A dishwasher insinuated itself into our lives when we bought a house that came with one in 1986.  With a family of four, a job and grad school, I was grateful for every minute of kitchen work saved.  Our next house had one too, and it was again a great time saver.

When we upgraded our current kitchen, we added a dishwasher because we hope this house will sell easily when the time came to build and it seems most people expect a dishwasher.  (We’ll see how that works out.)

When our younger daughter left for college, we stopped using it.  We fill it when we have company, but it’s just too tedious watching a favorite coffee cup disappear into its innards and not be cleaned till the washer fills up days later.

when we build our little house, it will not include a dishwasher.  It is,   according to ApplianceAdvisor.com , the most complex appliance in the kitchen.  We’re talking “heaters, moving parts, rubber seals, electronics, and 42 million gallons of municipal water held back by a $3 valve and $4 hose.”

There have been studies that conclude dishwashers are more efficient than hand washing.  Even the Sierra Club quotes them.  But I suspect these studies were funded by dishwasher manufacturers.  Hmmm.

...Keep your pinkies wrinkle-free! (photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/32664091@N05/3926778235/

The studies seem to be about water usage, which is admittedly important, but it’s possible to wash dishes by hand pretty efficiently.

-Partially fill the sink with warm water.
-Soak the dishes in the sink
-Wash the dishes in the sink
-Rinse the dishes en masse while in the drying rack using the spray, not one at a time under the faucet.

And what about the electricity use?

What about the fact that dishwashers are not always run when they are filled to their most efficient levels?

And don’t forget that dishwashers are made of 60 pounds of steel, plastic, copper that all had to be extracted, refined, transported shaped, transported some more, etc. etc. etc.   Dishwashers have a life expectancy of 10 years. Ultimately they have to be landfilled.   So we would be demanding another 60 pounds of dishwasher materials every decade.

...Recalled by the U.S. CPSC

Now factor in the number of defective machines that use up the same 60 pounds and go to landfill early. Many manufacturers have had to recall their dishwashers as fire hazards.  Fire hazards?!? According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, GE recalled 174,000 dishwashers in 2010, and Maytag recalled  1.7 million units.  Bosch and Siemens recalled  476,500J in 2009, the list of recent recalls also includes Whirlpool and Sears models.  How  replacing the unit or the entire burned out kitchen compute into the efficiency factor of dishwashers? When was the last time your dish pan caught on fire?

I’m saying no.

No dishwasher.

I prefer the contemplative process of cleaning my crockery by hand

But if you feel differently.  If you need that dish washing time for other pressing tasks (and I sure did at one point) then —

Only wash full loads
Skip the pre-rinse
Discard whatever food waste you have into your tidy compost bin, don’t waste water rinsing them in the sink either, and place your dishes  straight into the dishwasher – you’ll be saving water and time.

Off-peak washing
Delay the start of your dishwasher for off-peak utility hours, which may even offer reduce rates based on your energy provider.

Use an eco-friendly detergent and then, according to the NYT, go VERY easy on the amount you use. Author Vernon Schmidt, who wrote Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand,” claims most people use 10 to 15 times the soap they need in their dishwasher.

So, have you got a dishwasher?

Do you use it much?

Do you use it efficiently?

10 replies

  1. Maybe I’ve read too many of Wendell Berry’s books, but I personally dislike the dishwasher in our home that I do not use. Too many caustic smells, plus a dearth of cleaning quality. I’m not even sure how it functions as a sterilizing machine. I prefer the peaceful activity of handwashing.

    • I know where you are coming from, John. When I had two young kids, was a reporter with beats and also working on my master’s degree in journalism, I actually felt like the dishwasher was my pal. I called it Bob and thanked it for its help.
      But I also did not like the mechanical sound it added to the environment. And then there were those times when you start loading dirty dishes into to a rack that has been cleaned and only partly emptied. And the moments when I opened the door expecting to find clean dishes only to discover I neglected to push the start button the night before.
      In restrospect, I question how much time it actually saved me.

