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Aging in Place at Home: The Definitive Guide Part 12

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Washing Dishes

Washing Dishes Banner

Part of aging means that once-steady hands become shaky, dexterity gives way to ineptitude, and a flexible range of motion turns into stiffness. The skill needed to wash delicate glassware safely dissipates; the strength to bend down and access the dishwasher wanes; the ability to raise arms high enough to place dishes in tall cupboards diminishes.

Even still, the home modifications and assistive devices within this section can significantly overcome the barriers that make washing dishes so difficult.

Anti-fatigue mat


Standing over a sink while washing dishes for an extended period of time can wear on a user’s feet and back. Add to the fact that kitchens have hard flooring like tile or wood, and it is no wonder that hand washing dishes can be so taxing. An anti-fatigue mat is specifically designed to reduce the fatigue and discomfort that comes with being on one’s feet. Placing an anti-fatigue mat at the sink can enable users with feet and back problems to hand wash dishes again.

Must-have Features

Non-slip material – An anti-fatigue mat should be made of a non-slip material on both the top and the bottom. The mat should not slide on the floor and the user’s feet should not slip when standing on top of the mat.

No-curl, stay-flat edges – The edges of a mat can be a potential tripping hazard for users, so the mat must have no-curl, stay-flat edges. Make sure that the manufacturer specifically mentions these qualities about the mat edges.

Anti-fatigue mat with beveled edgesBeveled edges – To further reduce the risk of trips and falls, only purchase an anti-fatigue mat that has beveled edges.

Beveled edges make the transition from the floor to the mat more gradual and lessen the possibility of a foot getting caught on the mat’s edge.

Features to consider

Anti-fatigue mat on contrasting color floorContrasting color – Those with impaired vision should consider a mat of a contrasting color to the kitchen floor to assist with differentiating the mat from the floor.

A mat that blends in with the floor can make it more difficult for users to distinguish the transition from flooring to mat and increase the chances of tripping.

Features to avoid

Thick pile – Comfort is a key priority with anti-fatigue mats, obviously, but it is important that the mat is not so thick that a user’s feet could get snagged on an edge. Stay-flat and beveled edges help guard against such a scenario, but a particularly thick mat can negate from those preventive features.

The mat should provide much-needed comfort while also boasting a low profile.

What to know before buying

While no-curl, stay-flat edges certainly reduce the risk of tripping, it is important to consider a user’s unique physical abilities to determine if an anti-fatigue mat could cause more harm than good.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications

Long-handled dish brush


Washing dishes that are not dishwasher safe by hand with a scouring pad can be tiring and take a toll on users’ fingers. The mechanics of a scouring pad concentrate the scrubbing effort in a user’s fingers, which makes handwashing dishes virtually out of the question for those with arthritis, poor circulation, and general hand weakness.

Long-handled dish brush

A long-handled dish brush offers a more ergonomic solution that allows users to leverage their arm strength. As a result, users can exert less force and let the dish brush do more of the work.

Must-have Features

Dishwasher safe – Removing food particles from a dish brush’s bristles is not a task to do by hand, so make sure the long-handled dish brush is dishwasher safe. Periodically clean the dish brush in the dishwasher to get rid of food remnants that may have stuck around and to sanitize the bristles.

Since a dish brush is a cleaning tool, it’s important that it be clean itself. Find a dish brush that is dishwasher safe.

Safe for non-stick surfaces – The bristles of the long-handled dish brush should be stiff enough to scrub away grime while simultaneously gentle enough to avoid damaging non-stick pots and pans.

Verify that the manufacturer and retailer advertise the dish brush as suitable for non-stick surfaces. Users can be sure that a dish brush that is safe on non-stick surfaces won’t harm any kitchenware.

Non-slip grip – To keep the long-handled dish brush from falling into the sink or on the kitchen floor, make sure it is equipped with a non-slip grip.

Dish brush with non-slip handle

The handle should be easy to grasp and hold onto for all users, especially those with arthritis and other conditions that affect grip strength.

Dish brush with built-in scraper edgeBuilt-in scraper edge – Sometimes brush bristles don’t give users enough power to remove caked-on food, so it is vital that the dish brush include a built-in scraper edge for the heavy-duty cleaning jobs.

Using the scraper for food that’s really stuck on the dishes also helps keep the brush bristles clear of hard-to-remove food particles.

Features to avoid

Built-in soap dispenser – As convenient as it may seem, a dish brush with a built-in soap dispenser ultimately is not a wise choice.

Dish brush with built-in soap dispenserThe dispenser button can fail or be difficult to depress to release the soap through the brush head. Also, the handle is prone to leaks and refilling can be a hassle.

Users are better off just keeping a bottle of dishwashing soap at the sink that is left open and ready to administer when needed.

What to know before buying

Occupies a space on the kitchen counter in a caddie or in the sink in a caddy.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications

Dishwasher drawers


Bending down to lower conventional dishwasher doors and access the bottom dish rack has long been the Achilles’ heel of a dishwasher’s convenience. Poor flexibility, chronic back problems, and compromised balance make it difficult for users to fully utilize a dishwasher without having to endure discomfort while risking the possibility of a nasty spill.

