Germ phobia gone crazy
November 23, 2016 9:17 PM   Subscribe

My germ phobia has become so severe that the task of doing dishes has become an absolute nightmare for me, a task which has ultimately become too mentally taxing for me to handle. I can't have anyone else do the task for me—and I wouldn't want to anyway as nobody should have to clean someone else's dishes for them—but I absolutely must do something about this.

I, of course, am familiar with dishwashers and the loading dishwashers—which I've done before at other people's places—is much, much easier and less mentally taxing for me than manually washing dishes in a sink. But there's a problem: I haven't the space to put a big, traditional type of dishwasher in my small, studio apartment. However, I recently heard of portable dishwashers that you can roll up to your sink and hook them up to the tap when you need them, something which sounds brilliant and I believe is something that could improve my life to some degree. But I'd like to hear some of your experiences with them to know how you feel about them, what models I should be looking at, etc. I'm just not the type to buy things on a whim.

I also would like to know if there's anything at all I can do to help decrease the severity of this phobia of mine. Any suggestions? It's been a phobia of mine for as long as I can remember, but it's currently very severe—severe enough to affect my life in a negative way.

Thanks, folks. Hope you can help put me at ease.

Note: I live in Canada. So point me in the direction of shops that are based in Canada, or at least stores that ship to Canada.
posted by GlassHeart to Shopping (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had a portable dishwasher once and didn't like it very much. It was too small to wash large pots and pans, I couldn't walk through the kitchen while it was hooked up to the sink because it took up all the space, and hooking it up to the sink was kind of a pain. But on the other hand I didn't have a crippling phobia of doing dishes by hand. It might be worth it in your case.

I assume you're already in therapy? Cognitive behavioral therapy is supposed to be good for this kind of thing.
posted by phoenixy at 9:20 PM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I once lived with someone brought in a unit like that - I felt like phoenixy did about it, same issues. That model, at least, also didn't have a great filter, so things didn't come out as clean as one would like.

That said, there are 18" built-in (and some 18" portable) models at Lowe's, and probably at Sears, if you could get one (store card?) and persuade your landlord to fit it in?

Alternatively, don't know how you'd feel about this, but a pull-out faucet with a high-pressure spray function would be cheaper, and can just blast stuff off, especially with quite hot water. (If you removed leftover food from flatware/cookware immediately after eating, this would be very fast and clean.)

(I'd guess that using paper plates might reinforce your phobia, so probably not a good idea to do that. 2nd therapist - look for one with experience treating phobias, and exposure therapy, specifically. It's ok to ask how much experience they have with this on the phone ["how many people have you treated using this therapy"].)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:48 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry to hear you're in this fix. But I did once have a portable dishwasher that hooked up to the sink faucet, and it was way, way better than not having a dishwasher at all. It was normal dishwasher size, and hooking it up to the sink was a thousandth of the effort of washing dishes by hand, so it was all upside. In a later apartment I considered purchasing a portable dishwasher, but didn't stay in it long enough to do so. Since then I've just chosen only to live in apartments with dishwashers. So long story short: Yes, it's an excellent choice for anyone who uses dishes, and a perfect choice for you.
posted by ejs at 9:49 PM on November 23, 2016

There are also countertop dishwashers.
posted by rhizome at 10:00 PM on November 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

May I ask what bothers you most about washing dishes? If you are able to be a bit more specific people maybe offer suggestions which are tailored to your situation.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 10:14 PM on November 23, 2016

I used a countertop one for years and it was great.
posted by Iteki at 10:30 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have this countertop dishwasher from Amazon (not sure about Canadian logistics) and are very happy with it, but we still wash pots and pans by hand because they don't fit well. We had extra space in our laundry area (next to our kitchen) and put in a splitter to the washing machine water hose, so it's always hooked up.

I also use rubber gloves and very hot water for washing pans. Maybe that would help?
posted by permiechickie at 10:46 PM on November 23, 2016

This could be a phobia, but it could also be OCD. Talking to a therapist, exploring the scope of the issue, and getting treatment could be very helpful for you.
posted by delight at 11:31 PM on November 23, 2016 [15 favorites]

Can you use disposable plates, cups, and cutlery until you have a better handle on this phobia? Pans and pots which held cooked food, only, might be less daunting than cleaning dinnerware and saves you time at the sink. Use potholders, too. On preview, yes, this might be OCD instead of a germ phobia, but you might get some relief by working with a therapist regardless.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 11:41 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I hate doing the dishes. No phobia, just straight up hate it. I've got the same dishwasher that permiechickie linked to, and it is the favourite thing I own. I sacrificed the microwave space for it, although it's bigger than a microwave. As a single person, you can fit in a day or two's worth of dishes in it including a smaller pan or two.

If it doesn't all fit, just do another load.

The cutlery holder is the same size as one in a regular dishwasher, so it takes up way more space than it needs to. I got a craft knife and cut it back to one of the dividers.
posted by Helga-woo at 12:37 AM on November 24, 2016

I'm afraid that a new dishwasher won't solve your problem, it will simply numb it slightly and delay the day that you have to properly confront it. You need to treat the cause of the phobia, not continue to accommodate it. If you don't treat the underlying cause, you may find that in a year's time you're struggling to load your nice new dishwasher because of a fear of germs.

