Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Put a Toaster in the Dishwasher


I put a toaster in the dishwasher.  I know; some of you have just decided that I am a total moron, and won’t read further.  That’s OK.  I learned two very important lessons from this little experiment:  (1) It is very difficult to discern the difference between Conventional Wisdom and Conventional Ignorance;  (2) When Conventional Ignorance is challenged, things can get nasty. 

So, I had this toaster that had several years of dust, grease splatter, and burned greasy crumbs stuck way down inside.  I had heard that people sometimes put computer keyboards in the dishwasher, and that this is OK as long as you let them dry thoroughly before connecting them again.  So I looked online about cleaning toasters in the dishwasher.  A few places, a few people have tentatively asked “Can I put a toaster in a dishwasher?”  The conventional wisdom was nearly unanimous: “What kind of F--ing idiot would put a toaster in a dishwasher?” 

The tone alone made me want to find out more, because I thought those creative questioners at least deserved a real answer to a fair question.

Dear Reader, before continuing I must tell you that I am a Physics teacher.  I know a few things about electricity. Some of what I know was hard-earned. For example, in my first year of teaching, during my first period Physics class, on the first day of Electricity, I plunged a hair dryer running on “High” into an aquarium full of tap water to demonstrate how Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters work.  It kept running.  All day.  We could see the water going through the hair dryer, getting sucked in the back, passing through the heating coils and getting blown out the front, round and round, slightly warmer with each pass.  All that day, kids got to see Mr. Stillwater’s hair dryer running under water in a fish tank.  I thought I knew about electricity and water, but what I possessed was Conventional Ignorance posing as Conventional Wisdom.  Humbling. 

Skip ahead fourteen years and I know a whole lot more about water and electricity.  What I don’t know is whether there are parts in a toaster that might be destroyed by water, destroyed in such a manner that a good drying out won’t cure.  But I persisted, and here are some more samples of Conventional Wisdom, from YahooAnswers, with literacy-level intact.  The question was “Can I put my toaster in the dishwasher?”
you mean , mommy's toaster...theres no way you could have made it to adulthood...

Sure you can, you can also do the same for your cordless phone, small TV, laptop computer, just anything that will fit into the dishwasher. Really now, Use your head for something other than a hat rack.

As previous answers have stated, NO, IT WILL RUIN THE TOASTER!!!!!

Only do it if you want to buy a new toaster. The water and harsh chemicals of the dishwasher will cause the electrical element to corrode.

NO! A toaster is an electronic device. The dishwasher will soak it and ruin it.

You can put your toaster in a dishwasher you can also put your hairdryer and CD player in a dishwasher BUT from a safety perspective it's very dangerous.

Water will seep into the heating elements of the toaster and may not dry off.  Plug in the toaster and you'll short circuit the toaster and probably start a fire.

I chose these seven examples because each writer is either clearly wrong on their main point based on my own first-hand knowledge, or is strident without evidence.  For example, I might respond: “Sorry #5, but a toaster is an electrical device, not an electronic one, and I’ve already soaked an electrical device in a fish tank for several hours, while it was running.” 

These commenters are speaking authoritatively on subjects about which they are completely ignorant, but they are strident in doing so because they are repeating what everybody knows.  They are intellectually secure in the center of a vast mob; their wisdom was received, not crafted.  It doesn’t need to be crafted, because it is already known, established, beyond question (but demonstrably wrong).

This is Faith, presenting itself as Reason, with sarcasm. 

For my part, I ‘kept the faith,’ and continued searching for Reason.  I found two blogs (and one comment) on which people admitted putting a toaster through a dishwasher.  In every case they let it dry for several days, then plugged in and used their fully-functional, beautifully clean toaster.   They were a bit sheepish in reporting it though, as if maybe they just got lucky.  I vacillated.  A colleague pointed out that toasters are cheap.  So I tried it.

Mine works, too.

JD


Ps: Yeah, I know.  I have to say more about the fish tank thing before your head explodes.  I learned two things that day long ago:  (1) Tap water is a poor conductor at 120 volts.  I already knew from chemistry that distilled (pure) water is not conductive at all, but tap water is pretty far from pure.  As it turned out, I had to stir an entire cylinder of table salt into the aquarium before it shorted inside the hair dryer and tripped a breaker.  Even then, when I rinsed the hair dryer and let it dry itself out for a while, it worked fine.  I still have it, and it still works. 

A year later the school’s band-room got flooded by a burst pipe.  I helped rescue the digital pianos, which were all plugged into a power strip under four inches of water.  We could see it from the steps, but no one wanted to go into that water!  With the fish tank/hair dryer episode in mind, I took off my shoes and waded in.  No problem, until I planted my bare foot on that bare concrete floor a few inches from the submerged power strip, at which point I felt a mild but discernable tingle in that one foot.  I unplugged the power strip from the wall above the water line, and the tingling stopped.  Onlookers cheered. 

(2) GFIs only trip off when in bodies of water that are grounded.  They won’t work in an aquarium sitting on a lab table, or in a plastic laundry sink with plastic drainpipes, or in a plastic shower with plastic drainpipes.  That doesn’t mean you’re not protected in those situations; the GFI will trip when it detects that current is leaking out some other route than expected.  That is the condition for you to get fried – electricity has to go through you (or the water) to the ground.  The GFI prevents that.  If there’s no way for electricity to get to ground, it won’t go through you, and it won’t trip the GFI.


6 comments:

  1. I once had a cashier INSIST on putting the extension cord I bought into a plastic bag because it was raining out, and she was worried I'd be electrocuted if it got wet.
    Yeah.
    You do realize, of course, that what you've written applies to far more than electricity and water. People, in general, are HAPPY with "conventional ignorance" about most everything, and cling to it strongly.

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  2. In defense of conventional ignorance, it is easy and safe to avoid something that may or may not be harmful, as opposed to, say, just picking up and eating a wild mushroom, assuming one does not have the training to discern edible mushrooms. I imagine that it pays off with dividends throughout evolutionary history.

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    1. Good point, Aaron. It makes sense that evolution would build-in something like "Better safe than sorry!"

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  3. Awesome essay, JD! And I do mean in the original meaning of that word...

    Love, Dave

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  4. I loved this post. I do want to point out, though, that if you have an expensive 'smart' toaster with a digital display and stuff then you shouldn't purposely get it wet. Perhaps this a good argument for not buying an expensive toaster. You can't clean it! ;-)

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  5. Great article! It was a fun read - I'm definitely going to put my toaster in my dishwasher now. A had a roach living in the crumb tray and there are years of dust and crumbs in places I can't clean out, as well.

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