The Joys of Dishwashing

UnknownOur labor-saving automatic dishwashing machine broke.

Actually, it didn’t break, exactly. It developed a leak, which is much worse. First, there was a tiny wet spot on the floor: a spill, we thought, or maybe a spot of dog drool from when we were a little slow dishing up Dorian’s dinner. Then there was a bigger wet spot. Then there was a really big wet spot.

It only happens when we run the thing, so after the third leak, we stopped using it and considered our options.

It probably isn’t a big deal, just a door seal or something. A minor repair.

But to repair it, we have to figure out exactly where it’s leaking, and why, and then go to Home Depot to discover that they stopped stocking that exact thickness of sealing tape ten minutes ago, and no, they can’t order it because they don’t make that stuff any more. We’ll have to figure out how to improvise a solution using epoxy aerogel and shaved rubber grommets. Since we aren’t experienced, we’ll undoubtedly get it wrong the first two times, which means at least two more leaks, probably major. Then we’ll have to scrape out all the rubber and epoxy, hope we haven’t damaged things beyond repair, and start over. On the third try, we’ll probably get it right, or close enough, but the machine might not function at all with those big, boot-shaped dents in the front, and even if it does, we’ll spend the next three weeks checking the floor every five minutes while it runs. It runs for over ninety minutes, so that’s eighteen unnecessary worry-filled trips to the kitchen.

This option is not attractive.

We could, of course, hire an experienced dishwasher repair person to come out and fix it for us. For a price. Since the problem involves water inside the house, a truly unnatural arrangement when you think about it, it will be a pretty stiff price. If there are any such people to begin with. And when he or she is done, we’ll still be checking it every five minutes for leaks.

This option is also not attractive.

Then there’s the obvious, patriotic solution: just go out and buy a new one! That’s what our economy is all about, right? And they are doubtless having a sale somewhere. Of course, we don’t want the cheapest hunk of junk we can find, we want something quiet that cleans the dishes really well, doesn’t use a lot of water and energy, has plenty of capacity, is easy to arrange our dishes in, and which fits the hole under the cabinet. So to Consumer Reports we go, and … Holy Cow! It’s not like buying a new car or anything, but Holy Cow!

There is no inflation in America.
There is no inflation in America.
There is no inflation in America.

So we did the sensible thing, and decided to stop thinking about it.

Of course, in the meantime, there are those dirty dishes already in the labor-saving automatic dishwashing machine, and they’re getting a little gamey. And there’s that plate I used for lunch, and the bowl for my breakfast cereal, and dagnabit, I just need to break down and wash them by hand.

Washing all the dishes by hand has brought about a few minor epiphanies.

For one thing, I realized I was already washing most of the dishes by hand, anyway.

If you try to fit in any of the pots or pans, that’s it — there’s no room for anything else — so the big stuff always stayed out, and got washed by hand. Then there are all the things that are not dishwasher-safe — the good knives with wooden handles, for instance, or the wooden serving tongs that Marta likes to use for serving salad, or the bamboo chopsticks I like to use for Oriental meals, or any of the gadgets and gizmos with moving metal parts that rust quickly inside the steamy hot-box of the machine. I’d guess at least fifty to sixty percent of our daily wash-up did not go into the machine in the first place.

Then there’s the psycho-efficiency factor, which means that bad feeling you get when you waste a detergent pellet and a whole dishwasher cycle for two bowls and a spoon.  Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right, and I’ve never found a formula for justifying it to myself: and trust me, I’m good at that sort of thing. So to avoid a daily psycho-efficiency meltdown, we’d load up the dishwasher until it was full. That meant that about half the time, I’d try to pour my morning coffee, only to find that all the coffee cups were in the dishwasher. So I would open the dishwasher, pull out a dirty cup, and wash it by hand.

Then there are all the practical, unwritten rules for using a labor-saving automatic dishwashing machine properly.

Rule one for any dishwasher is: you have to rinse everything first. If you don’t, you’ll find dried granular crud stuck to the concave bottoms of all your coffee mugs, or any other place the water pools and can’t run off. And if something flips in the water jets, like the plastic sippy-cup your grandchild used last time he came over? Yuk. It’s gross. So you have to watch for all these things while you’re taking them out, and if you see any standing water with crud in it, you have to wash it by hand.

Rule two is that there are substances you just can’t put in the dishwasher, because no matter how many cycles you run, things won’t get clean. Scrambled eggs, for instance, turn into a rubbery compound that could be used in airplane tires, and clings like kudzu. Pizza cheese that melted onto the plate in the microwave, comes out of the dishwasher fossilized and atomically bonded to the plate: there’s a rumor that this is how the original thermal tiles for the space shuttle were made. So if you make the mistake of putting any of these substances into the dishwasher, you have to take it out afterwards and wash it off by hand.

Rule three is that there’s an art to arranging spoons. If you just dump them into the flatware rack, they’ll “spoon” — go figure — and when they come out, they’ll be welded together by whatever the bottom spoon was used in. So you have to pry them apart and wash them by hand.

Rule four is that peanut butter stains the knives. We don’t know why this happens. It seems to be some kind of dark alchemy from the Middle Ages rather than chemistry, but however it happens, if you want clean flatware, it’s not enough to rinse the knife you used to spread the peanut butter — you have to wash it off by hand before you put it into the dishwasher.

Rule five is that anything too small, that might get flipped around in the water jets and fall through the racks to jam the sprayer on the bottom, has to be washed by hand.

Unknown-1The sad truth of the matter is this: the labor-saving automatic dishwashing machine is more work than washing the dishes by hand, at least for the two of us. We’ve discovered some true labor-saving tools, as well, that make hand-washing even easier: a good drying rack, and some new dishtowels.

We have a big Fall party coming up, and I may be looking back on our labor-saving automatic dishwashing machine a little nostalgically right after that.

Then again, maybe I’ll really break with tradition and put the guests to work. We can call it a “sobriety checkpoint” — wash three wine glasses or four plates without breaking them, and I’ll return your car keys.

Hmmm. Have to think about that….

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