I know 'therapy' is an over-used battle cry on MetaFilter, but this kind of issue is exactly what therapy is for. Phobias can exert enormous control over a person's life, and I think your question shows that you are already starting to see this happen. However, the good news is that they can also be completely overcome! A good therapist will help you confront the underlying anxiety that feeds your fear of germs, and put you in a place where washing dishes is just boring rather than debilitating. Please don't waste money on serving the phobia; invest it in defeating the phobia instead.

Good luck, you can do it!
posted by matthew.alexander at 1:02 AM on November 24, 2016 [18 favorites]

Might I also suggest a bunch of IKEA dish scrubber brushes? They're $1 and have a suction cup so they stand upright. You can scrub and rinse from afar, the brushes stay pretty clean if you shoot water through them after use. Storing upright means they get air flow and aren't bacteria farms. You could rinse with a little hydrogen peroxide after use, too.
posted by jbenben at 1:03 AM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

The way to treat phobias is through desensitisation. A therapist can help you through this, but it's absolutely possible to DIY it. There are two traditional approaches:

- Slow and steady. You make a list of all the things you find activate your phobia. Then arrange them in a 'ladder' from mildest to worst. Start at the bottom of the ladder and do the thing that's there while exercising all the self-care you can handle - telling yourself it's going to be okay, modulating your breathing, playing music, whatever it takes. Make sure you don't force through too far - an actual panic attack will probably make this worse - but do try to move towards your fear, rather than away from it. Eventually you will feel like this is okay. This is your cue for moving up one rung on the ladder. Do this until you reach the top. Move a rung or two down the ladder if at any point you feel like things are going too fast. Patience and gentle persistence are your watchwords here.

- Flooding. This is a risky strategy and needs to be managed carefully. Basically you expose yourself to so much stuff in such a short period that your fear just cuts out. Do NOT do this because you feel it will be the most 'tough' option or whatever; that mindset will not help you. In truth, it's hard to do without considerable outside support. In this option you'd do something like fill a bathtub with dirty dishes, fill it up and then sit in the bath until you realise that you're fine. Your brain will be able to learn that there's no real threat, but you need to be able to get through the whole process and out the other side, and you need to feel in control. Like I said, it's quick but hard and I wouldn't recommend it, but when I talked with a therapist about strategies to get over a thing that's been an Issue for me, she mentioned that this was an option.
posted by Acheman at 2:08 AM on November 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm no therapist, but I've spent the last several months coaching and attending sessions with my sister who has been suffering from pretty life debilitating OCD. You may not have considered OCD as the diagnosis because most people associate it with action (washing hands, checking locks, etc.), but avoiding something that needs to be done is also a compulsion. She has been making tremendous strides with Exposure therapy- learning to face her fears head on - but I think it's something you need to do with a trained professional at least until you learn how it works. There is an app that her psychologist told us about that would probably be better than just trying to go it alone - it's called nOCD. Either way, a dishwasher isn't going to solve this problem. Untreated, OCD will just keep finding new ways to manifest. But you can definitely learn to stare down that fear and not let it take over your life. Best of luck!
posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:42 AM on November 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

see a psychiatrist. they can recommend a therapist, but if this is affecting your life to such an extent then it's a serious medical matter and you should go see a medical doctor.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:43 AM on November 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Gloves don't help?

I'm guessing the issue is the standing water, rather than the plates themselves (after all, you just ate off them). Have you tried cleaning dishes under a running tap?

On the slow and steady desensitisation front, maybe you can start with a bowl full of warm water, then warm water + soap, then warm water + soap + a couple of pieces of cutlery. I'd be curious to know where on that scale the phobia starts kicking in.
posted by Leon at 2:48 AM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

When my anxiety was at its highest and my germ phobia was off the charts, using more dish soap (like, way more) helped. It's wasteful and not great for the environment but it helped me cope while CBT and therapy did their thing to get me back to stable.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:19 AM on November 24, 2016

I'm afraid that a new dishwasher won't solve your problem, it will simply numb it slightly and delay the day that you have to properly confront it. ... Please don't waste money on serving the phobia; invest it in defeating the phobia instead.

Came here to say this. CBT that specifically includes exposure and response prevention therapy is very effective for both OCD and phobias. SSRIs can help as well, if it's an OCD flavor (obsessing about contamination is a big OCD red flag).
posted by en forme de poire at 3:32 AM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just this very evening, I had to clean the glurge out of the bottom of our dishwasher to make it go again. Not a job for a germophobe.

At some level, you must be aware that hand-washing dishes is not in any way a threat to your physical health, and that the overwhelming majority of the microbes with which you share this planet are not hell-bent on your destruction. Count me among those who think that dealing with the phobia is going to cause you less grief, even in the relatively short term, than allowing it to persist to the point where it's dictating your choice in appliances or ultimately even living spaces.

