Monday, March 2, 2009

Dishwashers: Instruments of the Devil?

How Your dishwasher REALLY works.
( I got this here: Click here for a neat article.)

This title is just a joke, I feel compelled to explain. I would never want to be without my dishwasher! Recently, since I AM the DomesticMuse, I've been pondering the pros and cons of using my dishwasher.

You see, I have a love-hate relationship with my dishwasher. The machine, I mean-- not a person! Sometimes I feel it conspires against me, just to be ornery. For one thing, there doesn't seem to be enough room in the right places, which means either we wash the outcasts by hand, or let them pile up until the dishwasher is empty again. I'll be the first to admit I'm not the best at spacial relationships, so my loading is probably just inefficient. And then there is the irritation of things that get filled up with water ( can you say tupperware?), only to splash all over your floor (Or your feet! ) when you attempt to unload them. And the rest of the stuff that isn't quite dry and needs some towel action before you can put it away. Even on Heated Dry.

Putting the soap in used to irritate me, too, it was like Ogden Nash's poem about ketchup:

Shake and shake the ketchup bottle.
First none will come, and then, a lot'll.

Yeah, all over my floor-- then I found those marvelous little geltabs that you don't even have to remove from the package. Yay!!!

Of course, when I'm hosting a big dinner, there's nothing nicer than being able to dump all those dishes in the dishwasher and let 'er rip. It's the oddest thing, but we constantly run out of clean glasses and cups. The whole dishwasher will be practically empty, except the top is full of tea cups, glasses, and a few bowls! I'm starting to think they may be reproducing in there! I'm wondering if I should take a tip from our friend, Mark, one of 8 kids. His mom is so smart, at the beginning of the day she takes a piece of tape, writes "Mark" or "David" or whatever on it, and sticks it on a glass. That is that person's glass for the whole day. I guess with 8 kids you've got to be pretty inventive! :)

Recently I purchased one of those fancy new dish drainer things:

Having lived in small spaces for the past few years, I didn't have room for one, so handwashing whatever can't go in the dishwasher's been such a nuisance. I generally wash the stuff I cook with as I go along, because I'm sure to need that microplaner in the next few minutes and it doesn't help to have it sitting dirty in the dishwasher.

I have to say, I'm surprised at how this dish drainer thing has made it SO much easier to keep the kitchen clean. Yes, I know, I should drag myself into the 20th century. Next thing I know, you'll be telling me they are actually slicing the bread before you buy it ;)

My drainer is made by Simple Human, and one of the things I like best about it is that it has a slotted tray that sits above the drainboard, so your dishes never touch the actual drainboard, where the water collects. AND it has an adjustable spout for draining the water out of the drain board!

When I started to think about it, I realized that I'm already doing 75% of the work of washing dishes even WITH the dishwasher! We live in an apt. so our dishwasher doesn't have all the bells and whistles yours probably does. Nope, we have the stripped down version. (And our fridge has wire shelves, too. Barbaric, isn't it?) Which means, I have to scrape and rinse all the dishes first and get off all the baked-on, crusty, stuck, or melted cheesy stuff with a nylon scrubby before the dishes can go in the machine. It can't digest any food particles. And then with what feeble intellect I have left after cooking dinner, I have to figure out the geometry problems of loading the dang thing.

Actually, my comment about the dishwasher reminds of the time when we lived in a fancy-shmancy, all town-house apt. complex (in KY), and I committed the mortal sin of stopping up the garbage disposal. Well, DS was just at that ankle-biting stage, crawling around and putting everything in his mouth, and I really needed my sink to be not stopped up.

So, Bobby the handyman to the rescue. As it happened, it was Lent, and my friend Cindy had just called to enlighten me as to the passages we were supposed to read for our Lenten Study Group that night, which naturally, I had not yet got around to doing. One whole wall of the apt. was sliding glass doors, so it was easy to see into the living room.

Well, the door bell rings, and there is Bobby, just as sweet and country as can be. "Oh, Miz Letarte, I am so sorry to interrupt your scripture study, what a good Christan wife you are, sittin' there on your sofa readin' the Lord's Word, which is what we all should be doin'. But I hear you've got your disposal stopped up again." Wordlessly, I showed him into the kitchen, not having the heart to tell him he'd caught me at a rare, not habitual, moment.

