The Providence of Dishwashers

For a long time, I did not really understand the point of dishwashers. Obviously, the purpose is right there in the name. A dishwasher washes dishes. But none seem to do it that well. They require preparation. You still have to hand wash the dishes before you put them in there, and you usually have to hand wash them pretty thoroughly, otherwise whatever food’s still stuck to the plate or bowl will still be there when the rinsing and soaping are over. But last night, as I loaded our dishes into the dishwasher to be washed, I finally understood.

Now, I should say here that I actually like doing the dishes. It’s my favorite household chore and for a long time I happily did the dishes without a dishwasher. I like doing dishes because they’re the rare chore that actually feels finished when it’s done. You feel good when the dishes are done, because when they’re done, they’re done… at least until you use them again. Whereas you can dust, vacuum, mop, and Swiffer the floor all you want, it will still never be fully clean. You never feel completely done. There’s always more to do. They’re Sisyphean tasks. Same for bathroom clean-up. Your own human presence will sully it even as you’re cleaning it. You can’t win.

So, I like doing dishes. I like the simplicity, the feeling of accomplishment, and the warm soapy water running over my cold hands. This works well in our household, because Ayako likes cooking and I don’t. So, she cooks and I clean-up afterward (this is also the same dynamic we use for the murder-for-hire business we run on the side. As our motto says: “she does the chopping, he does the mopping!”).

Despite my dish washing expertise, I wasn’t completely sold on the glory of dishwashers. Why have this machine when I’m still doing most of the work? It’s like being in a murder-for-hire partnership where I do 80% of the chopping and the mopping.

But washing dishes isn’t really the point of the dishwasher. Because the 20% of the dish washing work it saves you is crucial. Wash dishes by hand and you have to give them a thorough scrubbing, soaping, and drying before they’re done. And then you look at them and wonder, “are they clean enough?” “Did I get all the salmonella off?” It’s almost like cleaning the floor. You can never be certain.

With the dishwasher, though, you needn’t worry. It’ll get done. To go back to my very strained metaphor, sure, you’re doing most of the chopping and mopping, but you know the mopping will get done. There will be no random pools of blood or severed ears lying around for CSI to find.

You see, dishwashers do more than wash dishes. They take away our uncertainty.

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2 Comments

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  1. I can see where you are coming from but I disagree that the primary point is its thoroughness. The time that it takes to load, check to see if they are clean, and then put them away I think is probably not really that much longer than doing them by hand.

    I think that cleaning the dishes may have been the reason why it was invented but its actual use is a place to store dirty dishes until you are ready to deal with them. Prior to the dishwasher the only place you had for the dishes was the sink which gets gross and stinky pretty fast. It gets them out of sight so that your kitchen can feel clean even if you have a lot of dirty dishes.

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