Do you have a friend you'd trust to come over to yours and help with the dishes, in an I-wash-you-dry kind of way, with a nice glass of red and good conversation to follow? I know you said that "nobody should have to clean someone else's dishes for them" but to be perfectly frank I've always found doing the dishes at someone else's house, in their company, much more pleasurable than doing my own. It also seems to me that being right there helping as somebody else's hands go in and out of the dishwater could well be the beginnings of the graduated exposure you're going to need sooner or later, with or without the dishwasher.

Something else that can help is getting super-efficient at not dirtying very many dishes. Key there is to clean them up one or two at a time as you cook, or right after you eat. If you're cleaning plates and pots you've only just actually eaten or drunk from, your inner germ warning system is going to have that much less to get its teeth into; that's not dirt on the dishes, merely uneaten food.

If you're living by yourself it's completely feasible to get by with one each of plate, knife, fork, mug, sharpening steel, chopping board, cooking pot and stirring spoon. Do your food prep with a paring knife that will double as a table knife. Use a wooden chopping board, since those are known to kill bacteria actively as well as being kinder to your knife edge. Cook everything in a nice cast-iron pan that demands to be washed, oiled and baked after each use - can't get better sterilization than a seasoned iron pan that's been heated to 300°F for ten minutes after cleaning. Also, eating straight out of the pan means not needing to wash the plate.

You may well find that reducing the number of things that need cleaning to less than ten makes the difference between being able to deal with them and not. You might also care to write yourself a little self-talk mantra to be used while you're cleaning: something along the lines of I am safe, I am doing this to make me stronger, I am safe, I am doing this to make me stronger... "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger" is a rubbish motto for life in general. But for dealing with phobia, it's spot-on.

Whenever you're doing the dishes and the shuddering and revulsion starts up again: put down the dish you're washing, hold onto the bench to stabilise you physically, then take a moment to concentrate on exactly what you're feeling and where you feel it, then ask yourself what your breath is doing right now, then put your attention on that until the wave has passed, then pick up the dish and carry on. Remind yourself that it's perfectly OK to feel this way about this dirty utensil for the time being, and also that persevering with cleaning it is what you need to do to loosen this monstrous fear's grip on your life.

Sit down and take stock of your bodily state after a dishwashing session. Then spend a bit more time focusing on your breathing until you're calm again.

Also, give yourself points for genuine courage. Don't let any prick convince you that persisting with a task about which you feel phobic is somehow not courageous. It's as brave as hell, and you absolutely deserve to feel good about that.
posted by flabdablet at 6:13 AM on November 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

It might also help to ponder the fact that microbial cell membranes just get ripped to little shreds by dishwashing detergent.
posted by flabdablet at 6:17 AM on November 24, 2016

When a phobia keeps you from functioning in your life, it's time for therapy. It's important to find a therapist with experience with phobias and OCD.

Meanwhile, rubber gloves, do dishes as quickly as possible, maybe play music you like to help distract you as well as having a positive association. Use detergent that smells nice.
posted by theora55 at 6:39 AM on November 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have had portable dishwashers in two houses -- one in New York and one in Vancouver. It's certainly more convenient to have one that's installed and fits under the counter, but I would take the portable one any day over having none at all. The one I have now sits a short distance from the sink and has a Formica top that provides additional counter space, which we happen to need. It's definitely a bit of an annoyance when it's hooked up and blocking the sink area, but it's full size and does as good a job on my dishes as my installed ones have done.
posted by gateau at 11:39 AM on November 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe wear yellow dishwashing gloves, which allows you to tolerate very hot water. And use a scrubby brush to get any mess that's really distasteful to you. and get a dish soap you really like (I like ones with unusual scents, like pink grapefruit).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:12 PM on November 24, 2016

I hate to add to the crowd, but yes, if possible, please seek professional help. Because as matthew.alexander says:

I'm afraid that a new dishwasher won't solve your problem, it will simply numb it slightly and delay the day that you have to properly confront it.
posted by daybeforetheday at 1:40 AM on November 25, 2016

I have a portable dishwasher. This is our 5th dishwasher in 25 years, as they tend to age and fail over time. Perhaps not more frequently than built-in dishwashers, though. Also, it is trivial to set up a portable dishwasher and difficult to install a build-in. The price for a portable is perhaps $100 more than the equivalent built-in.

When you buy one, don't let the price of the cheap ones sway you. Long after you have forgotten the money you saved you will be fussing about the shortcomings of the cheaper unit. Go for quality, even if you have to spend and extra $300 or so. The problem you will find is that reviews of portables are fewer, so judging quality may be tough.

You will want to have a water heat setting, which will heat up your hot tap water and kill everything you are concerned about. Check carefully on the features of the unit you are looking at. My current unit will wash in one hour, but if you want heated water the cycle takes two hours. Previous units did not do that.

Assuming you have a place to tuck your portable into in your small kitchen (within a few feet of the sink), you will gain some additional counter space. I found that I could not run my coffee maker when running the dishwasher because together they tripped the breaker. This was fairly trivial to deal with, however.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 11:30 AM on November 25, 2016

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