One dishwasher manufacturer has finally incorporated a bottom dish rack that can raise up to a more comfortable and accessible height for loading and unloading dishes. Users still have to bend down to lower the dishwasher door and grab the lower rack, but the creative use of a grabber tool could help users avoid all the bending and stretching. Unfortunately, the manufacturer of this dishwasher has only released models in Europe, so until it becomes available in the United States the best solution is to install dishwasher drawers in lieu of a conventional dishwasher.

Dishwasher drawers are half the height of typical dishwashers and slide out rather pull down.

Placing dishwasher drawers at the highest cabinet position directly below the countertop makes the dishwasher accessible for both seated and standing users.

The convenient height combined with the easy pull-out functionality of a dishwasher drawer make bending and stooping no longer necessary for doing dishes.

Dishwasher drawer

Swapping out a standard dishwasher for dishwasher drawers involves cabinetry work along with possible modifications to plumbing and electrical, so a full kitchen renovation or a new build is the right time to make the change.

Must-have Features

Dry cycle – While a dry cycle may seem to be a given, not all dishwasher drawers include the useful feature. And without a dry cycle, users must either let the dishes slowly air dry or dry by hand; the former being very inconvenient and the latter being too demanding.

The dishwasher drawers that have a drying cycle start a higher price point, but the added cost is warranted. In fact, a dishwasher drawer with a dry cycle is a must-have feature.

Quiet – Hearing loss is one inevitability of aging, so it is vital that the dishwasher drawer runs very quietly without producing distracting background noise. A loud-running dishwasher can make it harder for users to hear others over the phone and in person.

Find a dishwasher drawer with a decibel rating of 50 or below to ensure it won’t be too loud.

Features to consider

Energy Star CertifiedENERGY STAR-certified – Dishwasher drawers that are ENERGY STAR-certified consume less water and electricity than other dishwashers, which not only helps the environment but also cuts utility bills.

Users who are on a fixed income can certainly benefit from the cost savings that an ENERGY STAR-certified dishwasher drawer can offer.

Features to avoid

Stacked dishwasher drawersStacked dishwasher drawers – Never purchase dishwasher drawers that are sold as a set with one stacked above the other because this arrangement repeats the same problem with conventional dishwashers: a lower rack that is inaccessible to users.

Furthermore, stacked dishwasher drawers are dependent on each other to operate. If there is a problem with one of the drawers, then the other drawer is useless until the other drawer is repaired. So, even if someone in the home may be able to use the lower drawer, it still isn’t a wise decision to invest in stacked dishwasher drawers.

Users who need more capacity than just a single dishwasher drawer should buy two units and install them both in accessible locations.

Dishwasher drawers on both sides of sink

Raised dishwasher – One trend that has caught on for some Americans is to install a conventional dishwasher at a higher position so that it eliminates the need to bend down to reach the bottom dish rack. Unfortunately, an elevated dishwasher also lifts the countertop above it, which essentially creates a separate 24 inch wide bar-height top that is disjointed from the rest of the kitchen countertop.

Sectioning off the countertop in this way is not good for functionality; more often than not this small countertop space above a raised dishwasher goes unused because of its awkward height.

Raised dishwasher

The other drawback to a raised dishwasher is that the top dish rack can be uncomfortable to reach for seated users. Wheelchair users and those who prefer to sit in a chair when unloading the dishwasher may have trouble lifting their arms high enough for the top rack. And if the top rack of the dishwasher is difficult to access, then so will the countertop above the raised dishwasher.

Avoid raised dishwashers and stick to dishwasher drawers.

What to know before installing

Since dishwasher drawers are not as tall as conventional dishwashers, they may not be able to accommodate especially tall dishes like serving platters.

Check the specifications of the dishwasher drawer before to ensure that it is tall enough for the dishes it must be able to wash. Keep in mind that any large dishes that cannot fit must be hand washed.

The lower height of dishwasher drawers also results in a significant cut to the interior capacity, so users do quite a bit of dishwashing should consider purchasing two dishwasher drawers that are both installed at the highest cabinet position directly under the counter.

Two dishwasher drawers also has the added benefit of designating one machine as dirty and the other as clean, which can be particularly useful for those who might have trouble remembering whether or not they ran the dishwasher. And if one unit starts acting up, then the other dishwasher drawer is still available until repairs are made.

Being the unique appliance that it is, a dishwasher drawer can be tricky to repair by an average appliance technician. It takes qualified technicians who are familiar with the workings of dishwasher drawers to properly address any needed repairs.

Therefore, it is highly recommended to purchase an extended warranty with the manufacturer or a third party company that has capable technicians at its disposal. Should any issues arise with the dishwasher drawer, users can have the assurance that the problem will be correctly diagnosed and repaired.

A cabinet drawer can be placed below the dishwasher drawer for added storage space. While many users may not necessarily access this bottom drawer, it can be a good place to store kitchen items that users may only need on an infrequent basis.

Recommended supplementary products and home modifications

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