Powering Down: Washing the Dishes by Hand
A little confession - of all the appliances I have ditched recently, the dishwasher is the one that I actually miss. Not only did it quietly get on with washing my dishes, it was also great for hiding the dirty ones from view until dishwashing time. However, that little wistful note aside, there have been positive outcomes from returning to dishwashing by hand.
First, ALL the dishes get done. So many times in the past I have packed the dishwasher, and decided that my work in the kitchen was done, and all those extra pots and pans and delicates just loitered about, waiting for some moment of dishwashing inspiration to hit me.. it was like having to do the dishes twice, which seemed excessive.
Second, hand washing is gentle. It doesn't produce cloudy glasses, with tiny abrasions all over them. There are so many items that can't go in the dishwasher - wooden utensils, old china, anything with gold edging on it, really large things, sharp knives, thin plastic.. but it can all go into the sink. Granted, the crockery isn't boiled and sanitised by handwashing - in fact, if you look at my washing-up water at the end of a load of dishes sometimes, you might wonder if there is any cleaning power in it at all... but excessive cleanliness has been blamed for all sorts of evils, from proliferating allergies, to asthma, to gut flora issues. So I am expecting that this innovation will cause us to be radiating good health any day now..
Hand washing also saves energy and water. You don't need much water to wash dishes. I start with an inch in the sink and wash and rinse all the glasses and mugs under the tap which tops up the level a little. Nothing else gets rinsed. I don't use our second rinsing sink for rinsing - that is where the drainer sits for drip drying the dishes. Sometimes I am forced to refill the sink for all the dirty things - but I wash them first in the dirty water, so that they are reasonably clean when I wash them properly in the clean water. Then I use that water to wipe down the stove top and benches. Also, the washing up gets done with a bulk eco-detergent from the wholefoods shop, which I am sure is much better for us than whatever is in the dishwasher powder. I am pretty sure we could eat the dishwashing liquid, whereas a substance that causes pitting on glassware? Doesn't sound all that healthy.
My next hand-wash-the-dishes positive is its social aspect. After dinner the girls and I all wash and dry the dishes together. Not always happily, mind you. But there we are, all in the same space, talking, arguing, complaining, singing stupid songs, telling each other to stop singing stupid songs.. Unpacking and packing the dishwasher is generally a solitary pursuit. Someone can do one of those jobs now, and someone else can do the other half an hour later. But the dishes have to be done together or you run out of room in the dish drainer. Although in our house the dryer has been known to slink off at the moment she judges that the rest of the dishes will fit in the drainer and 'drip-dry'. Or as my mother says, "We can let God dry the rest." If only God had known, when he created human beings, that not only would he be blamed for everything, but he would also have to dry the dishes..
The beginning of our hand-washing-the-dishes experiment was when my parents came to live with us last year while they were house hunting. It might seem like a bad idea to plan to start washing up by hand just when family numbers increased to six, but my parents have never owned a dishwasher, and have had a dish washing routine for decades. So we followed their lead, the children complaining bitterly all the while about the perfectly good dishwasher sitting in the corner of the kitchen. I was careful not to buy any more dishwasher powder, to avoid temptation. My original plan was to take out the dishwasher and have extra cupboard space, but then we moved into a house with no dishwasher, so that decision was made for us.
We do a lot of dishes. We make almost all our food and that creates a lot of dishes. We are getting a little more efficient. We each have a glass and a mug that lasts all day, and I am about to put my foot down about the blender. The girls make smoothies with berries and yoghurt and coconut cream, and sometimes they make healthy green sludge. This is all no doubt very good for them, but means washing the blender twice a day sometimes. New rule - you use the blender, you wash the blender and pop it in the drainer for good old God to dry.
Of course, the big reason I stopped using the dishwasher and don't plan to use one again, is for social justice and ecological reasons. We, the middle class in developed nations, are actually the one percent. We live in luxury that we consider normal because our neighbours live in luxury too. There are seven billion people in our world, and if they all demanded dishwashers we would wreck the planet before you can say, 'But dishwashers save water!' Now, I say this as a person who still owns a washing machine, a fridge and a car, and the same arguments can be made for them. But washing the dishes by hand is easy, and I am going for the low-hanging fruits of energy and resource consumption first! What if I can reduce my reliance on unnecessary gadgets by half, or even more, without significantly reducing the quality of my life? What if I discover the quality of my life actually increases without all those gadgets? What if we could all do that? What if all those people who currently have boring, life-sapping jobs in a dishwasher factory could become artisanal cheesemakers instead? Because I would much rather spend my hard-earned cash on nice cheese than dishwasher tablets!
Next: Why life is so much better now that I have thrown out the telly..