      On the other hand, I have a head full of memories of quiet talks with my mom as we finished the dishes together, which my own daughters never got. Instead, when they were growing up, it was Bob who shared those moments.


  2. My hubby does our washing up, so really his perspective should count, but I don’t like them. They take up too much space and everything you need is always in the dishwasher if you use it properly and fill it before using. When we had a dishwasher in the States (we didn’t buy it, it was a rental house) then I ended up doing far more washing up then ever before.

  3. Oh yes and I forgot, I always doubted the washing up versus dishwasher debate and that was even before you pointed out the environmental costs of a dishwasher production

  4. Our dishwasher – some 30 years old – has died. We will probably get another one. We use it rarely – when we have other people over for a meal (like Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) so I don’t feel too bad about having one. Neither one of us feels like spending 45 minutes or an hour hand-washing dishes after a Thanksgiving dinner. When we get the new one, we expect it will last another 30 years, probably outlasting us!

  5. Wow, Dennis, you did get the good out of that dishwasher! I would agree that if you already have the space allocated in your kitchen and you have your targeted usage, it seems to color your dishwasher green.
    That’s how we use ours at this point — for big company meals only. But I have decided not to use it at all for a few months as an experiment.
    I was at a lecture Wednesday where the speaker said that if the U.S. were to cut its power usage 80 percent — that would put us back to 1969 levels. That really shocked me – to think we are using so much more energy now. But when I think about the power usage in my own home then, it was most certainly much less. And as I recall, I was quite content without many of the items that have since become “necessities.”

  6. “I was quite content without many of the items that have since become “necessities” — isn’t that so, so true of all of us? Oh, wait, that’s how we define “progress” now-a-days, isn’t it?

    Related issue: we just got back from watching True Grit. Really an in-your-face movie with its blood and gore and violence. Not much of a story line. I wonder how much farther Hollywood can go with in-your-face experiences and special effects? Whatever happened to movies that entertained with good story lines? What does this say about movie-goers (i.e. the American population) today? It’s been months since wife and I last watched a movie; I think it will be months or years before I watch another one.

  7. Yeah, I saw True Grit. I thought it was an improvement on the first one, but I didn’t like the ending somehow.
    I’m always fascinated by the rough and ready way our grandparents and those before them lived here.
    My grandparents were farmers, and I grew up admiring and emulating (while slightly modifying) their stoic work ethic and love of their land. Both were great story tellers, and I spent a lot of time imagining their past.
    So, I always find movies set in the past interesting.
    If The King’s Speech comes your way, I would suggest giving current film another chance. It’s another historical piece, and I thought it was well done.
    What I love about a good film is how it takes me out of my own world and let’s me consider other ways of doing things.
    Meanwhile, video stores are folding all around me. Everyone is getting their films online. It seems like that viewing method probably uses and landfills less material.
    We just purged out our vhs tapes. Who will be able to use those soon? And an audio tape collection that most people can’t even access. Most of it is in a brown paper bag for Good Will. Hope someone can enjoy it.

  8. I use my dishwasher to store big heavy plates, glass casserole dishes and excess plastic cutlery that I saved from the landfill. I too imagine that it will add to the resale value of my house when the time comes, but really, who will want a 40+ year old dishwasher?
    My mother had a dishwasher when I was a girl and all her dishes became pitted, discolored, misshapen or otherwise damaged from the caustic chemicals and heat.
    Hand washing dishes is good honest work and I use the time to listen to my favorite public radio programs and juggle yogurt-making, bread or muffin baking while I’m in the kitchen.

    • Hi Sally,
      I think you have a really good point, and one that I have been appreciating since I stopped using the dishwasher. Taking care of one’s belongings carefully and by hand is a great form of meditation. And I agree, it’s better for the dishes.
      Using the dishwasher for storing things sounds like a great idea!

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