I won't bore you with the details of my spiritual journey, but suffice it to say, I grew up Catholic. We didn't do scripture chases in catechism (i.e., Sunday School). Instead we memorized the tenets of the Baltimore Catechism, and Sister Theresa, one of the sweetest ladies on earth, gave us caramel candies with white marshmallow centers if we got the right answers.

In humiliation, I retreated to the living room. Bobby finished his repair, and then called me into the kitchen and fixed me with a kindly, but firm eye. "There was a LOT of food in there, Miz Letarte." I cringed, having just emptied a large pot of sadly expired lentil soup into the disposal. Bobby looks at me very solemnly, and says, "Always remember, Miz Letarte, NEVER feed it more than a bite at a time." (This is much funnier in a Southern accent, too bad y'all can't hear me tell it.)

Since then, I have always heeded Bobby's words. I have never since stopped up the garbage disposal-- with food. My main problems now seem to be dropping the scrubby in there and not noticing, or, worse, the measuring spoon set falls in there and gets stuck. Which is the one thing that will make coat-and-tie manners DC say bad words.

And then there are all the things that can't go in the dishwasher for fear of ruination, like my Calphalon One non-stick skillets, or glassware with colored designs on it, or anything with decorative metal trim. So a certain amount of hand-washing is inevitable.

Exhibit A: My new juice glasses:

I love them! But a few trips to the dishwasher, and those citrus slices are only a beautiful memory. But I love them, so I don't mind hand washing them.

But let me ask you this: did you know that you are supposed to prevent the flatware from nesting in the flatware basket in the dishwasher? Did you?? Or am I just an idiot? (Wait, don't answer that!) Yes, you are supposed to put the spoons and forks in alternately handle up and handle down.

I only recently learned this. It completely solved my problem of flatware coming out of the dishwasher still wet (even after going through the heated dry cycle). And to think, it probably wasn't actually clean before, either, if they were all nested together. (Ewwww!) When I was in Chicago my dishwasher had one of those new-fangled flatware holders with a little perforated lid for you to stick the handles into so even idiots like me can't let pieces nest together.

With my new dish drainer, I rinse and scrape as usual, then it takes about 10 more seconds to actually wash an item in a sinkful of hot sudsy water. I make the water as hot as possible, so I use those hideous yellow gloves, NOT pretty, but they are effective for preventing second degree burns. (Don't you just hate the way those gloves smell?) I also use really hot running water to rinse, so stuff drains dry in the thingie in seconds. All I have to do is dry the few remaining drops of water with the towel, and hey presto, it's ready to put away. My plates dry instantly, I don't even have to use the towel.

Seriously, what could be easier? I handwashed, dried, and put away ALL the dishes from dinner tonight in about 10 minutes. I had already done the same with my dinner prep stuff. Of course, it was just the 2 of us, as DS is at his dad's this week. And it WAS Donna's fantastic-beyond-words Pasta E Fagioli soup, so there wasn't much to wash :).

The conclusion I'm coming to is that for the 3 of us, the dishwasher is a false convenience.

I've made up my mind. I'm just gonna say NO to the dishwasher. NO to waking up in the morning with a dishwasher full of stuff to dry and put away. NO to constantly bruising my shins on the open dishwasher door! And no to ruining the environment by using my energy-hog dishwasher. (Aren't I just the "green" one?)

Of course, if our family were bigger, using the dishwasher would make more sense. Hey, if I had 8 kids, I would so totally have at least 3 dishwashers and use them continually!

OMG, this is kind of scary... I'm becoming one of those weird people (Todd, you have converted me) who only use the dishwasher as a place to drain the clean hand-washed dishes.....

Bad enough I'm already one of those people who finds it quicker and easier to wash the floors on my hands and knees with a good scrubby cloth than using a mop. Truthfully, there isn't that much hard floor surface in here, and I also have a nice "cleaning" pillow to kneel on. Plus I can get the baseboards at the same time. It takes me about 7 minutes to do the kitchen floor. I only "really" wash the floor once a week. The rest of the time I use the Swiffer Wet Jet (2 minutes). As I was telling a friend, the Wet-Jet works well, but still doesn't get the floors as clean as scrubbing on your hands and knees. To which he blithely replied, "Nothin' does." (Rats!!! Mom was right again.)

