Lynn Ashby

THE KITCHEN – Wash the pot, dry the pot. Wash the butcher knife, dry it. Why am I standing here in front of the sink handwashing all these dishes? Because my dishwasher is broken, specifically it is leaking. I promise that sometime in the future your dishwasher will break, so listen up. About 68 percent of American households have a dishwasher in the kitchen. Half of those households use it between one and six times per week. Of the 80 million households that have a dishwasher, 16 million (almost 20 percent) do not use it. Maybe I can borrow theirs.

Being a quick learner, after a few months of noticing the leak, I called an expert on such matters: an Instrument Adjusting Mechanic of Crockery Cleansing, aka a dishwasher repairer. He put me down for the next available appointment: November. I moved up in his list by noting that in this pandemic I am an essential worker. I mean, someone has to Adopt-a-Highway and pick up the beer cans. He arrived the next week right on time, or at least on the week, and I gave thanks because these days we can’t quibble about promptness. After Houston’s Big Freeze, finding a repairman is like finding a winning Texas Democrat candidate.

His name was Marmaduke. He got down on his knees and took off the bottom cover, then poked around. “Your pump is shot. It has to be replaced,” he said. Have you noticed that no one repairs anything anymore? They just replace. That’s why there are so many divorce lawyers. Marmaduke said he would order the pump and be back – in three weeks. Now shouldn’t a simple dishwasher pump be in his truck, or he could pop over to Home Depot or Pumps R Us and get a replacement? Maybe he had to email an expert pumpmaker in Germany with the exact details of my model, then Hans von Snifflegrooper would begin making a new one.

In the weeks without a working dishwasher, to reduce handwashing we began using our stock of paper plates, although one can get tired of looking at “Happy Birthday” every meal. You don’t have to wash paper plates, just erase them. We began using disposable plastic silverware, and we had piles of them. Due to the pandemic, we had been using Grubhub or picking up food at restaurants, although many of my favorite restaurants were closed – by the Health Department. But they always put in plastic knives, forks and spoons and a useless little paper napkin.

In the past, occasionally I would drop off the packets of plastic at the Goodwill store – and also do my Christmas shopping. Fortunately, I had not made a run in a month. But you can’t cut a steak or even an apple with one of those little plastic knives. Pots, spatulas and jiggers had to be hand washed. I had had some experience in such chores. At UT I worked in the kitchen at Kinsolving Dorm, 456 coeds and me. (I’ll say no more.) My job was running the dishwasher, a huge, hot machine that supposedly scrubbed lipstick off the forks. In the Marines I had KP duty, but most of the cans had been licked clean.

While waiting for Marmaduke’s return, I launched an inquiry into these machines and found all sorts of models with dials and buttons going from “On” and “Off” to a panel looking like the dashboard of an F-35 fighter jet. I discovered if you are a tree-hugger, don’t hand-wash your dishes. That can use up more than three times the amount of water used by a dishwasher, according to And the University of Bonn discovered that hand-washing also takes up three times the amount of electricity used in the dishwasher. Electricity? Maybe heating the water in an electric water heater. But it hits me as strange that a university would study such matters. “The Nobel Prize for Dishwasher Studies goes to Dr. Hans von Snifflegrooper of Bonn University.”

Here are a few tips. Before you buy a new washer, measure the space it will fill.  Most dishwasher standard sizes are 24 inches wide and 34 inches high. A stainless steel front is the most popular, but a white or black finish can be hundreds of dollars cheaper. The type of handle you want — bar vs. pocket — is also important because a bar handle can be up to $100 more. According to Consumer Reports, the highest rated dishwasher manufacturers are the European makers Bosch and Miele. If you want to buy American, get a Kenmore or KitchenAid. (Mine is a leaking KitchenAid.) The Kenmore Elite models received the highest overall score, but cost from $1,100 to $1,350.

Washing tips: Don’t put your non-stick pots and pans in the washer. They will un-stick. No cast iron skillets. No wooden-handled anythings. No pewter. No butcher knives; dishwashing dulls them. Don’t put all the spoons together. They will stick. The good news is a washer can be used to cook foods at low temperatures, but make sure they are sealed. Dishwashers can be used to clean potatoes, other root vegetables, garden tools, sneakers, silk flowers, some sporting goods, plastic hairbrushes, baseball caps, plastic toys, toothbrushes, flip-flops, contact lens cases, a mesh filter from a range hood (I’ve done that), refrigerator shelves and bins, toothbrush holders, pet bowls and pet toys, but not the pets. I recommend washing dishes separately from your flip-flops and garden tools. Finally, a historical note: Josephine Cochrane patented her invention of a dishwasher on Dec. 28, 1886, and unveiled it at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. It won the highest prize at the fair.

Now you know more than you really want to know about dishwashers. Until yours breaks, save those Happy Birthday plates.

Korrectshun: Earlier I wrote that “radio personality” Howard Stern is dead. He’s alive. I was thinking of Don Imus, who recently died in College Station, of all places.

Ashby scrubs at

(1) comment


A rainy afternoon reading your column; what a joy, thanks

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