Dishwashing: How It Changed In Our House and How I’ve Tried Coming to Terms with It

Looking into the great maw of a new dishwasher
Dan Rattiner

When I was a boy, I didn’t have to wash dishes. I had a mother who did that. She also cooked. Meanwhile, my dad worked every day. That was the era when a family could get by on one income.

After college I went out into the world where when I got married I was told I either had to do one or the other. I chose dishwashing.

I became an excellent dishwasher. I did pots and pans with soap pads, but for plates, silverware and glasses it meant putting things into the dishwasher, which had recently been invented. I got real good at that. Silverware in the basket, a big pull-out tray for the dishes, a smaller one on the top for the glasses and cups. I was always very diligent in washing things with soap and water before putting them in the dishwasher. Didn’t want to hurt the dishwasher. I should be happy with the dishwasher. And I was. It seemed easy.

I mention all this because three weeks ago, our dishwasher died very suddenly. I looked at the manual. We’d had it exactly 10 years and a month. It had a 10-year warranty. Maybe they programmed it to do that. The silverware basket broke on the bottom. A counterweight inside the dishwasher snapped. Now to get the 15-pound dishwasher door either open or closed required a mighty lift. We solved that by tying a leather belt to the door handle for extra leverage. But then, a week later, the left side of the dishwasher door came entirely off its hinge and fell to the floor.

This meant that for the next few weeks while my wife negotiated with P.C. Richard & Son, I had to do the dishes by hand, not the way I used to have to do it, but how my mother, before dishwashers, had to do it.

And I had a revelation. Washing the dishes with soap and water and putting them in a dish rack on the counter was better than washing the dishes with soap and water to make them ready for the dishwasher. For one thing, the sparkling-clean dishes were right there on the counter in the rack at counter level so you could make sure they were clean. For another, you didn’t have to bend over and wrestle the dishwasher door open and closed, then slide things into their places in its dark cave. For another, you didn’t have to rummage around in there when an errant fork got through the shelves and was down on the bottom in the back. And for still another, it saved water. It took me 15 minutes to wash the dishes. The dishwasher had washed and cleaned for 80 minutes, using tons of water.

I felt proud to be doing the dishes just once, then seeing them all spiffy clean in the bright kitchen lights.

And then I learned I was NOT doing it like my mother was doing it. I was picking up a dirty dish, scrubbing it with a sponge under the warm water, then rinsing it and setting it into the rack.

My wife, noting that, pulled a small white plastic tub from under the counter and set it into the sink. It took up exactly half of the sink. She then put liquid soap and warm water in it. It bubbled up to near the top.

“Now stack up the dishes in the tub and let them soak,” she told me.

I did that. After a bit, I took the dishes out of the tub one by one and just had to rinse the soapy water off them into the sink, where the tub wasn’t, before setting them in the rack. This was terrific!

“And use these rubber gloves,” she said. The gloves went almost up to my elbows. As a matter of fact, my mother had gloves like these. I did the dishes and my hands stayed dry.

Anyway, after consulting Consumer Reports magazine for the best dishwasher, then talking to a knowledgeable salesman at P.C. Richard & Son, we ordered the delivery and installation of a new dishwasher. Once again, I was going back to stacking the dishes up into the mouth of the dishwasher.

This one has a top rack where you have to line up the dirty knives, forks and spoons in rows one at a time rather than drop them willy-nilly into a silverware basket as with the old one.

My wife showed me how to do it. All the salad forks go in one row, all the regular forks in another, all the soup spoons in another row, all the teaspoons in still another. Each individual piece of silverware gets soaped up and sprayed upon on all sides all at once.

“I think I’m lining up all these soldiers for the morning inspection,” I told my wife. “It takes time.”

“You’ll get used to it,” she said.

I also discovered in the manual that with this dishwasher you don’t have to even rinse the dishes before they go in. Just scrape off the excess food. That’s crazy. I don’t believe it.

It also has 13 settings. The old dishwasher had two. Regular and quick—80 minutes or 45 minutes. The settings were at the top of the door in both. Press one and it beeps, lights up and starts when you close the door.

This one has a regular setting. It goes for three hours. The other settings are steam cycle, auto, heavy, delicate, refresh, normal, turbo, hi-temp, extra dry, delay start, dual zone, half load and energy saver.

Both dishwashers are pretty silent when they are on. But here we are at the breakfast table in the kitchen and the new one is on regular. And you hear it splashing water inside.

It starts up splashing, it goes on for about 30 seconds, then it stops. After 10 seconds it starts up again, splashing for 30 seconds and again stops. Then it goes on and on like this.

“I guess the dishes are getting pretty clean in there,” I note. “The old one didn’t do this.” It splashes again and again. Wash, wash, wash, wash, wash.

I think it’s going to wear off the designs on the dishes in there. We shall see. We’ll open it later today.

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