher and using them, instead of putting them all away.
The plates and cups and such are not such a problem. It is all those weird utensils and pots that you don't know where to put, and end up putting away in the wrong place. A sure sign, by the way, that you have too many utensils pots and pans.
So the washer sits half-full (or half-empty if you are a pessimist) and you have a dirty dish and you accidentally put it in with all those clean un-put-away ones, and you have to run the damn thing yet again because the clean dishes are now "contaminated" or whatever.
And that right there is the problem with the dishwasher - it plays to this paranoid fear of germs. We are told the dishwasher is better because it "sanitizes" our dishes and kills all those nasty germs. But I am not sure that is the case - or that a few stray germs are going to kill you (they are everywhere, and if you don't build up an immunity to them, sanitizing everything isn't the answer).
The cleaning aspect is the other problem, on two fronts. First, despite the claims of the dishwasher makers (in their TeeVee ads) that you can put some crusty old pot of dried-on crud in the washer and it will come out looking like new, you still have to hand scrub your pots, pans, and dishes, before putting them in the washer, or they won't come out clean. In fact, the machine will just bake-on your old food until it is like epoxy on your plates. If you put a wine glass in the washer without rinsing it, it will come out with dried-on wine on it.
And even if a dishwasher could wash all that crud off your dishes, are you going to let dirty dishes accumulate in your washer for a few days and stink up the place? I think not. So there is problem number one with dishwashers - you have to wash the dishes before you do the dishes, so you are not saving any labor, but are in fact, doing it twice.
Second, dishwashers don't use real soap. They use some sort of chemical that is caustic in nature and has that weird dishwasher chemical smell and texture. Dishwasher soap will take the paint off a car, it is that powerful. And that is how dishwashers "clean" - not by scrubbing, but by dipping your dishes in a solution so caustic that it basically etches your plates and glasses.
(And I should note that dishwasher detergent and rinse agents are not cheap, either. You can spend a pile of dough on those little pucks you put in the dishwasher - far more than you would on traditional "dish soap" for hand-washing).
It also leaves a thin film on all your plates and glasses, which particularly is a problem for wine glasses, as they end up with this milky film on them. Rinse agents only eliminate spotting, not the film problem. And getting this film off requires you to hand-wash the glasses, so now you are washing them three times. Any kind of dishware with a concave back or top will hold water, no matter how long the scalding-hot dry cycle runs, leaving this hot liquid on your dishware, and a corresponding ring-stain as well.
I like my glasses to be clear, not milky-coated with some funny-tasting chemical. And if I'm having company, I'm not going to serve them in milk-glass wine glasses with funny stains and smells on them. So I end up hand-washing all the wine glasses and coffee cups (dishwashers don't remove coffee and tea stains, they embed them!).
And of course, it goes without saying that if you have fine china, crystal, and silver, well, that ain't going in the dishwasher, unless you want to ruin it. Ditto for cast-iron "seasoned" pans, anything made of wood (cutting boards, salad bowls and forks, etc.) or even some anodized aluminum pieces. And never put your Tervis(tm) tumblers in the dishwasher or you'll ruin them!
So why not just cut to the chase and hand-wash everything? It takes only a few minutes after each meal (as opposed to letting this stack of dishes accumulate and then washing them all at once). You don't have to bend over to ground level and strain your back loading those damn racks that never work quite right to hold the dishes anyway. And every year, some kid ends up impaling himself on a knife in the dishwasher. Why are dishwashers at ground level anyway?
But it is a funny thing. If you want to sell a house or a condo, you have to put in a dishwasher. People would rather sacrifice cabinet space, even in the smallest of kitchens, than not have a dishwasher.
If you don't have a dishwasher, don't sweat it. If you are looking at an apartment or condo and it doesn't have a dishwasher, don't dismiss it out of hand. Sure, use that as an excuse to bring the price down. But from a practical standpoint, you may come out ahead not having that space-wasting box under the counter.
Some friends of mine are similarly disillusioned with the dishwasher. A childless couple, they find that it is not a labor-savor, but a time-waster. They eat, hand-wash their dishes, and then put them away. Well, that is to say, they put them on their drying rack to dry first. But of course, they don't own a drying rack. So instead, they use the upper rack of the dishwasher as a drying rack, and then once the dishes are dry, put them away.
So, I guess a dishwasher does have a use - it is a slide-out under-counter drying rack for hand-washed dishes.
Beyond that, it is pretty worthless!