Melanie McDonagh: Dishwashers – can't live with them, can't live without them

A strange love affair in the kitchen

Share
Related Topics

St Teresa of Avila once declared that God is in the pots and pans; most Britons beg to differ. Judging from the fact that 70 per cent of homes include a dishwasher, modern Brits take the view that dishwashing is one of those chores best delegated to machines. Yet in a survey published last week of 3,000 people, which sought out the least trusted kitchen appliance, 71 per cent said they don't trust the thing to do its job and nearly half said that it is the one machine they expected to break down. Even given that the poll was commissioned by Vileda, which makes dishcloths, this is quite something. Why give house room to a gadget that doesn't work?

For some years, I possessed a small kitchen-top dishwasher, which served the sole purpose of turning cold, dirty dishes into hot, dirty dishes. Yet I felt it was my fault that it didn't work. Instead of returning the thing with curses to its maker, I persisted in washing up my plates before putting them into the dishwasher. There was no saving of time and labour but the great thing was that half-washed dishes were out of sight.

Six in 10 people do the same: they wash their dishes before dishwashing them. Yet this machine is the one kitchen appliance that most people profess to find indispensable, after a cooker.

Now that I own a decent, German model, those days are behind me, though I defy any machine to clean the tin a joint is roasted in. Yet it's still probably true that the chief purpose of the dishwasher is to get the dishwashing out of sight. There is nothing more depressing than the remains of a dinner party. But quite often during the course of a dinner you actually need the stuff being washed from the first course.

I once cooked a dinner for about 50 people, at which the only bowls available for the pudding were the ones that were merrily going through the industrial-scale dishwasher. When the machine had done its stuff, I pulled out the steaming dishes and spooned my lemon posset into them, only to find that what had started as a near-solid cold confection had turned into a kind of soup. This has its advantages. One friend of mine was employed as a dishwasher for several years in a neighbouring café, because human beings can get things clean and back in use in a fraction of the time it takes a dishwasher.

There's a generational element in dishwasher ownership. My mother would regard it as near-sinful to own one on the basis that it is a job she can perfectly well do herself. And people who think of themselves as green shun dishwashers on the basis of its sinful electricity consumption, notwithstanding the studies that manufacturers commission to show that they're wrong. It just feels more virtuous.

Then there are the people who profess to find washing the dishes relaxing: 56 per cent according to the survey. I suppose, unlike quite a few contemporary jobs, you see real results from your labours; keeping the hands busy frees the mind.

But there remains the stubborn half of us for whom the dishwasher is the kind of release from servile labour that Oscar Wilde once looked forward to in modern civilisation. The alternative to employing a dishwasher is not, for the morally degraded among us, handwashed dishes; it is a kitchen that is steadily overwhelmed by dirty plates and pans. Remember that bit in Withnail and I where Withnail threatens to enter the kitchen and Marwood throws himself on his knees in front of him to prevent him opening the door? "There are THINGS in there!" he says, tremulously.

Ah yes, I've been there, too. And for all their drawbacks, their unreliability, their environmental unsoundness, dishwashers are the one appliance that saves us from the downside of domesticity: the task that never really ends.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Defendant Personal Injury 2+PQE

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - NICHE DEFENDANT FIRM - Defendant Pe...

Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Fist bumps will never replace the handshake - we're just not cool enough

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on