Dishwashers have been an integral part of my life almost from the very beginning. One of my first memories is overhearing my parents, early in the morning before my three younger brothers and I were up, in our two-bedroom house in Levittown, discussing a house they were thinking of buying in neighboring Wantagh, Long Island.
“But the kitchen is too small,” Mom said.
“True, but it has a dishwasher,” replied Dad.
They bought the house, a 1950’s style ranch that no one really liked, but which now would be termed mid-century and very much in vogue. We lived there for the next sixteen years until I graduated from college. My mother hated that kitchen—long and narrow with not enough room for a table—but there was a big back yard for her gardens and, of course, the dishwasher.
For something as mundane as a dishwasher, this appliance and how it is used has at times been the source of debate and controversy. My daughter writes for a show on Netflix. Very cool, right? Let me tell you about the sign in their staff kitchen. It details how dishes are to be rinsed before they’re loaded explaining that the dishwasher is designed to be more effective if the dishes still have some food on them. Even a super successful network like Netflix has a view.
My father-in-law, the premier dishwasher expert, at least in his own mind, would disagree with Netflix. This father of eight invented, what I like to think of as, the Frank W. Nolan method of dishwasher use. Step one: keep a sink full of warm soapy water available at all times—even if there is only, as was the case in their shore house, one sink. Step two: thoroughly scrape the food off and then put the dish into the water. Step three: rinse. Step four: upon completion of the above, load into the dishwasher. Caveat: knives and forks to be loaded with their points down.
He and I endlessly debated the caveat about knives and forks with me driven to quoting Dear Abby to bolster my case, to no avail.
Perhaps by necessity and talent, with a houseful of kids and an engineering degree from MIT, my father-in-law had strong views on dishwashing, but he’s not the only one. How many of us have reloaded our dishwasher, surreptitiously, when a guest or an in-law has not loaded it the way that we do?
Or, even more irritating to me, loaded by someone who agrees with Netflix, i.e. does not rinse off all the food before loading. I can’t be the only one who is frustrated to find food baked into the plates when I’m unloading supposedly clean dishes.
But the question that remains, and a question I’m sure discussed by my children’s spouses, is whether it’s better to have a few plates that need to have the food sanded off or to wonder if the dishes have gone through the wash cycle because they’re so clean before they go into the dishwasher, it’s impossible to tell if “they’re clean or dirty.”
A friend of mine from Alabama, cancer survivor, mother of two and doting grandmother of five once, as she loaded my dishwasher, correctly I might add, said with great pride, “I’m the best loader of dishwashers that I know.” How many of us could say that with honesty? She is a brave and remarkable woman who also understands that dishwashing is a fine art.