Against the Dishwasher

It's inconvenient, it's bad for your back, and it will tear your household apart.

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Charlie Bardey

The first half of the 20th century saw the advent of a number of home appliances which purported to save the average woman time and energy on her home chores. Devices like the washing machine, the drier, the vacuum, the refrigerator, and the dishwasher promised a world of freedom and leisure.

The reality, of course, was more complicated. Go back a bit further, historian Ruth Cowan argued in her book More Work for Mother, and you’ll find that housework was more equitably shared before industrialization brought men’s work outside the home. And while new appliances made some work easier, they also allowed for additional complexity to arise — more clothes, more complicated meals, more dishes, more maintenance, more upkeep.

I’m not surprised. Adding unneeded complexity to simple tasks is one of technology’s most classic moves. And while I usually accept technology into my life, begrudgingly at first (rolling my eyes at the foam slippers the Instagram ad tech algorithm is pushing on me) and then wholeheartedly (buying the foam slippers and subsequently evangelizing them to anyone who will listen), I do have to put my foot down somewhere, comfortable in its foam slipper as it may be. So, sorry, but: fuck dishwashers. They are overrated, add needless hassle to the task of cleaning dishes, and vastly overpromise the amount of labor they save.

I don’t have a dishwasher, and my life is better for it. I do my dishes by hand, immediately after each meal. I put on headphones and listen to two to three songs. I sing to myself a little. My hands are wet so I can’t get distracted. It’s nice. I feel godly in a Quaker way, doing the sanctifying and simple work of cleaning. My roommates do their own dishes too, also right after eating, or sometimes a little bit after that, no problem. The clean wet dishes get put in a nice drying rack (it’s this one, from the MoMA Design Store — it got served to me on Instagram), and when they’re dry, I put them away.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, does have a dishwasher, and it’s a disaster. He lives with three roommates, and the dishwasher demands unrealistic coordination between them. Problems abound: the dishwasher’s full, but no one’s run it. The dishwasher’s clean, but no one’s emptied it. The dishwasher’s running, but it houses a particular dish needed for someone else’s meal. The dishwasher’s running, but a meal’s been finished, so dishes get left in the sink — hell, hell, hell, hell, hell. Using a dishwasher requires such robust intra-household communication that the entire task usually ends up informally delegated to one person. One person inevitably becomes the 1950s Mom, and that’s not very progressive.

It’s a problem endemic to the device. Dishwashers are hard to plan around. Why is it so hard to tell if the dishes inside have been cleaned? I have so often opened up a dishwasher and searched for evidence of dirty dishes. Frequently, the machine has been run, but because there’s no immediately obvious way to tell if you weren’t the one who ran it, someone else has put a dirty dish in there, perhaps dropping gloopy congealed food onto its recently cleaned peers. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.

And all this effort for what? Saved time? Debatable. If you rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, at that point you’re already halfway there. Just get some dish soap and finish the job. While modern manufacturers and their media cronies (Wirecutter) insist that pre-rinsing dishes is redundant, I’ve heard too many dishwasher drain clog stories to proceed so carefree. Moreover, a dishwasher lives on the floor, meaning its existence creates yet another chore that demands you bend over. My back hurts. I’m grateful for the reprieve hand-washing dishes offers from the tyranny of “bend over” chores. As if all this wasn’t enough, dishwashers need maintenance. They often reek of mildew and flood easily. Toss the dishwasher and liberate yourself from a lifetime of “Hey!!!! just checking in on this :)” texts to your negligent landlord.

People often argue that dishwashers save water when compared with normal hand washing. Don’t be a fool. That may be true if the dishwasher is always fully loaded, but it all evens out if it’s regularly run partially empty — and if you’re rinsing dishes beforehand, forget it. And beyond all that: The industrial manufacturing? The mining of the chips used in dishwasher computers? The global shipping? Sorry but I don’t buy it!

Okay, here comes dishwasher stan Twitter, ready to ruin my life. Before you do though, think about this: it’s fine. Relax. I’m just saying this. I can’t actually take your dishwashers away, and even if I could I probably wouldn’t. I’m just writing this and it’s genuinely not a big deal. Have a glass of wine from one of your many permanently dishwasher-stained glasses and take comfort in the knowledge that you have something I don’t.

And I’ll say this as well: I honestly will reconsider my claim. Maybe dishwashers have some redeeming qualities. Maybe I’m just bitter for not having one. I’ll be happy to open my mind for the price of the $400 a month extra in rent it would cost me to move to an apartment with a dishwasher. Until then, I’ll be washing by hand.

Charlie Bardey is a comedian and writer living in New York, if you can even believe it. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChunkBardey.