Sunday, June 3, 2012

Don’t Leave Your Dishwasher Unattended

One week ago, I woke up to probably the scariest thing that has ever happened to me.

After going to bed just after midnight, I woke up at 1:07 A.M. to the smell of something burning.

Fire has always been my biggest fear. I have never lit a match or used a cigarette lighter in my life. Seriously.

My city recently switched to time-of-use rates for hydro and everyone is encouraged to do laundry, run their dishwasher etc. after 7 P.M. or on the weekends.

I had not accomplished as much as I wanted to on Sunday evening so when I went to bed the dishwasher was running as well as the washer and the dryer. I was hesitant to run the dryer but I didn’t want the clothes to smell musty.

I always start the dishwasher when I go to bed. It’s part of my routine.

Never again.

Here’s why:


Our bread knife (which had been used to cut a tomato so, in my opinion, it needed to be washed) fell from the top rack and landed on the heating element during the wash cycle.

Dishwasher 2

Once it got to the dry cycle, it proceeded to melt and burn on the heating element.

After waking Mr. Mechanic from a dead sleep, I turned on the light to find that the whole hallway was smoky and smelled like burning plastic crossed with birthday candles.

We didn’t see any flames or feel heat so we started to look for the source, and our cat. She was sleeping on a chair in the basement. Completely oblivious. I took this as a good sign.

When I went back upstairs to the kitchen I noticed there was smoke, not steam, coming out of the dishwasher vent.

At this point, I started to shake and hyperventilate. It was a night hot enough to have the air conditioning on yet I was shivering uncontrollably while wearing a robe.

Conversely, Mr. Mechanic jumped into action. He turned off the breakers for the kitchen and then opened the dishwasher (the last thing that I would have done).

Smoke came pouring out of the dishwasher but there were no flames.

He found the knife and carried it outside with tongs.

Dishwasher 3

Crisis averted, we were safe again.

Our house smelled like something toxic, but we were safe.

Then, as I came down from the adrenaline rush, I started thinking all these questions.

Why didn’t the smoke detector go off?

. . . because it was sitting on the counter covered up by my lunch bag after taking it down to avoid it screeching at me when I drain pasta.

What would have happened if I hadn’t woken up?

. . . Mr. Mechanic doesn’t think it could have turned into a fire but given the quirks of our house and the issue of our dishwasher being directly above the breaker panel, I think he was just trying to make me feel better.

Was our house and our lives worth the money I saved on hydro?

. . . Absolutely not.

Didn’t I read about this happening to two different families on Young House Love?

. . . Yes. 

We were so lucky. Things could have turned out very differently.


Learn something from me.

Check your smoke detectors.

Change your batteries.

Make an escape plan.

And read this if you still need it to really hit home.


Don’t leave your dishwasher unattended.

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  1. The EXACT same thing happened to me but with a wood spoon. I had NO idea where it was coming from and actually called 911. They're the ones that found it. I'm so glad I was home because mine could have burned. Well, it did burn. Smoldered.

  2. Wow...thanks for posting this. I often have the dishwasher running while we're in bed or when we're not at home. I will definitely be changing that habit.
    When we did our renovations, the electrician wired in smoke detectors & a C02 monitor, which means we never have to worry about changing batteries.
    I can relate to being paranoid about fire as we have had three close encounters with fires, two of which involved the fire department coming out. BBQ on fire (not for cooking purposes only), exhaust fan above the stove started on fire and thirdly I must have turned a stove element on when the steamer was on top of it and it started the steamer and stove on fire. That one was the scariest as I panicked and couldn't remember if we had an extinguisher and my girls were very scared. DP put out the flames and dragged the oven out the door.
    Anyways, I'm glad all is well and I hope that you are able to sleep ok as I'm sure you must have been very frightened. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I have burnt things in the dishwasher like this before too! Scary! Glad it only burnt the bread knife!


  4. Oh wow. I do this every night! You may have just changed how I do things each evening. Thanks, Claire.

  5. Oh my goodness, what a scary experience compounded by this happening in the middle of the night. Glad to hear that no damage was done...except to your nerves. A lesson well learned, thank you for sharing this.

  6. My husband won't leave any electric appliance working while we are in bed (not evan a fan on a hot night. I find this frustrating sometimes but I guess his caution is warranted. I won't complain any more. Thanks for sharing and I am glad everyone is ok.

  7. I learned the hard way too, had something fall down on the heat coils years ago. I never leave the DW unattended anymore. Same goes for your clothes dryer, people Never leave the house with the dryer running.

  8. So glad everything is ok Claire! It's so scary how doing something so ordinary can lead to this!

  9. That is so scary! I am glad you are okay though, and thank you for the reminder!

  10. yikes! i'm so glad everything turned out all right ... and yay cool-headed Mr. Mechanic :o)


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