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Continued: Maybe the dishwasher isn't versatile, after all

  • Article by: ALEXIA ELEJALDE-RUIZ , Chicago Tribune
  • Last update: November 14, 2010 - 3:00 PM

It all started when my mother suggested I wash my underwear in the dishwasher.

I had recently moved into yet another apartment with no indoor laundry facilities, and was dreading dragging my laundry basket outside in the dead of winter. My mom wondered if I could simply replace my plates with panties for a sudsy spin.

She was joking, but it makes sense. The dishwasher is known as a remarkably versatile appliance, capable of cleaning baseball caps and computer keyboards and even cooking fish.

Or so it says on the Internet. A test was in order to determine just what amazing feats the dishwasher can accomplish.

One recent evening, I ran a variety of non-kitchen items through a dishwasher cycle, including flip-flops, baseball caps, hairbrushes, makeup brushes, dish sponges and, the test of honor, underwear. The computer keyboard was a risk I was unwilling to take.

I also, separately, made dinner in the dishwasher, the goal being a simple meal of poached salmon, steamed asparagus and baked potato. I avoided the dishwasher lasagna Florentine, for which there is a recipe online, and which sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

The results, although not tragic, were unremarkable.

The baseball caps, two of which I placed on the bottom rack and two on the top, emerged after a normal wash cycle smelling far better than they had going in (thanks to the lemon-scented detergent), with no damage to fabric or shape. Some stains appeared to have faded, but were they immaculate? No. And they were soaking wet.

The plastic flip-flops, long smudged with dirt, still looked filthy when the cycle was over but were undamaged. The plastic hairbrush (hair removed) and an eyeshadow brush caked in Halloween makeup definitely looked cleaner, but not thoroughly. Perhaps the best outcome was for the dish sponges, which went in disgusting and came out looking and smelling almost new.

The two pairs of cotton underwear I draped over the prongs on the top rack had seen better days, poor things. My sopping wet skivvies, which had drooped down through the rack's cracks like Dali's melting clocks, were cleaner, but not perfectly, and the fabric looked as if it had been stretched out.

Perhaps the meal would be more triumphant.

Following a recipe for dishwasher salmon from Bob Blumer, author of "The Surreal Gourmet," I greased the shiny side of a 12-inch square of heavy-duty aluminum foil with olive oil and placed two salmon fillets on top. I drizzled the salmon with freshly squeezed lime juice, added salt and pepper, then wrapped the aluminum foil tightly around the fillets, and wrapped another layer of foil around that. I prepared the asparagus the same way.

I had already run the potatoes through the dishwasher to clean them (a good time-saving trick). I wrapped them in aluminum foil, as well, hoping another cycle would soften them more. With everything on the top rack, I ran a normal cycle, high heat, no soap.

Dinner was meh. The salmon, while cooked, was a little rubbery and not flavorful. The potatoes weren't cooked nearly enough. The asparagus, however, was steamed perfectly, to a crisp al dente, far better than the mushy spears I often end up with when I throw them in a pot.

Still, the meal was a colossal waste of water. Unless every other appliance in your kitchen has failed, leave your cooking to the stove.

Dish sponges, baseball caps, gardening tools and hard plastic toys are probably the best candidates for a dishwasher cleaning -- the high heat sanitizes the items.

As for underwear, when times are desperate or it's just too cold outside, I'd rather just hand-wash in Woolite -- as my mom used to do.

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