7 Reasons Why I Don’t Use The Dishwasher In My Chinese Home

All my life I’ve never liked using the dishwasher.

Washing the dishes by hand after after a meal by myself or with five others at home is something I do.

Most people around me baulk at my refusal to use the dishwasher. They argue you don’t need to spend time washing up with a dishwasher.

Garlic and Chinese Mun Shou Rice Bowl

Garlic and Chinese Mun Shou Rice Bowl

Growing up in a traditional-minded Chinese family, the dishwasher was instead used as a stacking rack for clean dishes. These days I use the dishwasher to store my empty work lunch containers and banish plates that I never use.

I’ve only used the dishwasher a handful of times in my life. Whenever I did, I felt l there are so many good reasons to wash up by hand. Some of these reasons are tied to being Chinese while other reasons are purely logical.

Here are seven reasons why I don’t use the dishwasher at home.

Garlic (1)

Garlic (1)

1. Saving time and money

Sometimes you can’t fit all dishes and cutlery in a single dishwasher load. You could get the washing done by hand in one sitting in a couple of hours with a new dishwasher running a full cycle.

Non-stick items such as non-stick pans don’t always hold up well in dishwashers and need replacing. Squeezing large frying pans and full-sized woks in the dishwasher can be impossible. Inevitably some things have to be washed by hand.

On the occasions cooking and dining a solo dinner at home, it takes me ten minutes to wash everything up. When it comes to washing up by hand after housemates and rambunctious family, that takes half an hour.

One can argue this is all very efficient. I grew up with the Chinese mentality to be efficient with time and money. This mindset is stems from values of Confucianism favouring thrift, self-discipline and an aversion to extravagance.

Don’t use the dishwasher, don’t pay a bit more on household water, heating and electricity bills. Don’t use the dishwasher, get washing the dishes over and done with right now. No need to unload the dishwasher later or get up earlier in the morning to do it before work.

Garlic (2)

Garlic (2)

2. No dirty dishes lying around

Most Australian households tend to run the dishwasher once or twice a day. That means dishes and utensils are often pile up in the sink throughout the day.

A sink filled with dirty dishes is a lovely moist breeding bacteria ground.

Cleaning is seen as auspicious in Chinese cultures, sweeping out the old and in with the new. Growing up in my Chinese household, when you were done with a plate or cup, you washed it right away.

Garlic (3)

Garlic (3)

3. Not everything fits

As mentioned earlier, not everything can or should be fit in the dishwasher. Large frying pans, pots and woks might not even fit at all.

Hot water corrodes non-stick parts of pans and warps wooden chopping boards, and high temperatures can cause knife handles to become unglued.

4. Cleaner dishes by hand

Dishes can come out of a dishwasher cycle still greasy and still stained with white residue all over. This can be because of poor dishwashing cleaning: water temperature too low, wrong type of detergent for your water type, not enough water or your dishwasher is due for a clean.

Some suggest to rinse or pre-wash your dishes first before using the dishwasher for a cleaner wash. But that means you still have to wash the dishes by hand.

Notably many Chinese eat rice every single day with almost every meal. When dried on plates and rice-cookers, rice can be hard and sticky and hard to wash off. Sometimes the only way to get them clean is soaking overnight and scrubbing with strength.

Garlic (4)

Garlic (4)

5. No room for dishwasher

Many apartments are on the smaller side in Asia. These apartments tend to come with small kitchens and not all small kitchens fit an average-sized dishwasher.

You can purchase a micro or portable dishwasher if you want but they aren’t cheap. So with no dishwasher at home in parts of Asia, it becomes habit to wash up by hand right after meals.

When I was based in Singapore, the apartments I lived in didn’t come with dishwashers. Interestingly enough they came with double bowl sinks – lots of space to wash dishes by hand.

6. More quiet time

Washing up after dinner can actually be a time for us to slow down and take a break from the daily grind. Researchers from Florida State University studied the correlation between dishwashing and stress. They hypothesised people who engage in mindful dishwashing – focusing on water warmth and feel of the dishes – trigger a positive state of mind and mental inspiration increasing by 25%.

As journalist Jay Rayner describes washing dishes by hand, it’s ‘engrossing, a perfect means to an end. It is the forging of order from chaos; an enforced pause in a busy day’.

I don’t mind washing the dishes. There’s just something about the mundane and routine that sits so well with me: things have their place. I’ve been known to wash up in the sink when I’ve finished eating first and others are still making merry over food at the dinner table. That’s perfect when I want to escape the chatter at a big Chinese family dinner.

Garlic (5)

Garlic (5)

7. Stronger work ethic

When you do the dishes right away, you get it done. You don’t procrastinate and no more dirty dishes around. You’re productive, you’re hardworking and you know you can do something if you just start.

It’s a good example to set for others at home, setting the example that no task is too small to do. Doing the dishes by hand right away sends the message that there’s nothing to be ashamed of doing household chores – nothing to be ashamed of doing something small.

*  *  *

People who don’t like washing the dishes have their reasons why. Maybe they rather do something else with their time. Maybe some are lazy. Maybe some find it gross scraping food scraps off from plates and look down on chores like it’s a third world problem – tedious, dirty, time consuming.

Dishwasher retail sales were markedly higher in Western Europe and North America. Notably Norway has a culture of eating in making it a dishwasher-friendly country while some countries in the East find it hard to afford one. In addition parts of Asia lack access to sanitation facilities, so when it comes to washing the dishes by hand, there’s probably nothing gory about it.

