Friday, September 14, 2012


My husband takes great pride in his family tradition of thriftiness. I have to admit, that can wonderful. We have genuine antique glass door knobs throughout the house, salvaged from alleys throughout the city. I can always find a twist tie or small piece of string when I need them. Our bank account is healthy.

But sometimes frugal crosses the line into stingy.

When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband remodeled our kitchen. It was tiny before, and not much bigger afterward – maybe 125 square feet – but when he was finished I had drawers to store things, shelves to store more things, and he had somehow made room for a dishwasher. It wasn't quite top-of-the-line, but a generous gift from my Aunt P made it possible for us to buy a really nice machine. It had a disposer in the bottom so stray food particles would be ground up and washed away. The top rack was adjustable. The flatware basket was in the door and could be removed for easy emptying. Boy did I love it! Bottles, high chair parts, daily dishes – my miracle machine could handle anything. So when we moved to our next house five years later, there was no question: we brought the dishwasher with us.

Two years ago I started noticing a little grime on my dishes. I took the dishwasher apart (thank goodness for internet DIY instructions) and found a couple pieces of broken glass and some bone bits in the bottom. I emptied a clogged filter then put everything back together. Sure, the (now eight year old) dishwasher was a little noisier than when we first got it, but considering how often we ran the thing, it was doing pretty well. Except, it wasn't. Gunk started building up. I was having to rinse glasses before I put them away. I took it apart again but found nothing.

We spent $100 to have an appliance repairman take a look. He found nothing.

My mom learned that dishwashing soaps had been reformulated to remove phosphates. I switched brands, then I switched again. Noisier, dirtier. Over time the top rack broke, and we jerry-rigged a repair. Some of the rubber coating on the racks peeled off. We tried a second appliance repair place. Another $100, glasses still grimy, plates not quite clean.

I started making noises about replacing the dishwasher. I began reading reviews, assessing features. DH finally heard and in May I came home from work to find a gaping hole where the dishwasher had been.

There were three salvaged machines on the back porch.

He installed the first one in June. It didn't work. After three days of tinkering it was returned to the back porch. The second didn't work, either. The third turned on and filled, but wouldn't drain.

The kids learned how to manually wash up. I did a lot of grilling to minimize dishes.

Mid-July I brought in Ken. Our favorite repair guy, he'd fixed our fridge when a stray magnet caused the motor to burn out. Ken came out, tinkered and futzed with number three. He left and came back to replace the mother board. He checked the plumbing. He visited three times (for only $175 total), but never could get it to work. In the end it was exiled to the back porch with the other two.

Two months had passed. DH was out of used dishwashers. He offered our original troublemaker to Ken in trade. Ken agreed. He came back one more time, with a low-end machine of his own. He installed it, plumbed it, ran it. No matter that there was no sanitize cycle. Who cared about a pre-rinse stage. We had a dishwasher!

The kids and I had gotten into a routine. We continued to wash the dishes by hand, afraid to jinx ourselves. Finally, realizing that school was about to start, I decided to switch back to mechanized cleanliness. DH was not happy. Before I could wash the first load, he asked when Ken was going to have the original dishwasher repaired and installed.

I gaped. Why, I asked, if we were just having the original repaired, would we have gone through all that nonsense with the other four? I was fine with the bare-bones box under the counter. It washed, it drained, it was installed. DH would have none of it. He thought I wanted our first dishwasher. By mid August Old Faithful was back in place. Ken had taken it apart as best he could, cleaned out the filters and washed the hoses. I sadly gave Ken a final check for $75 and fearfully loaded it up. My fears were justified.

So now, for the low, low price of $450 in repairs I have my ten-year-old dishwasher back under the counter. Sure, it's a little ghetto with the zipties holding the top rack together, and the rust streaks where the protective rubber is gone. And yeah, we have to rinse the dishes both before and after we run the machine. But we're a thrifty family, and I'm not putting any more money into this. Although I might spend $25 on a good counter-top dish rack. Doing the dishes by hand builds character. Right kids?

1 comment:

  1. Have you read Suburban Correspondent's string of posts on her dishwasher travails? You are not alone.