"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

All By Hand: Why I Don’t Use My Dishwasher

by Julie Tilsner on June 26, 2009

in Chew on This, Crockery

Dirtydishes I don’t believe in dishwashers.

I don’t like them. I don’t use them. Even when I have one — and I usually do, since rare is the rental without a dishwasher to sweeten the deal — I don’t avail myself.

Why not? Because dishwashers annoy me and always have. If I have to rinse off a dish enough to put into a dishwasher, I might as well take the extra 20 seconds and wash the thing, right?

I know what happens when you don’t rinse well enough: The dishes pulled from my mother’s old dishwasher routinely came out dingy and half-washed, compelling me to wash them once again with a sponge and hot soapy water. What’s the point of that? I never fathomed.

I have not used a dishwasher since moving out on my own at 18, which was back when Michael Jackson really was the King of Pop. At this point my bias against them have internalized, and I am unlikely to be swayed.

You can really throw a person when you decline to use the dishwasher. They will stand blinking at you with their mouths open. They can hardly grasp it. You don’t want to use a dishwasher? You can get the same look when you admit to not having (or desiring) cable TV, too, but less so. There’s a certain sub-genre of people who decline to get cable, but these same people will always have a dishwasher.

People get annoyed at me. They try to sell the dishwasher concept.

The new models are so much more efficient, they argue. They don’t require that you rinse off the dish so thoroughly before putting them in the rack. They sanitize the dishes better. They save water AND time, they insist.

But they don’t.

I say that there is a way to wash dishes that is quicker and more efficient — not to mention vastly more pleasant — than any dishwasher. I can wash, dry and put away an entire dinner party’s worth of dishes in the time it takes you to unload a dishwasher’s first capacity cycle.

But it’s a lost art. Two generations of dishwasher-users have rendered most people under 60 ignorant of the ways of the hand wash. And this is unfortunate.

Washing up after dinner is like the warm-down of a workout, the shavasana of a meal. There is quiet. There is industry. And also time for reflection if you desire. You can’t twitter when you’re washing the dishes. You can’t check your email. You might choose to listen to your kitchen iPod, but you could also try having a conversation with your dish-dryer (hand washing is always most satisfying in groups of two or more).

Collect the dishes at the end of the meal. Scrape. Stack. Fill one side of your sink with hot, soapy water, the other with clear, hot water. Methodically wash, rinse, and stack in the dish rack or hand to your dryer. It’s really not so horrible. It’s the pause after a good meal. Enjoyable communally or solo. And I’ve always enjoyed the zen of dishwashing.

As the monks say, “wash the dish.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

LWH July 4, 2009 at 8:24 pm

It was dumbfounding. Some usages become so prevalent that – well, you write about it in your post. Reminds me of the time I suggested in a Torts class that maybe some people might *prefer* to drive without wearing a seat-belt . . . coulda heard a pin drop, if not for the titters.


Julie Tilsner July 4, 2009 at 6:22 pm

You see? I’ve dumbfounded you all with this anti-dishwasher post.
Nobody has a single thing to say.


Jim-49 August 24, 2009 at 7:25 pm

I’m with you,100 percent!!! I cook all the meals,and clean up.Before,I start cooking,I run about two inches,of soapy water,then as cooking,I wash it(adding a little hot water as needed) as it gets dirty,and keep cooking,when done,only dishes,forks,spoons,and put the food up,”Kitchen Clean”!!


Ann Spivack March 28, 2012 at 12:42 pm

How about when you have a lot of people for dinner — 36 in my family at Thanksgiving. Then do you use the dishwasher just to lighten the psychic load?


Julie March 28, 2012 at 2:05 pm

No, strangely enough I like the huge loads the best…everybody helps and you have to be really methodical about it…but then you have three or four people in the kitchen washing up, drinking wine, laughing…it’s part of the process of the meal. I really love it…a dishwasher just seems like the middle-man to me…

Also, I could never get 36 people in my house. Ever.


sarah gilbert March 28, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I wonder if I’ve read this before, as I am writing almost the same things now (though I have, indeed, been washing my dishes by hand for decades). Here’s a paragraph from the essay I had been working on before you posted this on Facebook:

I am washing the dishes, standing before my kitchen window where I can see my boys playing with the neighbor child. Not just dishes fill my sink, but also toys onto which milk has spilled, small balls unburied from the dirt of the back yard, jars once filled with pennies or raisins or scraps of yarn. Pulled from the midst of reading a series of articles and blog posts about writing and mothering, about feminism as it is today, I am considering the essay I wish I could be writing; it is one filled with the fire of my own feminist convictions and erudition and carefully-packed description, but if I do not finish these dishes I will not have dinner ready in time, and they will run through the house screaming “hungry!” and will beg for convenience store treats or ice cream or chips, and that is the road to late bedtimes and bad tempers. This is what is needed from me, at this time, and I have come past the dreading and the bitterness to an acceptance – even joy – in this task. It contains those things that others get from yoga or therapy or spas, the steam and the comforting repetition and the introspection. Breathe in, fill the jar with water and soap; breathe out, sponge around the inside, with suds, tilt and swirl and pour; breathe in.


Maria Weston March 28, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I completely understand your Zen moment. The most sublime dish washing experiences for me were the times of year when the sun filtered through the kitchen window lighting up the suds as it was setting. The warmer colors just created this moment of peace. I miss those moments in the kitchen, but I still can experience them in the shower. 🙂


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