Suddenly you miss your busy but strangely quiet toddler and call his name as panic takes hold. Out of breath, you reach the kitchen -- only to discover to your relief a safe and happy, crowing little cherub bouncing gleefully up and down on the dishwasher's open door. He claps his hands with pride as he displays his newest accomplishment. Oh, dear -- the little stinker has learned to open the dishwasher, discovering his own personal mini-trampoline. As he dimples up at you in saucer-eyed innocence, you immediately realize that you'd better think of some way to childproof that thing PDQ.
Check your dishwasher use and care manual. Many of these appliances are manufactured with child safety locking mechanisms already in place. There's often a button or keypad sequence that activates the machine's lock. If there's no such convenience, you'll have to figure how to lock the thing yourself. Read on.
Install a dishwasher locking device. Flexible plastic appliance-fasteners are handy-dandy little gizmos that come in lots of different types and styles, so there's likely to be one to fit your situation. Most of even the least expensive models typically resemble a seat belt with ends that click together to form a secure, effective lock that's impervious to curious, prying fingers. They don't require the use of hardware or power tools, so you can even use the adhesive-backed locks in rental homes. They're quick and easy to install, with complete user-friendly instructions included in the package. Need an emergency solution to lock that sucker right now, before you can get to the hardware store? Check the next step.
Duct-tape the dishwasher. Tear a 12- to 15-inch strip of duct tape off the roll. Fold 1/2 inch of one end of the strip over to form a non-sticky tab that will make the tape easy for you to quickly remove as needed. Hold the tape strip by the tab. Press the tab and the next 3 inches of tape to the countertop directly above the dishwasher lock. Run the tape strip downward to cover the lock or latch. Press the tape firmly into place. It isn't pretty, but it will work well until you can get something better. Duct tape is an all-purpose down-and-dirty fix-it that no home should be without it.
Latch and lock the dishwasher when you're done with it and leave it latched at all times. Don't put soap in the appliance until you're ready to run it; the last thing you want is your tot breaking in and thinking those detergent pellets are candy. Always load knives and sharp implements with the dangerous ends pointed downward. Remove all cutlery, flatware, and sharp kitchen implements from the dishwasher's utensil basket immediately after washing to avoid accidental injury to your curious child.
Toss dirty knives and flatware into the sink -- don't put them in the dishwasher until you're ready to run it. Since clever tots do sometimes figure out how to get past childproof locks (or, more likely, adults forget to engage them), minimize the disaster potential as much as possible. If the utensil basket is removable, relocate it to the back of the dishwasher or put it on the counter. Transfer any other dirty kitchenware from the appliance to the sink or counter. It won't look great and will probably be a pain to work around, but it gets stuff out of the reach of little fingers in a pinch. When your mother-in-law makes a crack about your messy housekeeping, you can assure her it's all in the interest of child safety.
Monitor your toddler's free-roaming time and activities, particularly when she heads for the kitchen. If you can't watch her every second, put her in a playpen or high chair, or confine her to a safe area. Erect a baby gate or lay a couple of dining-room chairs on their sides with the backs barricading the kitchen entryway. While most parents don't typically exclude their tots from accessing the area on a daily basis, it's necessary to keep little ones away from an unsupervised dishwasher once they've learned how to open it.