Some Domestic Matters

This evening we have two topics to cover in the area of domestic engineering. The first has to do with shopping (for groceries) and the second has to do with dishwashers.

First, and this will be brief, on the shopping for groceries:

Grocery Shopping

You know how each person goes up to the conveyor belt and puts their purchase items down, and perhaps places a plastic stick (provided by the store) behind your items (or if necessary in front as well) in order to separate the items that you are purchasing from those of other shoppers?

Well, you're doin' it wrong!!!!

Or at least, some of you are.

Do NOT spread the purchase items out in a random fashion. Cluster them together. If spread in a random fashion, gaps may form among your purchase items that appear to be implied plastic sticks, which will cause the cashier to stop adding up your groceries at this random point. You will cadet step yourself down to the end of the post-cashier conveyor belt, and load up what you think is the sum of your groceries, and pay the amount you think is the sum of what you need to pay, and there will be this pile of groceries that you have not bought yet. I will have to point out to the cashier that this loaf of white bread, box of Tater Tots, and bottle of soy milk is not mine, and that I'm guessing that these are the purchase items of the person over their still loading up his or her groceries. The cashier will then have to inform you of the status of the wanton purchase items. There will be unnecessary embarrassment, and most importantly, you are taking more than your fair share of the commons.

So you see, when you do this, it is like you are TWO PEOPLE in line instead of the ONE person whom you actually are.

Buying a Dishwasher

We had a dishwasher, it went belly up, so eventually we saved up and bought a new one, and I wanted to tell you how I got the best deal and also, because you are probably doing it wrong, how to use a dishwasher.

Here is how Amanda and I got an excellent deal.

First, we avoided eye contact with salespersons for some time, putting them off each time they approached, until they started to get bored. Finally, one guy came over and said "Hey, we're getting bored here. I don't care if you buy a dishwasher or not. Just talk to me."

Good start. So, I said, OK, and asked him a fairly technical question about a particular feature on a particular dishwasher.

(OK, while he's busy explaining, let me mention this: You've got to have already shopped around a bit and you need to have already decided more or less what kind of dishwasher you are going to buy. You've already come to terms with whatever you are going to do or not do regarding a service contract, and so on. In other words, you are ready to buy, you just need the right deal. One thing that helps being ready, emotionally, to buy a replacement dishwasher is going without a working machine for about six weeks.)

OK, so at this point I interrupt the guy (I'm not really listening anyway) and I grab his shoulder, look him in the eye, and say something like this:

"Look. I had an amazing experience once and I want to tell you about it."

"Ah, well, OK...," a little nervous, glancing at Amanda and me.

"One day I was in the market for a dishwasher, see?"


"So I went to this Sears. Not around here. Boston or Philly or someplace, I can't remember exactly, it was before the war." ... I'm speaking in a citified 1930s Nick Danger Private Eye sort of voice ...

"And they've got this real beauty of a machine, see? But it's last year's model, and it's got three whopping big scratches across the front like its been in a brawl in the toughest joint in town and didn't come out the winner. And it's been used to demonstrate, you know, dish washing capacities and stuff. Get my drift?"

"... Ah yes, certainly, that was a floor mod..."

"Yea, right, that's what they called it, alright ... 'floor model.' Well, you know what I got that baby for?"

"Ah, well, was it a good de....?"

"Are you kidding me buddy? They wanted to sell this sweet machine for 25% off, and I told 'em I'd give him half price, not a penny less, not a penny more. And you know what? The guy took that offer. I bought the service contract too, and the minute I got that sucker home I called in to have those three ugly scratches removed. Didn't cost me an extra dime. That dishwasher's still running, I hear its in my ex-wife's kitchen cleaning dishes to this day..."

"Well, that's an interesting story, sir..."

"So," ... interrupting. (Never let the sales person finish a sentence, under any circumstances.) "Can you do that?"

"What? Can I do wha...."