OK, I am a librarian, so of course I had to do some research on dishwashers, food safety, and all that stuff, and naturally, I feel compelled to pass what I learned on to you.

Just a few words about dishwasher safety. We commonly believe that the dishwasher sanitizes our dishes. I was shocked to find out, this may not be true! It depends on your own particular dishwasher. It all has to do with water temperature.

First of all, your dishwasher may or may not be adequately sanitizing your dishes. According to Mendelson (1999, 175-176) and the 2005 Food Code,(Section4-501.110 & 4-501.112) the wash temperature should be between 150F and 165F, and the rinse temperature 180F. I don't know about you, but I have no earthly clue what the water temperature gets to inside there. Hot tap water is unlikely to be hotter than 140F, and if you have small children, you've probably turned it down much lower than that. Some dishwashers do have self-heating systems, so you could check your owner's manual to see what the wash and rinse temperatures are. But as Mendelson (1999, 177) points out, whether the water actually gets that hot depends on the temperature of the tap water that goes into them.

Still, it does get pretty darn hot and soapy in there, so it must be doing SOME good. Honestly, if dishes are washed in hot soapy water, rinsed with hot water, air-dried and promptly put away, bacteria are unlikely to set up camp there. However, if a family member had an infectious illness, I would certainly use the dishwasher, since it probably gets things more sanitary than I could in my sink.

I never knew this, but according to Mendelson (1999, 106-112), there IS a system for handwashing dishes and keeping your sink area generally clean. You know, people are clever. If they have to do something all the time, they usually figure out the best, fastest, most efficient way to do anything, including the dishes. It's mostly common sense. And with all the nasty bugs around these days you can't be too careful. Really. A friend almost lost her leg due to a staph infection from a scrape she got at the beach, and another friend's daughter had a mrsa strep infection that lasted for months.

According to Mendelson, the important things about hand washing your dishes are:
  • You need to pre-rinse everything, and get as much food off as you can with your scrubby
  • Stack the rinsed dishes for washing
  • Stack the dirty dishes on a separate side of the sink from where you'll drain the clean ones
  • Wash in the order of least dirty (usually glasses and flatware) to most dirty (pots/pans).
  • Wash like things together, plates with plates, glasses with glasses.
  • Wash the dishes in the hottest water possible, with plenty of dishwashing liquid.
  • As soon as the wash water gets dirty or too cool, change it for fresh
  • Rinse the dishes under a fast-running stream of the hottest water possible
  • Airdrying in a clean dishrack has been called the most sanitary practice, however, if you are using a clean, fresh towel, the best method is to let dishes drain briefly and then finish drying with the towel.
  • Do not leave clean dishes in the drainer. Dry them with a towel as soon as possible after washing (they'll be mostly dry anyway if you used HOT rinse water) and put them away promptly so they will not get exposed to dirt, dust, and other things while sitting in the drainer.
  • When a towel gets damp, change it for fresh.
  • When a dish cloth gets soiled, change it for fresh. Always use a fresh cloth and towel each time you wash dishes.
As I have noted before, I cannot abide sponges in my kitchen. I hate the way they feel when they are all cold and squishy and you don't know what they were last used for. I am convinced they are nothing but a bacteria breeding factory that spreads germs everywhere. I mean, some little tiny particles of food have to be trapped in there, and with the sponge being generally damp, it's like a Vegas buffet for microbes. I'd rather go through a dozen clean dishcloths a day than use a sponge.

  • Cutting boards and other food contact surfaces can be sanitized by first washing thoroughly with hot water and soap, then soaking in a solution of 1 t of chlorine bleach per quart of water. Allow to air dry.
  • Scrubbies and dish cloths can be sanitized with a solution of 3/4 c. bleach per gallon of water, or 3T of bleach per quart. First wash in hot soapy water and clean thoroughly of all food particles, then soak in the solution for 10 minutes. Allow to air dry.
  • Sanitize and clean your sink and drain at the same time by adding 3/4 c. chlorine bleach and 1 T powdered laundry detergent per gallon of water. Let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse.
  • You should sanitize your drains and disposal at least once a week by pouring a solution of 1 t. chlorine bleach and 1 qt. water down them.
  • Keep your sink area, and all surfaces in your kitchen, as dry as possible. This significantly reduces the bacteria population on those surfaces. Wipe your sink dry at the end of the day.
Whew!! After all that talk about microbes, let's talk about something pleasant.

