Q&A: Dishwashers Vs. Washing By Hand

  • August 25, 2011 8:06 pm

THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

What is your take on washing by hand and using a dishwasher??

Thanks, Meika

THE ANSWER:

Meika,

Thanks for your question.  The pros and cons of dishwashers have been debated down to the very last droplets of water, but at the end of the day they are more environmentally friendly than washing by hand, even if you factor in the energy used to manufacture and run the machine.  Here is an excerpt from Planet Home re the eco-friendliest way to wash dishes:

Running a dishwasher filled with scraped–not rinsed–dishes using eco-friendly detergent free of chlorine and phosphates is preferable to washing by hand, especially if the machine has a good Energy Star rating and you don’t use the energy-draining heated dry option.  Only run the dishwasher when it is totally full (although be sure you’re not blocking the water or aeration methods with any dishes, or they won’t get clean).  Face everything inward.  Enzymes in detergent are there to eat off scum.  If you have over-rinsed your dishes, they will have nothing to work on and will therefore dull the surfaces.  Get to know your dishwasher: Does it have a heater or a fan?  Does it have a grinder?  Operate accordingly.  Don’t put everything under the sun in a dishwasher.  Opening the door a crack after the washing cycle is complete will help the dishes air-dry more completely, but it will also increase indoor air pollution.  Fragrances and chemicals (including chlorine) in traditional auto-dishwashing products get turned into vapors when the machine heats up, and so do the pollutants (possibly chlorine or chloroform, maybe radon) in municipal water.  We breathe these vapors as they vent out of the machine during the washing cycle, making dishwashers a major source of indoor air pollution.  Minimize the danger by using a natural (chlorine bleach-free) detergent and by not opening that door until the machine has had a chance to cool off.  Giving the racks a shake will help get the residual droplets off the dishes.  Keep in mind that your municipal water supply will likely provide your machine with chlorine anyway.  A whole house water filter will reduce some of the worst vapors, as will keeping your kitchen well-ventilated.  If your dishes aren’t getting as clean as you’d like them, try using less detergent if you have soft water and adding a natural rinse aid if you have hard water.  This keep minerals in the water from redepositing on your dishes.  You can buy a natural version, or simply use white vinegar.  If you’re in the market for a new dishwasher, consider stainless steel interiors, which retain heat and reduce noise.  They also don’t off-gas (i.e., release fumes from the plastic) when heated to very high temperatures.

Hope this helps!

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Is borax safe?

  • August 5, 2011 10:48 am
THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,
What’s your thoughts on Borax?  The name makes it sound scary…
Thanks,
Karissa
THE ANSWER:

Karissa,
Thanks for the question.  What are you thinking of using borax for?  In Planet Home, we do suggest using it for specific tasks (excerpted below), but the Environmental Working Group has damning opinion of it and links it to hormone disruption.  I use it only when I have to, which has so far been once in the last decade or so–for unwelcome guests. Otherwise I try to avoid it. If it can kill roaches, I don’t really need that residue in my sheets.
Hope this helps.
Best,
Alexandra

LAUNDRY

You can find Borax (sodium borate, a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen, and water) in the detergent aisle of most grocery stores.  Add 1/2 cup of Borax to your regular detergent (liquid or powder) to give it an extra boost.  Borax will help to improve the cleaning power, whiten, and remove stains and odors.  You can also soak clothes in water with Borax (1 tablespoon per gallon of water) before washing.  When using on delicates, add 1/4 cup to your regular detergent instead.  Exposure to Borax can be harmful in high amounts, so avoid inhalation and ingestion.

UNWELCOME GUESTS

If, come spring, your living room has more bugs than you’d like to see, convince them to leave in a nontoxic fashion.  Pesticides have no place in the home.  For a natural ant killer, mix 1 part Borax and 3 parts sugar (granulated or powdered) with enough water to give the mixture a soup consistency.  Pour the mixture into one of more containers with lids.  Punch eight to ten holes in the lid(s) big enough for ants to access and place containers in infested areas.  Caution: keep out of reach of children and pets.  Borax is harmful when ingested.