"Lead me, this everloving second, to the dishwasher that's half off. I know you've gotta have one around here somewhere. Show it to me right now, and I'll buy it. Don't pony up the goods, and I go over to the furniture section to check out the ottomans and this is the last you see of this ugly mug of mine, see?"

Five minutes later I was handing over my credit card and he was handing me a Kenmore dishwasher with water heater, built in ort musher, sani-rinse cycle, extra pot cleaning jets, adjustable vinyl covered racks, and ... get this ... a 100% stainless steel interior. For half price, I kid you not. It was in the back room somewhere.

On the Use of a Diswasher

Now that you have your excellent dishwasher, how do you use it? Well, you probably already know the basics, but I want to point out a couple of things you are probably doing wrong.

First and foremost, do not wash the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. Anything large enough to be the ingredients of a sandwich, remove from the plates or bowls. Otherwise, just put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. The dishwasher will wash these dirty dishes for you. That is what it is designed to do.

Second, don't put any soap in the first cycle soap holder thingie. It doesn't do anything important, other than use up soap.

Third, run the hot water in the sink next to the dishwasher for just a few second so that hot water enters your dishwasher sooner than it otherwise might. This helps reduce the need for that extra soap I just told you to stop using.

Third ... and this one you are going to balk at but I'm telling you this works ... when you place silverware in the dishwasher, place the spoons together with other spoons, forks together with other forks, knives together with other knives, such that when you take these items out of the dishwasher, you do not have to sort them to put them away. You just take a handful of one kind of spoon out and presto, you put those spoons in the place in the flatware drawer where they live. Same with the forks. And the knives. Same with all of it.

Now, there are two things you are thinking, but you are wrong about both of them. First thing you're thinking is that if you put all the same kinds of flatware together, they will stick together and not get clean. Here's what you need to do. Follow my instructions. See if the flatware sticks together. Some flatware ... the really really cheap crappy stuff that is stamped out of thick aluminum foil ... the Uri Geller brand flatware .. that stuff might stick together. So you can't use this technique if that is the case. But I assure you, for the most part, if flatware habitually sticks together and does not get clean when you group by like items, then that means that there is something wrong with your dishwasher. It really does not happen.

Second thing: You think that it is just as much work to sort out these items when you put them in the dishwasher as it is when you transfer the clean items to the flatware drawer. No, it is not. When you are taking items a few at a time from the pile of dishes someone has dumped on your counter, or when you are moving items from the table, or whatever, it is a simple matter, as you place a few items at a time in the flatware holding basked in the dishwasher, to sort them (even if imperfectly sorting them). Just try it. No one I've ever told this to has ever thought it was a good idea. Everyone I've ever forced to do it for a few days continues to do this because they learn that it is a good idea. So trust me, and don't make me come over there ....

... that is all ...

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Believe it or not, a week or two later I got a phone call from a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, who interviewed me about "Dishwasher Darwinism".


Saturday, September 5, 1998

I have, I think, discovered a secondary sex characteristic never before reported in the literature. It has to do with a person's attitude to what should be put in the dishwasher (or the washing machine, come to that). My attitude, which I think I share with most men, is Darwinian. If it can't survive the dishwasher, better we find out now, before it has a chance to pass on its genes. Women always have pity for the weak, and so sort things that should be washed by hand. As I was loading the dishwasher, the dialog went something like this:

Barbara: "Are you insane? You can't put 18th century crystal in the dishwasher!"

Robert: "Why not? It needs washed."

Barbara: "It's too delicate. You have to hand wash it."

Robert: "Whadya mean, delicate? It's glass, for god's sake. A little hot water and soap shouldn't hurt it. Besides which, I'm more likely to drop it than the dishwasher is to damage it."

Barbara: "It's not dishwasher-safe."

Robert: "Sure it is. It says so right here on the stem - 'Dyshe-washere saefe.'"

Barbara: "Don't be ridiculous. There were no dishwashers in 1780."

