Monday, January 9, 2017

The Dishwasher: In which commonplace things are surprisingly different

I've mentioned before that one of the hardest parts of international adjustment is when commonplace practice is no longer commonplace.  Suddenly you feel like a toddler as something you've done every day during your adult life becomes a challenge.  Sometimes this is expected: filling out a one page form in German can take an hour or more since I first must translate the questions, draft my answer in English, then translate my answer back to German, then try to check that my translation is close to correct so that I don't unintentionally change the meaning of my answer.

Others adjustments are unexpected but anticipated. I now have 9 different kinds of chili powder in my cabinet as a result of my quest to find something that would make a pot of American "chili".  (Side note: chili has been successfully made!)

But sometimes it hits you like a brick when you can't figure out how to perform one simple task and the answer is something you wouldn't have arrived at in a million years.

Take for example the dishwasher.  I have had a love hate relationship with this thing since we've arrived, and I think we've finally reached an understanding.  Thanks only to the help of a Jedi-master, otherwise known as another expat who has been here 2 years and knows All-The-Stuff.  She also taught me how to pay bills.  I shall now refer to her as Obi Wan.

So. Perhaps I've never paid attention or perhaps I just had a basic dishwasher in the 10+ homes I've lived in over the past dozen or so years in the U.S., but I've always just bought a box of powdered dish detergent (or individual capsules if I wanted to be fancy) at Kroger or Target, poured it in the slot in the dishwasher, and pushed the start button.  And magically my dishes were cleaned. You do that too?

When we moved into our house here, I picked up a box of what I thought was dish detergent at the store and started running the dishwasher.  Due to Brandtley's diet, I cook nearly every meal, which results in a lot of dirty dishes for a family of 4, even if I hand wash larger items. But our dishes were not coming out looking right.  I could tell that they had been sanitized by hot water, but they were streaky, filmy, and just not clean.

I read the instructions, which might as well have been in Japanese.  And in fact, when I looked up the instructions online, they did come in Japanese! And French, Spanish, Italian, and several other languages that were not English.  About that time, our shipment of furniture arrived, along with a half-full box of Kroger dish detergent, which I tried using and our dish cleanliness improved immensely.  But I knew this was not a long term solution.  The time would come when that box would be empty, and I could not run down the street to Kroger to replace it.

Come to find out, it's hard to understand a poor translation of something that you've never heard of.  The instructions kept referencing "the salts" and the "rinse aid". Both of which are necessary to use in addition to the detergent. They each have their own separate compartment to go into, and a light on the control panel reminds to you refill them when they are empty.  Who knew you needed 3 products just to run the dishwasher!?!

Now I have all 3 and my dishes are sparkly clean!  Oh. Except that eventually I will also need a 4th product to de-calcify the machine on a regular basis.  But I'll leave that for another day....or month. :)

Can anyone tell me if I should have been doing this in the U.S. too?? Confession: this was my first dishwasher manual to read, ever. So, it's entirely possible I've been using them incorrectly my entire life and it just never made much difference due to water supply/calcium levels where I've lived?


My "Special Salt" which I originally tried to use as detergent...

Klarspüler gel

The compartments in the door for the detergent and klarspüler.  The detergent compartment looks normal enough, right? The Special Salts actually go in a hole in the bottom of the interior of the dishwasher, which I would probably have never looked at if not pointed out.


  1. I tried Jet-Dry Rinse Aid when we bought a new dishwasher but couldn't tell a difference so I never bought more. So glad I don't have to buy three products to get the dishes clean!

  2. this just seems SO German! - Laura