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

All my life I’ve never liked using the dishwasher. Washing up by hand after cooking for one or after a meal with five others at home is something I much rather do and in fact, do every single day.

Most people around me baulk at my refusal to use the dishwasher. You eat your food in comfort at home, throw the dishes and cutlery in the dishwasher, turn it on, the mess and grime washes away. You don’t need to spend time washing up.

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 never used. Instead it was used as a stacking and drying 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 better reasons to wash up by hand. Some of these reasons seem to be 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. Washing by hand saves time and money

It usually takes about a couple of hours for newer dishwashers to run a full cycle. However you can’t fit all dishes and cutlery in a single dishwasher load all the time, and you could get the washing done by hand in one sitting in a shorter time. Coupled with the fact that non-stick items don’t always hold up well in dishwashers, trying to squeeze a 40cm frying pan alongside with a full-sized wok (which I love to cook stir-fried noodles with) in the dishwasher is virtually impossible. Inevitably some things have to be washed by hand.

Most days my household goes through around ten plates, more than a few bowls, pairs of cutleries, a number of cups and non-stick pots and pans. 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 after housemates and rambunctious kids, 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: do something productive with your time and save your pennies for a better tomorrow. This mindset is in part 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 a bit earlier in the morning to do it before work.

Garlic (2)

Garlic (2)

2. No dirty dishes lying around

The rule of thumb at my place is that the sink has to be empty at all times. That means if you use a plate or cup and don’t need it anymore, you wash it up by hand right away. Most Australian households tend to run the dishwasher once or twice a day – meaning dishes and utensils are left to pile up in the sink throughout the day before congregating for a shower together in the dishwasher.

A sink filled with dirty dishes is a lovely moist breeding bacteria ground. Growing up Chinese, I was taught to be a neat-freak like other stereotypical Chinese families. My upbringing included no wearing shoes at home, wrapping the remote control with plastic so as to keep it new and bleaching bathroom tiles once a week. Along with this my folks insisted dishes are washed the moment they are put in the sink. After all, cleaning is seen as auspicious in Chinese cultures, that is sweeping out the old and in with the new so to speak. Then again, not all Chinese are neat-freaks but that’s another topic of discussion.

Garlic (3)

Garlic (3)

3. Not everything fits

As mentioned earlier, not everything can or should be fit in the dishwasher. Definitely hard to fit a wok in the dishwasher without compromising room for other crockery if at all a wok can fit. 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

Sometimes dishes come out of a dishwasher cycle still greasy with stains still intact and 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 inevitably you 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 so hard to wash off. Sometimes the only way to get completely clean is to soak these rice-stained utensils overnight and scrub with strength.

Garlic (4)

Garlic (4)

5. Small spaces

Many apartments are on the small 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 various 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. 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, and hypothesised people who engage in mindful dishwashing – focusing on water warmth and feel of the dishes – trigger a positive state of mind with 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 household chores and washing the dishes is one of them. 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, hole up washing the dishes.

Garlic (5)

Garlic (5)

7. A hard 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 also a good example to set for others at home, setting the example that no task is too small to do. Most importantly, doing the dishes by hand right away sends the message that there’s nothing to be ashamed of doing household chores, A tidier life often leads to a less chaotic and more calming lifestyle.

*  *  *

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 embarrassing doing the dishes by hand, seeing it gross scraping food scraps off from plates and look down on chores like it’s a third world problem – tedious, dirty, time consuming. Notably over the last decade, dishwasher retail sales were markedly higher in Western Europe and North America; Norway has a culture of eating in making it a dishwasher-friendly country while some countries in the East simply find it hard to afford one. In addition parts of Asia many lack access to sanitation facilities, so when it comes to washing the dishes by hand, there’s probably nothing gory about that to them.

Garlic (6)

Garlic (6)

In Australia, many workplaces have a kitchen where everyone can prep food and eat throughout the day. All the places I’ve worked (big offices) 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 so 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 any chores is seen as a ‘woman’s job’ and men aren’t expected to help around the house (thankfully today this mindset is changing). The Council on Contemporary Families at the University of Texas studies family dynamics and in a study 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, sometimes couples and families want more time together and time together is precious. So why not just 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 and doing chores around the house is really something I don’t mind doing. Most days I leave the house before 7am to go to work, don’t get home until after 6pm, cook for everyone at home with a pan and a pot and then wash up the grease laden, crumb and spittle strewn dishes and cooking utensils if someone else hasn’t gotten to it already. I like a clean house and get excited when I buy a new sponge or bottle of detergent.

There are certain ways on how to wash up as quickly as possible by hand after a meal at home. 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 a post another day.

Do you use the dishwasher at home?

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182 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).

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  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. 😊

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  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.

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    • 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.

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