Robert: "Hah. Shows how much you know. Leonardo Da Vinci invented one in 1483. Ben Franklin's improved model sold in the millions. Well, in the dozens, anyway."

Barbara: "You're impossible. If you don't want to wash it, just say so."

Well, perhaps this exchange is slightly exaggerated, but that was the essence of it. So, because the discoverer of a phenomenon gets to name it, I hereby dub this Dishwasher Darwinism. A quick search of AltaVista and Northern Light for +"dishwasher darwinism" didn't yield any hits, so perhaps I'll trademark the term.

I ended up hand-washing the crystal, of course.

My grandmother's husband, back when his Alzheimer's started getting bad, would get angry at us when we stacked our dirty dishes at the end of the meal, because that got the bottoms of the plates dirty. You know, as if the dishwasher wouldn't clean the bottoms as well as the tops.

The silverware, though, he would try to lick clean and stick back in the drawer. We stopped letting him help with the dishes pretty early on.

When I was a kid my dad bought my mom a dishwasher. And man, that was big stuff, and mom was really happy about it. Then my skinflint grandfather came to visit.

He harrumphed about dad wasting money now that he had a fancy job as a college professor, and how that infernal machine wasted water and electricity (always made his long-suffering wife wash her dishes by hand, even though she wanted a dishwasher). And my dad challenged him on it, so for one complete cycle grandpaw stood there and collected all the water that came out of the machine (it emptied out of the bottom of a connector that clipped onto the sink faucet). And he added up how much water that was.

Lo and behold it was a LOT less than what he calculated grandmaw used to wash the dishes by hand. And as soon as he got back to California, she got her dishwasher. Because, I guess, her free time didn't mean shit but hey, it saved some water!

I don't know; the stainless steel spoons I use do in fact tend to stick together. The rest of it works just fine though.

Muchas gracias, señor!

ymmv but we've found that when loading silverware to put the knives point down and the rest of the silverware working end up, works best for cleaning. Oh ya .... don't put any wood handled kitchen implements in the dishwasher (or for that matter in the sink covered in water) as it will eventually ruin the seal between the wood and metal creating an environment for nasties.

For years my wife and I went back and forth over the whole rinsing the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher thing. I maintained that the dishwasher was there to wash the dishes and if it didn't get them clean then the dishwasher sucked. Which was certainly true during the early part of our relationship (a series of crappy apartment dishwashers and a worn-out model in our first house).

So when we bought a brand new house two years ago with a brand new dishwasher, I decided to put it to the test. Stopped rinsing the dishes and just dumped them in. Now, this dishwasher has got like 20 buttons on the front; things like "tough scrub", "sanitize" and "heated dry".

Long story short, the dishes came out dirty if we didn't rinse them. So my wife insists that we rinse them first. I still maintain that I am right and that it is our water that is defective. It must not be wet enough or something. :P

don't put any wood handled kitchen implements in the dishwasher (or for that matter in the sink covered in water) as it will eventually ruin the seal between the wood and metal creating an environment for nasties.

Here I'm totally going with Bob Thomson. Darwinian process. I've got some excellent cook's knives that are routinely washed in the dishwasher.

The trick here, by the way, is to never use the drying coil in the DW.

Cyber: You may have a fancy dishwasher, but you have a defective design. There are plenty of high end fancy dancy dishwashers that don't really clean the dishes.

Wow, everyone seems to be obssessed with the dishwasher part, and ignoring the grocery checkout informaiton. I agree with that completely, and would just like to add that it helps if you place things on the belt in such a way that things that will be bagged together are next to each other. It may not save much time, but if you are out of my way when I go to bag my properly placed groceries, I'll be much happier.

Also, get a dishwasher with a disposal mechanism at the bottom that grinds up any food particles. That's what we have, and we could put a pot roast in there and it would be gone in 2 (maybe 3) cycles. I haven't rinsed a dish in 20 years.

And the buying advice is pretty good too.