Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Mystery of the Dirty Dishes, Chapter 1

I pulled this mug out of the dishwasher this morning. Not exactly clean. Stains from tea are hard to get out by hand without a good abrasive pad, but they should be no trouble for a dishwasher. And check out these knives:
It may be hard to see because of the light reflecting off of the metal, but they look like they've been recently licked clean, and I'm betting at least one would test positive for Nutella. Strangely, the plates and bowls seemed fine - or maybe it's just harder to tell? And then there were a few spots on the inside of the door that looked like droplets of tea from when I placed the mugs in the top rack, which I could easily wipe clean with a moist cloth and very little pressure. Mysterious. Let me start at the beginning.

My partner and I moved to a new place a few weeks ago. Back when we were on the apartment hunt, one of the selling points for this place were the en-suite washer and dryer. No longer do I have to avoid the laundry room on Sundays and Mondays because it's at capacity! No longer do I have to live in fear of strangers touching my freshly cleaned clothes if I don't show up within two minutes after the end of the cycle! Now I can choose to always run the machines after 9 pm to save on electricity instead of planning my laundry chores around others! It's heaven, I tell you!

But I digress. The washer/dryer are lovely, and the dishwasher is just bonus. Generally speaking, I enjoy washing dishes by hand; there is something meditative about this simple act, and my hands enjoy being in warm water. Unfortunately, it's actually more energy- and water-efficient to run a dishwasher, especially if, like me, you have a tendency of doing a quick hand wash after each meal, i.e. do many small loads throughout the day, rather than loading up the dishwasher and running it only once full. BC Hydro presents some interesting tips to make either method more efficient.

Unfortunately, what with results like those depicted above, I'm being doubly inefficient by first using my landlord-purchased, standard-efficiency Maytag Performa (note how the name sneakily implies it performs well), then hand washing my still-dirty mugs and cutlery in the sink. Wait... did I say "standard-efficiency"? Let me be clear: are you familiar with the EnerGuide labels that point out on a sliding scale how much energy your appliances use? The Performa is less than 1 cm from the "uses most energy" side of the scale. That's right, it will use an estimated 685 kWh per year. The scale ends at 698 kWh. So let's just call it ultra-low-efficient.

Back to the story: the very first time I ran the dishwasher, I encountered similar results to today's. Being the good researcher that I am, I needed to replicate the findings as proof that this wasn't some fluke outcome. Sadly it keeps happening, now three times in a row, despite using the "temp boost" and "extended wash" options this most recent time. What's going on? My partner suggests the culprit is the dishwasher liquid:
Natureclean Automatic Dishwasher Gel, which looks like gooey apple cider, smells totally neutral, and promises to remove food stains "without those toxic chemical fumes wafting through your kitchen and nasty chemical residue left on your dishes". I bought it because it's biodegradable and free of phosphates (which pollute our lakes and rivers), phosphate replacements (which also pollute our lakes and rivers), chlorine, perfumes, and dyes (all of which pollute us, the people eating off those freshly cleaned plates). I also like Natureclean because they're Canadian, their bottles are made from post-consumer recycled plastic, they don't include animal byproducts in any of their products, and they don't use animal testing during product development. But what does that matter if their dishwasher gel doesn't work?

Time to geek out, research-style, and get to the bottom of the problem. My partner wants to run the next load with dishwasher liquid from a big name brand, I want to try a different non-toxic brand, and the internet wants me to mix my own! Stay tuned for the results...

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