Dirty to Decent: A Dishwashing Story

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Growing up, washing dishes was something I preferred to avoid. We didn’t have a dishwasher initially, so my parents used a cheap, porous yellow sponge with scratchy green pads to clean our family’s dishes. Just the thought of touching the sponge makes my skin crawl. The dirty plates and silverware spotted with dinner remains from foods added to my aversion. Smearing around those vile bits of food waste (foods I didn’t even eat) until clean made me want to hurl. At that time, neither my family nor I knew much about sensory issues or Autism, so when I expressed my disgust, people thought I was just a picky child. Fortunately, we got a dishwasher before I was old enough to be assigned the chore.

The place I work has a dishwasher in the breakroom. A calendar once rotated our names, assigning one person weekly to unload and load the dishwasher. The same calendar also listed employee birthdays. Both items on one calendar created the unique social faux-pas of approaching a fellow employee with a “Happy Birthday!” only to have them awkwardly tell you it was not their birthday, only their time to do the dishes. Loading the dishwasher was easy, and I enjoyed playing “Dishwasher Loading Ninja.” I pack dishwashers tighter than pants after Thanksgiving dinner when I make it a game. Once clean, the assigned individual also unloaded the dishwasher. As a result, the dishes ended up in the strangest places, as no one knew the unspoken preferred location for each item.

I didn’t have a dishwasher when I moved into my first apartment. Hand-washing dishes remained foreign to me since I was used to my parents’ house. So, I left all the dishes in the sink and only cleaned them when the sink was completely full. Ants loved this concept and must have spread the word to all their friends when they discovered tasty treats like “jelly-stained-butter-knife” in the maze of filth. The ants turned my sink into their party hotspot. My only option was to wash each dish immediately after using it. To do this, I started the sink and let the water run until nice and warm. I found it calming to experience the sensation and sound of running warm water. I would then place each dirty item one by one under the constantly cascading stream, rinsing away most of the fresh food scraps. From there, a light scrub with some dish soap and a sponge got what remained—a very low-contact form of dishwashing.

Eventually, I discovered a game-changer. When dealing with the ickiest, stickiest, most stubborn stains on pans and plates, I let them soak. To do this, I would apply a generous squirt of dish soap inside, then fill the item to the brim with the hottest water. Pests weren’t as interested in these boiling, soapy Jacuzzis of food particles. Bowls and cups filled with water helped soak silverware just as effectively. This allowed me to walk away from the sink and do as I please. Once ready to return to the sink, I only needed to tip the dish over. All the gunk washed away down the drain. Anything left slipped away with the light scrubbing method I adapted earlier. Though the sight of the floating food debris may not be the most pleasant, the result was always worth it—clean dishes without significant effort!

Little things like only purchasing the sponges and soaps I liked made dishwashing even more of a personalized experience. Dishwashing liquids come in so many different shades and scents. Sponges come in various textures and colors; some are even shaped like happy faces! I preferred continuously refilling an easy pump dispenser rather than dealing with a giant, ugly squeeze bottle sitting out. I have a dishwasher now, but I still go through the same pre-wash routine I used to do when washing dishes by hand. Following a routine gives me a sense of comfort, and washing dishes the old-fashioned way ensures that the dishwasher won’t let me down. I’ll confess that I sometimes splurge on paper plates when I feel SUPER lazy. I know they’re not environmentally friendly, but some days, you need to cut yourself some slack, you know?

Finding a method to complete the job took some time and experimentation. I have to admit that I struggle with adapting to unexpected situations. However, we all have unique strengths, abilities, and preferences. I tend to forget that nobody is watching and grading me on how I live my life, especially in the privacy of my own home. Although I doubt I’ll ever experience the idyllic scenes of birds chirping and helpful chipmunks assisting me with the cleanup, like in Snow White, I’m content and proud of how I’ve learned to tolerate and embrace another unavoidable chore of adulthood.


Penny is an artist who uses her creative side and imagination to express herself. She’s now using this opportunity with ASDNext to not only do that through art, but also blogging. For much of her life, she felt like the “quirky sidekick” stereotype in a movie, always doing what others expected of her. When she was diagnosed with autism later in life, that all began to change. This news was life changing and she knew it was time to rewrite her story. She’s no longer on the sidelines of this so-called movie that is her life, she’s the director, leading-lady, or whatever other part she needs to play to figure out who she REALLY is! Every small step toward authenticity is now a victory for her in this new stage of life.

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