How about a quick, easy, delicious soup recipe? This is an especially great recipe because it relies almost entirely on canned and frozen items, so perfect for those days when you get dumped on with 7 inches of snow and can't get to the store!

Now, my dear fellow foodies, please do not be alarmed. This recipe uses canned chicken (gasp!), the very thought of which appalled me when I first read it. I've gone back on my raisin', because in general, I will not eat any canned meat: no deviled ham, no vienna sausages, no Spam (sorry, Grampa!); I even prefer the tuna in the pouch. Calm yourselves, dear foodies. The canned chicken actually tastes DELICIOUS in this stew. I promise. In fact, it is what gives it that Brunswick Stew texture, where the chicken has been cooked till it's just falling apart. Only YOU don't have cook it! The canned chicken is the key to the whole dish. To quote Crescent Dragonwagon, talking about the secret ingredient in her soup: "It gives the soup a certain je ne sais quois. Except you, the cook, sais quois!"

This is so good, it's definitely worth stopping up the garbage disposal for! :)

Brunswick Stew

A tasty, on-the-table-pronto version of the Southern Classic. This originally ...

See Brunswick Stew on Key Ingredient.

Wuh oh: Next thing you know I'll be getting up early to do this everyday...
Somebody help me! Call Nicole Kidman, the Stepford people have gotten to my brain!

Here is my footnote:
Mendelson, Cheryl. 1999. Home Comforts. New York: Scribner.


  1. Karen- First off, Im so glad you enjoyed the soup. Its one of our faves. Secondly, If I ever need help researching anything, I am calling upon you, my friend. You are so funny, you are like a little book, I read through the whole thing about dishwashers.Never ceases to amaze me how we can learn something new every day. And I LOVE your new blog style!

  2. Great post! You're totally right that we are already doing most of the work handwashing the dishes.

  3. So funny! I did a 3 day test of no dishwasher -- and since my family didn't want to play along, it was a lot of work. Having said that, our dishwasher is so inefficient that if the dishes aren't THIS CLOSE to clean when they go in they come out with what my love calls "clean crud" -- which I just refuse to eat on!! I am waiting for the day we get a new one, for me and the planet! I hear you on the dish drainer though - during my 3 day test i used the top rack as a dish drainer and i was amazed at how much more clean things were kitchen wise! Darn, does that mean I have to go buy a dish drainer now? LOL!!!! Great post.

  4. I absolutely love you! First you are a Gemini, and so is moi; also you must be a 'find out as much as I can' geek like me...and please if you see a comment on here from my hubby I will die, because if he finds out about the towel drying after it is done because of dust and dirt, I will have another job added to my already crazy schedule. He does the laundry because he has to have his shirts only dried for seven minutes, then hangs them immediately up, or ironed...and his mother has turned him into such a germ a phoebe already!

    In culinary school we learned about the temperature thing on dishwashers and that is why restaurant kitchens dishes are so hot when they come out you almost cannot touch them, and my job as kitchen coordinator at the school was to make sure all the equipment was either covered or turned up side down to avoid the dust and dirt...YIKES I am a survivor, lol

    Oh and is it true Geminis talk a lot and cannot write short post? lol

  5. Donna-- I am still going to post about the soup! It is fantastic!

    Natasha-- Yeah, by the time I do all the rinsing and scraping, I might as well just do the rest, LOL!

    ChefBliss: Oh, I can so sympathize-- I hope you get a nice, new, really efficient dishwasher soon! If the top rack of the dishwasher is working for you as a drainer, don't bother getting a dish drainer. (That's what my friend Todd does.) Unless you plan to use the dw also, then I would worry about getting dirty stuff on the clean stuff.

    E-- Thanks so much for all your nice comments! LOL, I think we are definitely kindred spirits. SHHHH! I won't tell your hubby about towel drying if you wont! :)


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