Garlic (6)

Garlic (6)

In Australia, many workplaces have a kitchen where everyone can prep food and eat. All the offices I’ve worked at had a dishwasher in the kitchen. While I like to clean the kitchen at home, the same can’t be said about the kitchen at work. So many people go in and out and it’s impossible to wash up after everyone, and the work dishwasher gets a workout.

Not all of us like doing chores and many of us take turns doing chores at home. Traditionally washing the dishes and chores are seen as a ‘woman’s job’ and men aren’t expected to help around the house. Thankfully today this mindset is changing.

A study by The Council on Contemporary Families in Texas found women (in a nuclear family household) who wash most of the dishes find themselves in more relationship conflict. The council also suggested couples who share dishwashing feel more connected as a team.

Then again, time together is precious for couples and families. So it makes sense to chuck the dirty dishes into an energy and water efficient dishwasher which some have argued doesn’t add too much to the bills, and have more time for themselves.

Garlic (7)

Garlic (7)

Cleaning up after a meal is really something I don’t mind doing. Most days I cook for everyone at home and then wash up the grease laden, crumb and food-scrap strewn dishes if someone else hasn’t gotten to it already. I like a clean sink and get excited when there’s a new sponge.

There are certain ways on how to wash up the dishes as quickly as possible by hand. For instance, soak pots and pans while you are eating and then wash them. Have at cellulose and sponge scourer handy. Put the most soiled dishes at the bottom of the sink for a bit of a soak and wash the least-soiled first. Have a damp cloth handy to wipe off water and a dry cloth for drying.

That’s assuming you’re washing dishes indoors. There are different ways of washing dishes around the world which is a topic for another day.

Do you use the dishwasher at home?


200 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why I Don’t Use The Dishwasher In My Chinese Home

  1. Hmmm Mabel, your post brought on some nostalgic thoughts. I now rely on my dishwasher, probably out of habit, but I fondly remember doing dishes with my mother and sister and having good conversation and laughs (with the occasional arguments).


      • This article is incorrect. Dishwashers save time, energy, and water. Dishes washed by a dishwasher are cleaner than could ever be washed by hand. This is because dishwashers operate at a higher temperature which kills bacteria. It is scientifically proven that dishwashers use less water and energy (not constantly turning on hot water) than washing by hand. You are not supposed to pre wash dishes when you place them in the dishwasher because enzymes in the dish soap can not attach to the grease. Washing dishes by hand does not provide a strong work ethic; it is pointless repetitive busy work labour. It wastes time that could be better spent on more meaningful activities. Perhaps old cultural traditions need to die out. Old cultural traditions prevent a society from advancing. Embrace technology or fall behind.


        • That is true, dishwashers save time, energy and water, and some people would rather spend their time doing something else. This was touched upon in the article. People place different values on things and on life in general. Some will embrace old habits, others will embrace technology including dishwashers more enthusiastically. Each to their own.


  2. I so get you on this Mabel, in fact I agreed with just about everything in your post. Growing up in an Italian family we never had a dishwasher and I was taught from an early age to leave the kitchen nice and clean. And now, with my own family and even though I have a dishwasher I use it very seldom, always preferring to do the dishes by hand, mostly for all the reasons you described. I might put it on after a large dinner party but even then half the dishes will be done by hand. At the most we might use it once a week. Bottom rule is, no dishes to be left in the sink! I like my kitchen clean. Hope you’re having a great weekend. 😊


  3. Love this post Mabel! I particularly appreciate how you incorporate issues of culture into this post and recognize how socioeconomic status and gender may influence whether one wants to wash the dishes or not. As an Asian person I grew up in a family that washed dishes by hand too and that’s always been ingrained in me, so seeing this post was validating. (: Hope you are doing well.


    • Thanks, Thomas. Culture, socio-economic and gender issues are prevalent all around us and affect the mundane things in life. Lovely to hear you grew up washing the dishes by hand. It can be a chore at times but when it’s a habit, it’s a habit. Hope you are well.


  4. We have a dishwasher – it was here when we bought the house – but neither of us (my husband or I) have ever used it. For me, though I’m not Chinese, it’s for most of the reasons you’ve given except for enjoying washing up (this expression, by the way, is a British expression that means ‘doing the dishes’). I rarely enjoy it though sometimes if I feel very cold, getting my hands in hot water cheers me up, even to clean things!)

    But I rarely wash up straight after eating. Mostly, for me, it’s because I don’t have the energy to do it just then, I need time for the food to settle. Then I go and do something else and often forget til very late at night.

    My dad (unlike many men of his generation) used to start washing up as soon as he’d finished eating, often when we were still at the table, still eating. It used to drive me mad… but that was just his way.


    • I didn’t know that ‘enjoying washing up’ is a British way of ‘doing the dishes’. That’s great to learn and know. Also great you see a bit of pleasure washing the dishes, warming you up 🙂

      We are quite opposites where I like to wash the dishes right after eating. Your dad sounds like he really likes his dishes clean, washing up as soon as possible lol. That said, I do really like it when I get takeaway, come home, eat it and don’t have to wash up after a long day.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. By the way – the little rice bowl in your third pic from the top? I’ve one just like it sitting on my desk at this minute. Only thing different is mine’s a little smaller (unless your garlics are tiny) and there’s what looks like grass or wavy lines near the serpent (dragon?) Oh and I wanted to say (and I forgot) that I enjoyed your post. 🙂


    • My garlics are actually quite massive here, almost the size of a fist. I am guessing you are referring to the blue and white dragon saucer. It is such a fine additional to the dinner table, and amazing to hear you also have one. Wow Chinese cutlery travels far and wide 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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