Dishwashers Harmful to Kids? (Article)

It turns out there is truth in the statement “The old way is the better way,” according to a recent study that has found an association between dishwashers and the growing prevalence of allergy among children. In this study, Swedish researchers found childhood allergies to be less prevalent in families who hand washed dishes versus those who used modern dishwashing machines. It was just a few generations ago when parents and children alike, hand washed the dishes after dinner. In modern America today, this activity seems to be a only a distant memory. The majority of American families now have the convenience of an electric dishwasher to help with kitchen cleanup.


Who would have ever thought that dishwashers could fundamentally change the immune system of children? What is the difference between hand washing dirty dishes and using a dishwasher to clean them? Well the answer lies in the much higher germ killing efficiency of today’s dishwashers. Hand washing cleans with low temperature water (about 120 degree Fahrenheit) and very mild soaps whereas dishwashers nearly sterilize the dishes with 200 degree water and very caustic chemicals. In comparison to a dishwasher, hand washing kills much less bacteria and germs. Could it be that growing children may actually need exposure to more bacteria in their intestines that were being supplied partly from lightly cleaned dishes? We now know that much of a child’s immune system is dependent on a healthy variety and quantity of microbial life in their gut. Have dishwashers eliminated a good source of healthy bacteria for a child’s intestines and has this change in bacterial flora made the immune systems of children just different than in generations past? Could modern dish cleaning practices be partly to blame for the epidemic of food allergy, asthma, eczema, and hay fever being seen in Western countries? Furthermore, the same study found that children who ate food from local farms and who ate fermented foods increased their tolerances against allergic diseases even more that those that hand washed dishes alone.


In spite of our technological advances, the older ways of living sometimes appear to be less disruptive to children than modern practices. Not so long ago, children would spend almost half the day outside playing in creeks, digging holes and come home covered in dirt and mud. Could it be that all that filth that children played in, drank, and accidentally ate actually was the key to the development of their strong and healthy immune systems? Scientists are beginning to think that this is the case and this latest study about dishwashers and fermented foods seems to validate this line of thinking. Maybe it’s time to get those children of yours outside playing and breathing more natural unfiltered air, eating food that has not as sterile, and drinking water that the same constituents that water has contained for thousands of years. Common sense and recent data seem to support this way of thinking. Who would have thought that the phrase “What does not kill you makes you stronger”, would apply to something as simple as washing dishes?

Smo Notes:

1. Allergy in Children Hand versus Machine Wash: Pediatrics, March 2015

written collaboratively by Dr. Norman Spencer and Paul Smolen MD